Feb 262014

12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know

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12 things parents of bilingual children need to know - Belarusian


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1 – It doesn’t happen by magic

Children do not become bilingual “by magic”. There is a persistent myth claiming that “children are like sponges when it comes to language” and that they will learn all languages they hear regularly – this is simply not true. Yes, in the right circumstances children will naturally grow up to acquire the family languages, but this cannot be taken for granted.

2 – You need a plan

To be in with the best chance of succeeding in bringing up bilingual children, you need to plan ahead. How fluent do you want your children to be? What about reading and writing? Who speaks what and when? Discuss this in the family and agree on the goals.

3 – Consistency is crucial

Once you have your plan, you need to commit to it as a family and stay consistent in your language use. Yes, children can certainly become bilingual if parents mix their languages with them, but the risk that they will at some point prefer to stick to the majority language is far greater if they have become used to the minority language parent easily switching to the majority language.

4 – You will have to pay attention to exposure times

Once you have your plan, you need to look into how much exposure your children get to each language. There is a general recommendation (there is, however, no scientific proof for this) that children should be exposed to a language at least thirty percent of their waking time to naturally become bilingual. This should however only be taken as a guidance – depending on the type of exposure, children might need more or less time to acquire a language.

5 – You will have to invest some extra time (and sometimes maybe a bit of money)

You will need to find the time talk a lot, to do the reading and to find resources to help your children learn the language. You might find that you need to use your holidays to make a trip to boost your children’s motivation to speak the language.

6 – There will be doubters

Not everyone will agree with you that it is a good idea to raise your children to speak all family languages. There will be those who tell you that there is no point, that it is not going to work. Others will think that you are expecting too much of your children, and some will say that you are confusing your children with all these languages. Ignore these doubters, but also, forgive them, as they do not know what they are talking about.

7 – Don’t listen to bad advice

There might be times when a professional tells you to stop speaking a certain language to your children. If in doubt with regards to your child’s language development – speak to a specialist who is experienced in dealing with bilingual children.

8 – It is not always easy

There will be all sorts of challenges along your family’s multilingual journey – apart from the doubters and the ill-informed “experts” there will be more mundane obstacles: will you be able to stick to your plan when “life happens” and offers its surprises in form of changed family circumstances, moves, career progressions, influence from others and so on? When it feels difficult, ask for advice and help.

9 – Your child might answer you in the “wrong” language

This one usually hits the minority language parent. You feel that you have done everything right and stayed consistent, and still your darling comes home from school one day and no longer answers you in your language. You will feel disappointed and disheartened if it this happens, but it is crucial that you don’t give up at this point, and that you continue to stay consistent and if possible, also increase the exposure time.

10 – Your children will gain an array of benefits by becoming bilingual

If you are still in doubt about whether to bring up your children to become bilinguals or not, read about all the great benefits your children will gain if you do decide to do it. We all want what is best for our children, so why wouldn’t you support yours to have the wonderful gift of speaking more than one language?

11 – You will never regret it

I can assure you, you will not regret your decision to stick with it and make sure that your children grow up to speak all the family languages. On the other hand, I have heard several parents who are sad that they gave up on passing on their languages – not to mention the many adults expressing their disappointment that they were not taught a language their mother or father knew when they were small.

12 – You will be proud

You will be immensely proud when your children for the first time speak to their grandparents or other relatives in “their” language. I can assure you that the feeling is absolutely wonderful. Not only will you be proud, so will your children and the rest of your family. You will also be a great role model to other families.

May the peace and power be with you.


© Rita Rosenback 2017
Bringing up a Bilingual Child by Rita RosenbackNever miss a post! Sign up to the Multilingual Parenting newsletter and I will send you a recap of the week’s posts every Sunday. Every second week you will receive a more extensive issue with links to research articles and interesting posts from other writers, as well as handy tips and ideas!
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  210 Responses to “12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know”

    • Thank you, Galina! Glad you liked my post 🙂

      • Hi,
        I love your thoughts and this website. I have just found out about it.
        What do you think about the following:
        Can you teach your children a foreign language if you’re a teacher of that language?
        I’m thinking of speaking in English with my daughter. She’s 15 months now. I spoke to a pedagogue and she said that my child would never be fluent in English. It somehow discouraged me.
        I would appreciate your thoughts, thank you.

