Language, Culture, and Identity Issues: Challenges and Changes in Mixed Roots and Multicultural Families

Mixed family 


Identity is something that many if not most all of us wrestle with whilst growing up. However, like most minorities, this is perhaps even more so for many mixed roots, multicultural and third culture kids; from dealing with being treated differently by others and searching for groups to identify with, and feel a sense of belonging, to learning multiple languages and cultures. As previously mentioned, language and culture are integral parts of our identity, and kids who have or develop positive attitudes and feelings towards all aspects of their identity tend to be better adjusted and happier. However, as parents, how can we help our kids to deal with the inevitable bumps along the way?


Whether in print, downloaded or read online (e.g. Dino Lingo Books), stories, especially traditional ones, span generations, keep culture alive and help children to connect with their roots, even when living outside that community. In an increasingly globalised world, it’s also wonderful to be able to read stories from cultures that aren’t our own, but may help our children connect and understand friends in an increasingly number of internationalized classrooms (see the Culture and Diversity selection, for example). Many books also help children to address the challenges they may face, from being the odd one out and bullied to being the new kid at school.


Furthermore, for parents these days, there are numerous helpful starting points to deal with issues of language, culture, and identity as they arise, from books and blogs to communities that meet face-to-face and/or on social media. They share a wealth of invaluable information and support at local, regional, and international levels. Here are three, all by people sharing from firsthand experience in order to help others:


Multilingual living  is the home of Multilingual Living Magazine, a popular digital publication dedicated to families raising bilingual and multilingual children. It’s a place to “… find inspiration, tools, advice, wisdom and support!” There is a host of helpful articles, including ones written by guest experts, and questions sent in from readers, on issues ranging from top 10 things parents should never say to their bilingual/multilingual child to top 10 reasons your children aren’t speaking your language and what to do when you’re feeling left out of the conversation and isolated.


Bilingual Monkeys offers “ideas and inspiration for raising bilingual kids (without going bananas)” with a weekly newsletter, resources for parents including ‘fun stuff’, a blog and collection of articles covering topics like 96 Things You Can Do Today to Boost Your Child’s Bilingual Ability and the tongue-in-cheek How to Fail Miserably at Raising a Bilingual Child.


Multilingual parenting has a weekly newsletter, blog, community and coaching. The Q&A archive includes a wide range of topics from what to do if your child’s teacher tells you to stop speaking a family language to several posts addressing how to raise kids with three or more languages. Searching the site for the topic of identity, you can find a number of posts that support the acceptance and development of our multilingual and multicultural selves, and Rita Rosenback, when writing about Many Languages One Identity, asserts:

“All my languages are an intrinsic part of my identity. Every single one of them has helped me understand other people and cultures and thus contributed to the person I am today. They do however not split my identity, they consolidate it.”


As parents, for example, we can support our children’s journey towards this position of self-confidence and self-acceptance, not only with encouragement and acceptance of their developing identities, but also by providing as many positive encounters with their languages and cultures as possible. On this note, here are 3 of the things that me and my sister think our parents got right for us (Anglo-Celtic-Japanese growing up in England): Celebrating our cultures, visits to Japan, and varied groups of friends.


Celebrating our cultures

I feel very lucky to have grown up with Robin Hood and King Arthur & The Knights of The Round Table as well Japanese folk stories and anime. We were somewhat spoilt in having two sets of cultural festivities, but now my kids have three (Malay, English, and Japanese), insomuch as we can keep it up! Building a positive affinity to each culture, in the long run if not the shorter term, serves to develop interest, the desire to learn the language, and positive self-image.

Visits to Japan

Although it would take 3-4 years to save enough funds to go to Japan with assistance from grandparents, every trip was an amazing 4-6 week affair where all our relatives went out of their way to make up for lost time, so much so that we’ve never felt the physical distance in terms of how close our relationships were. When I first travelled to Japan on my own steam, aged 19, and then again a few years later, it was invaluable to be familiar with places as well as have family and friends I was comfortable with since childhood.


Varied groups of friends

In addition to school and neighbourhood friends, we also had our mum’s circle of Japanese mothers whose children we played with regularly. Whilst it was our parents who helped maintained our ties whilst growing up, our friendships continue to this day, not least because we’d always try to get together whenever we visited Japan. Also, when my mum heard of a new Japanese family or mixed family (i.e. English married to a Japanese), she’d also make an effort to reach out and bring us all together. Meeting other kids ‘like us’ was inevitably something we always looked forward to, and benefitted from, as our similar circumstances formed a good basis for shared understanding and empathy, as well as healthy cross-cultural conversations and debate from the mundane to the more complex:

“Shoes on or off?” one friend asked when comparing typically English and J      apanese homes.

“Definitely off!” we replied to nods of agreement.

“So what do you speak at home?”


The language of play and its crucial role in language development and children’s immediate needs and desire to join in and make friends, can never be overstated. Moreover is often key to breathing life into a minority language that a child might otherwise have limited encounters with outside the home.


Whilst everyone’s experiences are different, I hope that by sharing a few of mine, you might find something that connects. And please feel free to share yours, too!


