Speaking multiple languages can be a benefit when it comes to living in a modern interdependent world and working in a global economy. However, at home and especially when dealing with in-laws conversant in different languages, communication and family cohesion can be adversely affected.
It's natural for people to not go outside their comfort zones, but when the adults in marriages and extended families don't reach out across language barriers, they set a poor example for children.
At Stuart and Maria's wedding, her Spanish-speaking parents, siblings, and large extended family — including immigrants and first-generation members from Puerto Rico — sat by themselves and interacted only minimally with Stuart's English-only speaking relations. Little changed after this couple's wedding.
Throughout their marriage, even though the families lived only a few miles apart, holiday observances and socializing remained mostly separate, with Stuart's parents professing a preference to keep it that way. This choice caused Maria, especially, great emotional distress.
She blamed Stuart in part for not taking a stronger stand with his parents, or learning Spanish so as to better communicate with her family. She wanted their two children, ages five and seven, to feel a part of both cultures, but she noticed that neither child wanted to learn or speak Spanish with her family or away from home.
Of course, there were other issues in addition to different native tongues serving as barriers in Stuart and Maria's extended family — culture and class among them — but the issue of language, if approached more cooperatively and creatively, might significantly turn this unhappy marriage and in-law situation in a more positive direction.
Anyone who travels to a non-English-speaking country knows that if you make even a minimal effort to speak the native language, you are immediately given a warmer, more appreciative welcome in that country. The same can be said for intercultural marriages and in-laws; a little effort goes a long way.