        • Hello Ana,
          Thank you for your kind comment!
          I am surprised about the professional dismissing you in the way she did. There is no way she could know how your daughter will evolve linguistically and which languages she will learn how well.
          This is a question that comes up quite often in our Q&As, so take a look at this post and ultilingualparenting.com/2015/02/26/qa-passing-on-a-non-native-language-to-a-child/” target=”_blank”>this one. I also wrote a 3-part series of posts on the topic of teaching your child a non-native language.
          Do I think it is possible? Yes, but it is not an easy thing to do – and there are some things to be considered before embarking on this journey.
          Kind regards,

      • I think you can honestly and respectfully add 1-2 alternative experiences, which will be part of reality. 1. If you and your spouse don’t speak the same language and they choose to go the 100% spoken to child route, then your family experience WILL not be a close as if you all are always sharing the same experiences together. It will affect your happiness. Although the degree will depend on your expectations. The early years are so precious. 2. You’re child WILL lag other kids speaking the native language. Although people say they will ‘catch up’, know that this will take a slight toll on you for years having your child always be ‘behind.’

  1. I’m Hungarian, my husband is Italian and we live in Germany with our kids. The kids are learning German and english in the School, and they speak hungarian and Italian.It IS a Kind of challenge for everybody!

  2. The words I most often heard coming from my father, growing up, were “Sorry, I don’t understand French.” He is a francophone raised in French and English and decided that he would be talking to us in English, when I (the eldest) was 5, and my mother was speaking French to us (the majority language in Quebec).
    It was frustrating at times because we very well knew that he understood French, but he made us talk to him only in English. He would provide the words if we really did not know how to say something, then make us repeat. I took a lot of energy for him to be so strict and firm, but I’m grateful for it because I’ve seen so many kids and teens understand a second language spoken at home, but not speak it, and later regret it as adults. So thank you Papa!

    Now, as a second-language teacher, I have learned that studies say that as long as the circumstances in which a child hears a language are very clear and there are no blurred lines, there is no problem with exposing a baby to 2 or even 4 languages. The child won’t mix up the languages if there is a clear “Mommy language”, a “Daddy language”, a “Daycare language”, and so on. It’s when the context for speaking a specific language (people mixing languages as they speak) are blurred that it’s more a challenge for the child’s brain to sort out which words belong to which language. But eventually he will. Though he might mix words of different languages in his speech too, and not understand that not everybody he speaks to will know these languages.

    • Thank you, Eliane, for telling your story! You are echoing so many other adult bilinguals’ thoughts when you say that you are grateful to your parents for sticking with it. It is an important message for all parents currently raising their children to become bilingual.

      A bit of mixing languages is ok (this does happen in most multilingual families), but as long as children also spend time with people who speak the language without mixing in other languages, they will learn to keep the languages separate when they speak with monolinguals. Consistency along with enough interactive exposure are vital, and yes, there can be up to four languages at the same time.

      • I agree with Eliane. I am Italian and my husband American, we live in Germany. We used opol with the kids (now 15 and 13 years old) and strictly never mixed languages. Now they speak fluently all three languages (Italian, English and German). On the other hand my daughter had some problem learning French at school because, her words: “they teach you to translate from German. Once I know the words, how to express a concept, it is a step too much to translate it to German”. She is looking forward when she can be in France and be forced to “absorb the language and just speak it”.

  3. Very interesting! I grew up in Brazil from a family of Japanese background. My parents first language was japanese and while growing up I attended a brazilian regular school in the mornings and a private japanese language school in the afternoons for 7 years. However, It wasnt enough because at home nobody spoke japanese at all. Everything was always in portuguese and me and my sisters we never got deeply interested in Japanese culture. My friends who lived with their grandparents ended up learning both languages very well, though. So my point about sharing my story is that parents sure have a great role at not just teaching the language, but showing why the language should be learnt and make their kids get interested in it.