Last but not least, it’s always worth knowing how to find other groups and information relevant to us for any given place or time in our lives. Some of the more common terms I’ve found helpful in Internet searches include mixed race, interracial, mixed roots, mixed heritage and multicultural, but half, double, and hapa can also lead to new discoveries as I found in Japan. And these days, many groups are thriving with the proliferation of social media. But if there isn’t a group in your area, now may be the best time to start one.

by Philip Shigeo Brown

Your Neighbourhood can Determine How Open Minded Your Child is

A recent study found that small children who live in neighborhoods where more than one language is spoken are more likely to learn from and interact with people from different backgrounds. This means, no matter what language is spoken at home, if a child grows up in an ethnically rich neighborhood, he/she is more likely to be able to read the social cues from different people. The study reported that

“Infants’ direct interactions with caregivers have been shown to powerfully influence social and cognitive development. In contrast, little is known about the cognitive influence of social contexts beyond the infant’s immediate interactions with others, for example, the communities in which infants live. The current study addressed this issue by asking whether neighborhood linguistic diversity predicts infants’ propensity to learn from diverse social partners. Data were taken from a series of experiments in which 19-month-old infants from monolingual, English-speaking homes were tested in paradigms that assessed
their tendency to imitate the actions of an adult who spoke either English or Spanish. Infants who lived in more linguistically diverse neighborhoods imitated more of the Spanish speaker’s actions. This relation was observed in two separate datasets and found to be independent from variation in infants’ general imitative abilities, age, median family income and population density. These results provide novel evidence suggesting that infants’ social learning is predicted by the diversity of the communities in which they live.”

Conflict in Mixed Families and Conflict Resolution with Foreign Partners

How to deal with conflict in mixed marriages
  1. •Don’t give examples from your own country
  2. •Apologize even if it means you’ll lose the face
  3. •Never use generalizations about his/her country/culture/family even if he/she previously accepted that (e.g. we,…s usually are not punctual)
  4. •Don’t touch and don’t get so close, different cultures have different use of proximity
  5. •Check your voice and make sure you’re not too loud according to your spouse’s culture
  6. •Don’t talk about the past that (naturally) cannot be changed
  7. •Don’t say it was a misunderstanding or a language problem
  8. •Try to think like a person from his/her culture (force yourself)
  9. •Try to find something (even 1%) of what he/she says and agree with it 100%
  10. •Don’t interrupt and listen very carefully
  11. •Rephrase his/her problem in your own words
  12. •Never try to WIN the argument (when you win the argument, relationship loses)
  13. •Instead of YOU statements try to make I statements
  14. •Think about alternative solutions to the problem
  15. •State that you understand the other side and you are willing to solve the problem
  16. •Remember some people overreact when they lose face (e.g. when their mistake is revealed)
  17. •Remember different cultures have different values (e.g. yes, in some cultures work/responsibility comes before family)
  18. •Remember most conflicts arise because one side misinterprets the other side’s true intention
  19. •Remember, sometimes it might be a gender difference issue (men and women think differently) or a personality issue (introverts and extroverts act differently) rather than a cultural issue.
  20. •Don’t avoid conflict see it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship.


Communication in Mixed Families: How to Communicate with A Foreign Partner

  1. •Both partners should be more interested in giving than receiving.
  2. •There should be at least one language in which both partners are fluent.
  3. •Partners should never “assume” anything just because it’s common sense in their own culture.


Problems Children Face in Mixed Families: Intermarrying and Children

  1. •Children do not really know their grandparents ancestors.
  2. •Family members, such as grandparents and cousins, are not able to communicate well with the children (TCK).
  3. •One side of the  family does not celebrate  host culture’s holidays and observe its traditions.
  4. •One side of the family has to explain jokes and/or ask for them to be explained.
  5. •Children grow up with a different set of cultural assumptions than parents.
  6. •One side of the family experiences discrimination because of the ethnicity of his/her spouse.
  7. •Children grow up with gender roles parents do not approve of.


Marry a foreigner: 20 Reasons Why Marrying a Foreigner – Intermarriage is a Good Choice

