I live in Brazil and my wife is Brazilian and I'm from the states. We have a 2 year old daughter who will be 3 in March, who was born in the US. I don't speak Portuguese all that well and my wife speaks perfect English. Upon moving to Brazil last year my wife decided without discussion with me to only speak Portuguese with our daughter. As a result of this I am unable to communicate with my daughter 98% of the time and it's getting to be very frustrating and disheartening. It is especially bad once my wife gets home and I feel like the odd man out. I feel like I am missing some of the best moments with my daughter and what's even worse in my opinion is that our marriage isn't do so well because of it. The dynamic of our marriage has changed considerably since we moved since I am no longer the main bread winner in the family and feel out of place in a new country without any of my family, friends or a real job. My daughter gets exposed to Portuguese from her Mom, Grandmother, Aunt, fellow students and teachers at her school and I only get to see her a few hours out of the day and weekends. I've tried talking to my wife about this and approached her from several different angles but she refuses to compromise. This is a growing problem for me and it infuriates me every-time I hear my wife speaking to my daughter in Portuguese.
Now I know there are a lot of families where the mother and father speak separate languages to their children but in my experience it's when the children are at a more advanced age and it's after the child knows both languages, not when only one parent is bilingual. In my case my daughter and I can't communicate. I've tried reading to her, making sure most of her TV and books are in English but it's just not enough. I think she can kinda understand me and vice-versa but there is a lot missing in our Father/Daughter relationship. The most important person in her life is her Mother (I understand that) and she is naturally going to want too follow her. So I'm left out and my feelings of being isolated grow stronger everyday.
So I ask, am I wrong to want my wife to speak English so I can feel included with our daughter at least until she can speak both languages or am I just being selfish?
No, you are not selfish at all. Your daughter must learn two languages, to communicate both of you. Since you are not able to communicate properly in Portuguese, So your daughter must learn Portuguese and English simultaneously. At the same time, your daughter is the citizen of both countries, so English is the primary requirement of USA. It will be mandatory if she wants to live in USA in future. Be practical with your wife.
This is a really tough situation, I cannot begin to put myself in your shoes.
What makes it harder is that advice such as "sit down and have a chat with your wife" or "try coming at it from a different angle" won't work as you've already tried that.
All I can say is you're going to need to try and find a way of getting your wife to truly understand your situation. See if she can empathize and put herself in your shoes. I don't know exactly how you would do this, but it seems like it's what is needed.
Hope it works out well
I feel the need to vent. I had a nice long talk with her Wednesday night and looked her right in the eye and held her hand and said 'I love you' and 'I want to make this work, do you want to make this work?' with a few other things and she said 'yes'. Then I told her that beginning tonight I want you to speak only English to our daughter. She said she would and I thought this was a good starting point to getting our marriage back on track. Last night while having dinner she didn't speak English to our daughter and then again this morning as we were waking up. I blew up and lost it. I totally let her have it! She said 'I didn't speak English to her this morning because you weren't around' I freaking lost it! I told her if you want to make this work you need to speak English to her all the time, not just when I'm around our upstairs. I'm really starting to believe that she doesn't respect me and doesn't care and is just fooling herself by agreeing with me on some levels. I'm so freaking pissed and lost for words right now. I made the biggest mistake of my life coming down here to Brazil!
I don't think you should demand that she speaks English to her all the time but your daughter does need to speak both languages. I know of situations where one parent is bilingual and they have used both languages with the child, children pick up languages much easier than we do and your daughter is the perfect age, the earlier the better.
It will be tough for you, but she will pick it up in time, you just need some patience. I don't think either of you should demand that your native language is the only one spoken.
It sounds like the main issue is how you're feeling about being over there, like you say, you're not the main breadwinner anymore and this would be hard in your own country, never mind somewhere new. Your wife needs to help you adapt and needs to reassure you.
I understand that you are frustrated... And I do agree that both languages are important. It's a thing of cultural heritage and well speaking more than one language is always good.
There are no musts in this case in my honest opinion. Well there is one - you should try your best to learn Portuguese, especially if your plans are to stay in Brazil.
My suggestion to you would be to make a pact with your wife where she speaks English with your daughter when all of you are together and Portuguese when they are alone (until you learn Portuguese). Also ask your wife to speak only Portuguese when you two are alone and you two communicate in Portuguese - that way you will learn it super fast. Ditch the English when you talk to other people, it will cause some laughs but you will learn it in the end.
Fact is you moved to Brazil and you know what they say "When in Rome, do what Romans do". Your daughter will speak two languages and so should you
Hello, I have a degree in Linguistics, so I just thought I'd weigh in.
Have you tried telling your wife that decades of research and data show that children who grow up bilingual (The linguistic definition of a "native" speaker is a speaker who learned the language by around 3 years of age - after this window, the brain acquires language differently) are better at problem solving, pattern recognition, critical thinking, and overall do better in school? Since you live in Brazil, your daughter will undoubtedly be exposed to Portuguese on a regular basis, so it would benefit your daughter greatly if you and your wife speak English at home. Try asking your wife to do some research, the benefits of multilingualism are well documented. (Good luck)
True children pick languages much easier. I think it is only fair for your wife to respect the family institution and be fair to all of you. I do not know what to do if I was in your situation. It is very clear your wife does not respect you at all and she is not hiding it even from your own daughter. The is likely to damage your relationship.
Hope things work out for you.
My wife speaks Thai to our children 100% of the time and she speaks english fluently. I spend quality time speaking english with my children and they speak both languages. My son is 5 and daughter 2.
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I live in Japan, my wife is Japanese and I am from Mexico. I have a 3 year old boy and a 4 year old girl.
It is a very hard situation. Obviously the only person they get to speak Spanish is with me. I have my hobbies during weekends and most of my friends are from Latin-America/Spain as well so when my friends see my kids they speak to my kids in Spanish but is only once in a while.
During weekdays I come back home from work late and sometimes they are already sleeping when I get home. My wife understands 15-20% of Spanish? but she is always mixing Japanese and Spanish words so that the kids can actually at least pick up some words. She actually forces me to talk to them in Spanish.
I am fluent in Japanese and when there are things I am sure 100% they wont understand if say them in Spanish then I switch to Japanese (I know this is wrong) and my wife gets pissed off with me because I don't try in Spanish.
Of course I try in Spanish with them when I am at home but it is a very difficult situation to explain. Right now they understand 50%-60%(more than the mother) what I tell them but they ALWAYS answer in Japanese.
Bottom line, I don't think you should ask her to speak English when you are not around. It is not her mother tongue and you can't force her to do that, but you can ask her to be more cooperative, sit you 3 and teach her with things she might like.
In my case we sit down and watch cartoons in Spanish and we pause the videos once in a while and they do pick words and sentences.
Your daughter might not get to speak English at a native lavel but if you do that then she will get the bases and most importantly her ear will get used to the language.
Last edited by xilte; 06-10-2013 at 09:19 AM. Reason: mistake