  4. #9 is certainly a stage that many children go through, but persistence is the key. I am first generation bilingual (english-turkish). with our daughter we upped the ante (english-turkish-french) and for about a year she wouldn’t speak english (we had moved from canada to turkey and her father was monolingual in english) but a year later with constant reinforcement in english everything had smoothed out…

    • Thank you so much for sharing your family’s experience. I admire how committed you are as parents and so happy to hear it has paid off! It is so important that other families who are struggling get to hear success stories like yours. Thank you again!

  5. Great food for thought! I am Argentine by birth, but am a US citizen by family, my husband is Argentine, but we are now moving to Brazil as missionaries. Our daughters are 3 and 17 months. I am trying to figure out how to juggle all three! They will learn Portuguese in school, I am determined they learnEnglish, I would like for them to speak Spanish… we have a long road ahead! Thanks for the tips!

  6. All sound advice!!! Everyone should be bilingual!
    I would add two other items that I used when teaching my son Italian and were very helpful. I hope they can be helpful to others also:

    1. Avoid always correcting the child, but let the child make mistakes as he/she speaks the language….with time they figure it out. At times I would feign forgetting a word in English and let my son come to my rescue with the proper word so that the exercise of remembering a correct word in a language was equal for both and not just for the ” other language” .

    2. Find something that is interesting to do, hopefully together in THAT language. For the past 50 years Disney has had a standing deal with an Italian publisher allowing them to create and publish their own stories with Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse etc. The fusion of Italy and US that comes out of the comic books is unique and a magnet for kids…..to the point that I would read the stories to my son at bedtime until the day when I told him I was tied of reading all the words and that he should read Donald Duck. He said he did not read Italian and I told him he could read the letters and knew what the language sounded like so why could he not? Not only does he now speak Italian but he also reads and writes Italian fluently. I credit Disney 🙂

    • Fantastic, thank you very much, Fabio! I know there are different opinions with regards to correcting a child’s mistakes, and I am sure you can succeed even if you do correct, but I am largely with you on this one (I wrote about it in this post). Love the idea of letting your son “help” you find a specific word – that would have been so motivating for him!
      Yes, comics can be such a helpful tool to get children a) listening attentively and b) learning to read themselves.
      Thank you for sharing your experiences, much appreciated!

    • Thank you! I am Dominican and learned english when I was a teenager. When I had my first child I began speaking english to her and then to all my children. I was alone in this goal for my husband would not be attracted to the idea, he thought it would be confusing them. By the time they turned 3 they were fully bilingual, with no support or surroundings in english at the time. Later on their school started a special english program for my daughter and other missionary kids with greater needs because they were already bilingual. I always thought they could move to any country when they grew up and english would be a necessary tool. Today we live in America , they are all professionals and speak 3 languages. God blessed my effort ! Fabio, Will you PLEASE share details on those books from Disney? I am taking italian clasess and those children books can help a lot!! So far I have not been able to find them.

  7. I am raising my son bilingual in English and Spanish in Mexico. My son is a dual national as I, because my mother is American. I have spoken English exclusively to him since he was six months old and he only watches TV in English. We is 3 and a half now and his dominant language is English. He started speaking Spanish at school and my husband is reinforcing it at home, and he is acquiring it very fast. Now he “translates”, he talks to my husband in Spanish and then turns to me and says it in English. It’s amazing!

    We have had many challenges, including doctors and teachers telling me to stop speaking English to him, because of a (slight) speech delay and some phonetic problems. I have refused every time.

    I didn’t grow up speaking English regularly at home . My father did not like it. Although I had a native pronunciation and could say some things, I was not fluent at all. We moved to Canada when I was twelve and I was not able to understand TV, movies and had a really hard time at school. When I saw my mother being able to speak and understand everything, I was angry. I couldn’t believe she had not shared that with me! I felt cheated. I learned English properly those two years in Canada and later by watching TV and reading a lot. As an adult I lived in England and spent some years in the States, and that’s when I really became fluent.

    I work in English language teaching now and I know that you cannot acquire a language 100% (especially native pronunciation,) unless you are exposed to it by a parent or by the environment in a consistent and significant way from a young age. Thank you for a great article! The advice is excellent.