-Enjoy different dishes all the time

When your partner is a foreigner of course he/she will cook for you (at least occasionally) and you’ll get to eat the real food from that real cuisine. It’s not like going to an ethnic restaurant in your country where the food is adjusted to and mixed with the local food.
-Have a bilingual/trilingual child.
You don’t have to worry about sending your child to a private school, a foreign partner will do the trick. Though if not done properly most of the time kids turn to be passive speakers (understands the language but cannot speak). I wrote tri-lingual above because mixed families tend to live in a third country quite often.
-Become bilingual
You, yourself can become bilingual by just practicing with your partner or extended family members and in-laws. Most of the time you have to 🙂
-Have 2 passports
Yes, this is possible in many countries even if you don’t reside in your partner’s country all the time.
-Have 2 weddings
Most of the time one side of the family cannot come to your wedding and you end up having two separate wedding ceremonies to make everyone happy.
-Visit different places all the time.
Having a foreign partner means you’ll get to travel to where he/she’s originally from and where his/her friends, relatives and family members live. Most importantly you will enjoy him/her guiding you as a local so you see the best places and never get treated like a tourist in his/her country.
-Life full of surprises.
If you watched the movie my big fat Greek wedding, you’d know what I mean. You will always (actually sometimes) encounter situations that will surprise you instead of experiencing the same routines in domestic marriages.
-Know more people and get connected
To get to know people always mean more opportunities and more chances. If you remember the law of “6-degrees of separation” you’d notice that getting married to a foreigner connects you to additional hundreds, if not thousands of people.
-Grass is greener on the other side
This might sound a bit cheesy but you might look a lot more attractive to someone from a different culture simply because you look different or unique. The same thing applies to your partner; you will find him/her more attractive than an avg. person in your culture.
-Cuter kids
This is not scientifically tested but I am sure you heard from many that mixed couples’ children tend to be good looking or at least better looking than the parents themselves 🙂
-Enjoy different festivals & holidays
Since all cultures have special festivals and holidays you’ll get to learn about and enjoy various celebrations. There will be a spirit of celebration in your house throughout the year 🙂
-Have an excuse to be a foreigner when you make a mistake
Your in-laws will excuse you for being naive or a foreigner even if the mistake you make is just commonsense (e.g. forgetting to prepare dishes for guests)
-Have stories to tell your folks all the time
Since everything you’ll experience (at least at the beginning of your marriage) will be “newsworthy” 🙂 everyone from your own family will be so excited to hear your stories.
-Become a cross-culturally competent and flexible thinker
Different culture or means a different way of thinking (different values, different beliefs, different lifestyles and so on). By living together with someone from a different culture will empower you to approach issues from different point of views (e.g. if you are an American and your client from overseas pressures you, you’d know how to take a different perspective)

Realize and appreciate the uniqueness of your own culture
There’s a saying goes like “fish is the last to discover water.” That is, when you live with a person from a different culture you can better understand the subtleties in your own culture.

Give a real reason to your parents to travel overseas.
Yes, perhaps your folks,  just like mines, resist to travel overseas and might not even have a passport. Once you marry a foreigner, they are going to have to go to a country where your partner is from.

Easy going Partner
If someone from a different culture wants to marry you, that means he/she prefers you over someone from his/her own culture (unless he/she has expired visa or ran out of money). This also means, he/she is not a typical representative of his own culture but rather someone who has a global mindset and easy to get along with.

Getting Rid of Stereotypes
Mixed marriage means you live with a person who has a different ethnicity/nation and race most of the time. Not only you but also your frinds & family will be exposed to this new member of the family and understand that the stereotypical image in their minds is not true.

Expression on your friends face
You will really enjoy seeing the expression on your friends face when you tell them that you are engaged to a foreigner J

Mixed world is a better place

It is…

6 Scientific reasons why people intermarry

WHY some people don’t want to marry foreigners?


Marry a foreigner: Why Some people Don’t Want to Marry a Foreigner

  1. Since many activities in marriage are joint, such as the raising of children, the purchase of a house and other consumer durables, and the spending of leisure time, dissimilarity in taste would complicate these shared activities.
  2. People prefer to marry someone who has similar cultural resources because this enables them to develop a common life- style in marriage that produces social confirmation and affection. (Taken from Kalmijn 1998).
  3. Differences might be seen unique or cute but actually cause big problems in the long run.
  4. The person you are marrying to might not be a good representative of his/her culture (e.g. the person might be secular while his/her family can still be very conservative)
  5. Understanding and appreciating a culture is different from internalizing it.
  6. Extended families might be as important as spouses in some cultures.
  7. Face saving and gender roles might be too hard to overcome.


Marrying a Foreigner: Mixed Marriages and 6 Scientific Reasons Why People Marry Foreigners

Genetic Variation: Species tend to out-breed in order to strengthen their genetic immunization. For instance there are certain diseases which are found among Asians or Europens, when a Erupoean and an Asian have a baby it’s possible that the baby is less likely to get both of the diseases.

Davis & Merton Hypothesis (1941) members of ethnic groups whose prestige in society is low would have better chances of marrying outside their group if they offered a high socioeconomic status in re-turn.

By-product Hypothesis (Kennedy,1944) : Intermarriage is more common between groups who have the same faith

Claude Levi Strauss (1949) Alliance Theory:  Small groups must force their members to marry outside so as to build alliances with other groups.

Self Expansion Theory (Aron & Aron, 1986). The primary human motivation is to grow and expand the self. Individuals seek to expand the self in many ways including establishing relationships with others. According to this view, romantic relationships start when an individual perceives another person as an opportunity for rapid self-expansion. Aron and Aron (1986) wrote that “The self is expanded by whatever expands its potential efficacy-that is, by knowledge and the resources to apply knowledge.  Forming a relationship with another person obviously offers knowledge and resources in abundance.” (p,28)

Future Generations: In-termarriage decreases the salience of cultural distinctions in future generations because the children of mixed marriages are less likely to identify themselves with a single group by intermarrying, in-dividuals may lose the negative attitudes they have toward other groups. (Kalmjin, 1998)