    • Thank you Diana for sharing your and your family’s story! My daughter also translated as soon as she knew a few words in both of her first languages. She was not even two at the time, it did feel amazing 🙂 Sorry to hear that you have also had to stand your ground against incorrect advice, I am so glad you did!
      I can understand your pain when you felt cheated as a twelve-year-old, but I am sure your mother had her reasons – fantastic that you have become and English teacher!
      Thank you for reading – I am happy you enjoyed my post 🙂

      • Thank you, Rita!
        I know challenges lay ahead. As you mention in the article, I have heard from friends that sometimes children don’t want to speak the minority language anymore. My plan is to stay firm and to travel to the States as much as our budget allows- lol. I’m sure the sightseeing, shopping and restaurants will motivate him, let alone Disneyland!
        Thanks again for the article! Sometimes bilingualism feels like a lonely road and it’s great to hear other experiences and very good advice!

        • I can read from your comments how passionate you are and how committed your are to raising your son to be bilingual, and I am sure you will succeed! When it feels lonely – reach out, there are so many others who are sharing a similar journey!

  8. Hi, I am Mexican and my husband is Italian. We have two children 7 and 5 who speak since they were born in Spanish with me and Italian with dad. Although we live in Italy, I always wanted them not only to be able to learn my beautiful language but about their culture and heritage. Also, I have always spoken English since very young so I wanted them to learn English, so we decided to put the eldest one in an international school where she has learnt the language since she was in early years. Now at 7 her English, Italian and Spanish are fantastic!!! And she keeps on developing her reading/writing skills in all three languages. I definitely struggled to keep to Spanish and also relied on t.v. And technology to help me with exposure to the language. My youngest son has the same except that he goes to a French school, he is in his second year and already his French is developing amazingly. We now speak four languages at home without it being chaotic!!!

    • Wonderful, thank you for telling us your family story! We had a similar situation in the family with four different languages, and we seemed to be the only people who didn’t find it difficult or confusing 😀

  9. Great Post! Me and my Husband are italian and we live in Germany since 10 years. Ous son is 4 years old and is growing up speaking perfectly italian and german. Sometimes he mix them and it’s so funny 🙂 And it’s incredible how his German pronounce is PERFECT. Much more perfect as ours! 😉

    • Hi Rosanna – thank you for your lovely comment! You are so right about children and accents – as adults we have to work really, and I mean really, REALLY hard to get anywhere as authentic an accent. That said, I like accents, they are part of our make up as bilinguals, I think 🙂

    • Hello Rosanna,

      Your son was born in Germany, or you just moved here?was he going to a German kindergarten?? I had a bad experience with a german kindergarten, because at home we speak Italian and hungarian but no german.. The teachers could not work with a 3 years old kid who not knows german..everyday was a mess for him and for me too!! Than we decided to move back to Italy, at least he learned italian and now that he is almost 7 we moved back to koln and he is going to a German-Italian school..

      • My husband and I are both Greeks.We moved to England 3 years ago and we are both fluent in English although when at home we both speak greek. We have a 5month old baby and my fear was that she might felt isolated if she didnt know English till kindergarden so since I was pregnant started to speak to her only in English the problem(well i dont know if its a problem) is that my husband and I continue to speak in greek when at home but when i want to talk to my lo i speak only English. With that way i reckon that it might be good for her to be exposed to both lanquages although i have my doubts from time to time. Hope it goes well

  10. My friends Walter and Sophia (now retired), living in the Netherlands, raised their two daughters speaking their father’s native German with their father, their mother’s Dutch with their mother, whichever language started first in collective conversations, and English as a secondary language. Not only did both daughters come out exquisitely trilingual, but also, one has adapted to tough economic times in her original profession by becoming a primary school German teacher. (There may be some family talent: Sophia has become a fluent Swedish speaker as a hobby, and Walter is able to converse comfortably in Latin, French and Italian.)

  11. Reblogged this on Everyday Issues and commented:
    Shame I cannot speak one of my languages…but am proud of it.

  12. My husband and I both grew up only speaking English but invested a lot of time, money, and energy throughout our lives learning Russian and Spanish respectively. Neither of us are “native” in our second language, but we are conversationally fluent and speak correctly with little accent (we lived in Russia and Spain). We would like to pass our second languages to our children because we have invested so much trying to learn them ourselves and because we believe that foreign languages are so important. Do you have any advice for this situation? Our child will be in a Spanish/English daycare and we plan to use technology to help. Our first baby is due in 3 weeks, so we’re trying to plan ahead :).

    • Congratulations and well done for planning ahead! If you feel comfortable about the idea of speaking the language with your child, i.e. you can relate and express your feelings in the language, and you can achieve approximately 30% exposure time in each language for your baby, I see no reason why you couldn’t succeed in this. If you want your child to have a native-like accent, you would need to make sure your baby also gets exposed to native speakers of the languages. Good luck!

      • Thanks for your response! It gives us encouragement and the 30% exposure goal is very helpful as a guideline. We will be getting some children’s books and CDs of songs to help us out :).

  13. My five children speak German (my language), Spanish (their dad’s) and English. They were all born and have always lived in the US. I was more consistent in speaking German with my older ones, and they definitely are doing better with it than the younger ones. My second-oldest (college-aged) pretends she does not understand me when I speak English and even texts me in German. So proud of her!

  14. Hi everyone! My husband is from the US, I am from Austria and we both live in Austria. We both became fluent in the other person’s language (English vs. German). This is why on the odd days (e.g. on March 7th) we speak English, on the even days we speak German to each other. We plan to continue this with our future kids. Does anybody have experiences with this model? Switching the family language each day? Thanks for your response.

    • This can be done, and I have a friend who has successfully implemented language switching in her family – though I think they use two-week intervals. I will ask my friend to comment on this thread.
      That said, since you are now living (and plan on staying?) in Austria, you might want to consider the ‘minority language at home’ approach. When the children grow up, they will be surrounded by German most of their day and English will play a smaller part in their lives. Having English as the home language would at that point safeguard their future as fluent English speakers.

    • Dear Susanne, If you have found a rhythm that works for you and your family, then by all means stick with it! We personally work on a two-week system, a personal adaptation of OPOL for our family. My husband is French and I am American born to a Hispanic father and a Mexican mother and raised bilingually in California. While living in the U.S., we used classic OPOL (Papa – French, Mama – Spanish) and our children got English everywhere else. When we moved to France 8 years ago, we switched to an every two week system. Papa still does the French and I switch from Spanish to English every two weeks. It usually takes us about three days to get everyone on track with the new target language (we do a lot of mixing of languages those first three days!) and then for the rest of the two weeks, it’s usually smooth sailing and we get a true immersion experience in the target language. This rhythm has been working like a charm for us for the past 8 years. We are the proud parents of 4 budding trilinguals (all at different stages, of course), ages 16 months to 13 years! Good luck to you!

  15. […] 出典:12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know […]

  16. Hi everyone, my family live in Australia and at the moment we all speak English, my husband is from brazil and we have always wanted our daughter to speak Portuguese as well. She is three years old and we have found that she is very resistant to speaking Portuguese, she knows at least fifty words in portuguese but will rarely speak thwm. she is speaking very well in English and can understand complex concepts. should her father simply start speaking portuguese to her all the time, or should we ease into it more slowly. I suggested to her moments ago that daddy will start to speak portuguese all the time and she was upset because it is to hard and she can’t speak portuguese, I am expecting her to be quite resistant and she is quite stubborn, I don’t want it to be a negative experience. How to proceed from here?

    thank you for your advice,

    • Hi Sharon, thank you for your comment! You ask “should her father simply start speaking portuguese to her all the time” – the answer is Yes, he should. The longer you wait, the more difficult it is going to be to change the language (you can read what I had to do to change language with my daughter). She will be a bit upset to start with but if you both support her and make it fun for her, it will soon become a norm in the family. Do a lot of activities in Portuguese: play games, watch cartoons together and “discuss” what is happening. You could also learn Portuguese alongside your daughter and even ask her to help you with words that you know she already has in her vocabulary (kids love knowing something better than their parents). This will be a great motivation for her. It will take a bit of effort getting into the Daddy-speaks-Portuguese routine, but the longer you wait, the more tricky it is going to be. My suggestion is, start with the Portuguese today, doing something she really loves.

  17. I never felt so good in my life. Every and each word is true. My children speak three language and we did exactly what you (Rita) wrote. It is so good to read that other people support and understand us. Thank you

  18. Hello, I always wanted to raise my son bilingual. I was born in the US. My dad is American and my mom german. We lived in the US for about 5 years. I grew up bilingual. Than we went to Germany and I went to german Kindergarten , than german school and than the german school for nursing. I never forgotten the englisch language. I do think that I speak it fluently and understand everything. But german has become my main language.
    I am now 28 and live in Austria and my son will be 3 in June. I have such a hard time to speak english to him. My boyfriend is Austrian and also understands english. But its just so hard for me to actually use the english language for the everyday speak.
    We read English book’s to him and he gets to watch english television….but I am afraid that is not enough.

    • Dear Mel, thank you for telling your story. The passion for English and for teaching it to your son clearly comes through when you describe your situation. Reading English books and watching English on the TV will be beneficial for your son, but you are right when you say that it will not be enough for him to become an English speaker. Are there any English playgroups in the area that your son could participate in? Any American or English families whose children speak English with each other and you could arrange play dates with? It is important that you feel comfortable when you communicate with your son. While it is fantastic to pass on a language to a child, remember that the relationship between the two of you is more important than which language you use. Try to think what would make you more confident in using English with your son – would it be to listen to English TV programs, read magazines and books – what about frequent Skype calls with English speaking friends and family? You could also choose a specific day, or the weekends to use only English with your son. In this way it would probably not feel as hard. Even if he doesn’t learn to speak English at home, he will gain an immense advantage in having a passive understanding of it, which can later be turned into active use of it. Good luck with everything!

  19. We are raising our boys in Brazil so their main language will be Portuguese. My husband is Brazlian but he has made the amazing choice to make our home an English speaking environment. This is an enormous investment for his sons which we all appreciate. Our eldest is now 2 and speaking primarily in English and showing obvious signs that he knows there are two languages. They are very lucky boys. We have a blog about child development where we write about our language journey. Please let me know if you would like the blog page. Thank you for this inspirational post 🙂

  20. Rita, it there a way your post can be translated into SpanishThat can helphelp a lotf families in my community in Houston Texas.

  21. Hi Rita, and thank you for this post: it is excellent advice.
    I feel a bit deflated as for us, it has not really paid off. Before having children, it was very clear in my head that I would raise my children bilingually. I am French living in the UK. My husband does not speak French, and furthermore, I speak excellent English. (By this, I mean that I do not have an accent at all, and no-one suspects that I am French at all). My son is 5 and my daughter is 2. Because we speak English at home, the only exposure they have is when they speak to me and me only. So we are very far from the 30% time you advocate for the minority language.
    I religiously spoke French to my son, and tried to encourage him to watch French cartoons. However, we noticed his speech was very delayed, and after two years to observations and visits to specialists, he was finally diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder. He is very bright, and his speech is improving, but he is still behind his peers. The specialist who diagnosed him did query if perhaps the French might be a hindrance to him. She did not advise me to stop speaking, but implied that she simply did not know. I decided to stick with the French because more than a language, I also believed it was part of his identity. Perhaps I should have sought more help at the time. What happened is that gradually, I have slacked. I gave in. I speak English to him when I really want cooperation. I know that he can understand French and he usually translates what I say, but he is still struggling with his speech and comprehension. So from little exposure, he now has very little exposure. I feel a bit of a failure, but it is very hard to communicate with him at the best of times. He has also refused to speak French to me. Taking him on holidays to France are difficult because of his attachment to routine and familiar environment. I have taken him three times by myself (without dad who speaks English) and this was before his diagnosis. These were very difficult and stressful times for me. Not holidays at all!!!
    My little girl is now starting to speak, and she understand French, but there again, I feel that the exposure to minority language is still too little. I speak a lot to her, I do a running commentary of everything, but all the play groups she attends, and all the friends she has are English-speaking.
    I suspect she will copy her brother (like she does for everything) and “reject” the French when she realises that I can speak English very well too, so there’s no need to bother!!!
    So I gradually accept that I did my best, but that my children will probably not be bilingual. It is tough to accept, but not as tough as having a child with autism. Life does not turn out as you plan…

    • Dear Abigail, how lucky your children are to have you as their mother. Not for a single fleeting moment should you think you are a failure! Your concern and eagerness to do the best for your children shines through so clearly in your message. As I write in the post, bringing up a bilingual child is never an easy task and when you add to that the fact that your son has ASD makes it a big challenge, Instead of feeling that you have slacked, look at it this way: you have given your son a passive understanding of another language, which is more than most ASD children will ever have! (I do actually prefer the more positive term “receptive bilingual” for someone who understands a language, but doesn’t speak.) The most important thing for your relationship is after all that you can communicate, not which language the communication happens in. Your little girl can still become a fluent French speaker, don’t give up on the idea. If you diligently stick to French with her, this will be THE language between the two of you. The fact that she will realise you speak English is not that important, the main thing is that you always stick to French when you speak directly to her. The chance of a child giving up on a language is greater if a parent switches between languages in direct interactions.
      Life certainly never goes to plan, but you have done and are continuing to do the very best for your children. Give yourself a tap on the back and be proud of yourself, you are a great mother!

  22. Hello and thank you Rita for sharing very helpful advice and insights from your own multilingual experiences!
    We are raising our son (almost 2 years old) in two languages: German and Russian in Germany, I speak exclusively and try to expose our son to the Russian and my husband to the German. I speak to my husband in German as he does not understand Russian. Now, is it ok that I speak to my husband in German and translate him what I just said to our son and what our son said to his father, i.e. isn’t it some sort of blurring of languages? Our son mixes the languages and I understand him as he for example asks me and I answer in Russian. Is it okay, if I understand and not pretend not to understand. What language did you speak to your Punjabi speaking husband?

    • Hi Dinara, thank you for sharing your story. It is ok for you to speak German to your husband, just always stick to Russian when you speak directly to your son. Bilingual children almost always mix languages to start with, so that’s nothing to worry about. With regards to whether or not to pretend not to understand when your son speaks German to you, I would leave that up to you and what feels right. My option would be to repeat what he said in Russian and steer the language to Russian that way. Initially I spoke English with my then husband and when our first daughter was born, I switched to Finnish which he was getting up to speed with at the time. He learnt Finnish alongside our daughter.

  23. Just a quick question. I didn’t see it mentioned in your post but what’s your opinion on language delay caused by learning multiple languages? I seem to remember hearing/reading in a linguistics class that it often takes bilingual children longer to speak initially but when they do, they have a general grasp on both languages.
    I keep warning my husband of this fact as we’re currently speaking a mix if English and Portuguese at home (in America). Thanks for the other guidance-I like the 30% exposure guideline.

    • Hi Erin, the pace at which children learn to speak vary greatly, independent of whether they are mono- or bilingual. Bilingual children in general have a slightly different learning pattern, they are after all learning two meanings for each new concept. So while a monolingual child might seem to have a greater vocabulary, a bilingual child will in total know more words. Bilingual children quickly catch up with any perceived delays. Just as an example, my older daughter started using two languages when she was two, the younger one didn’t speak until she was three and a half.

  24. I came across your blog by chance. It’s a great way to provide advice on raising multilingual children.To all the parents out there, don’t give up. I speak,read and write in 3 languages, 1 dialect and understand (but cannot converse) in another. The proverb of “It takes a village to raise a child” rings quite true for me as different family members would force me to speak in an “assigned” language/dialect to them when I was younger. Along the way, the school system introduced an extra language which was then added to my already confusing list.

    At first, it may be a struggle for parents to introduce multiple languages to a child since the child will always favour the one he/she could express themselves best in. They may pout, answer in a dominant language instead of complying with your request to speak in another, or may feel that you are out to get them in some way.

    But when they are adults, they will thank you for all the hours you have put in. Life becomes so much more interesting! So hang in there!

  25. I grew up bilingual and raising bilingual kids nowadays is key to their career success http://thecitizenculture.com/2014/01/growing-up-bilingual/

  26. Hi Rita, it’s interesting, I’m mother of one young man 29 years old and one boy 9 years old, I’m in Italy since 30 years, always speak to my sons in spanish and also in english, never in Italian, y first son speaks italian, spanish, english and french, the second one speaks italian and spanish without any problem, for the english I’ll need a little more time 🙂

  27. I disagree with your article. People always overcomplicate things just go with the flow. My kids are trilingual French, English and Spanish and I would say at a very high level of proficiency in all 3. Actually many many of my kids friends also, Like me none of them paid any attention to what they were doing or read articles about it like this one. most of them ether married into a different ethnic back ground or just sent their kids to a school with a different language then the one spoken at home. If i was to post this article on there Facebook page they would be laughing in tears.

    1 – It doesn’t happen by magic -1) ya it did kind of just happened like that.
    2 – You need a plan -2) no we had no plan see above, why do people always over complicate things.
    3 – Consistency is crucial -3) no we were not consistent i switched from one to the other when ever.
    4 – You will have to pay attention to exposure times 4) lol what can i say apart from see answer above

    Basically the only good comment in this is 7 – Don’t listen to bad advice (basically this article.)

    • Hi Ben, thank you for your feedback, I am glad you took the time to read my article and post your comment. I am very happy to hear that it all worked out well in your family and your children naturally grew up to become bilingual. Actually, that is how I became bilingual as well! However, this is definitely not the case in all families, and based on the response I have had to this and many other posts in my blog, there are many families that appreciate some help and encouragement along the way. Have a lovely day!

    • Hi Ben!

      #2 –looks like you are really against the plan. But didn’t your friends at least several months ahead thought about enrolling their kids into language immersion school? Or they just all woke up in the morning and thought “Why won’t we go to school today to learn a foreign language?” That is called a plan.

      #3 – You had a luxury not to be consistent. I really suspect you had a very strong community and school support for all three languages. For those of us who does not have such a strong language environment – NO Consistency means NO Language. If you don’t use it you lose it.

      #4 – exposure times – lol what can i say apart from see answer above,

      And as for #1 – magic: Ben, science, you don’t know, looks like magic. And there is a lot of parenting science behind magic of multilingualism. I definitely agree with you, that hearing children speaking comfortably multiple languages is magical, but as any magician will tell you, it takes time, preparation and dedication.

      It is great that your friends will laugh on FB, but most of the people usually cry in real live that they did not read this article when their kids were young.

      P.S. I hope your children along with languages learned manners at school too. And if they disagree on an article, they would prove their points politely.

    • It is so nice that {you} think you had none of those struggles that majority of multilingual families have.
      Even if you had no plan, you had consistency and no, there was no magic. It is just that if you read more into the scientific research on linguistics and how the languages are learned, if your children constantly heard members in your family and community surrounding you speaking all these languages on a daily basis (switching from one to another or not), they have picked the languages up. Did you know that children are capable of learning up to 10 languages simultaneously without making much of an effort besides hearing them on a regular basis before they are 5 years old?

      And last, but not the least, I hope you DO post this article on your page and let your friends and acquaintances decide (without posting mocking comments alongside, but rather something like – what do you think?) whether it is bad advice or not.

      Being respectful even online is just a basic courtesy. No one has mocked you so far on your punctuation and mistakes you’ve made in your comment? 🙂

      Have a lovely day!

  28. In response to Ben-

    I meet a lot of multilingual families, including those with grown children. I have yet to meet a family where bilingualism/multilingualism “just happened.” For most families, one language becomes the dominant one and children become, at best, passive bilinguals (mostly understanding but unable to communicate in the written or verbal form). For many, children resist the non-environmental language, only to regret in later years that they didn’t put in the effort to know those other languages. The only true bilinguals I know got that way because their parents actively pushed multiple languages on them – through immersion schools, traveling and living abroad, tutors, and even “assignments” from Mom and Dad.

    I suppose it is possible that a person could learn multiple languages – understanding, reading, and writing -just by chance. But if it is truly possible (and I still have my doubts) it is certainly the exception to the rule. As for your personal experience – chances are great that there was a lot more structure and science to the language acquisition path your children took than you realize – via your home, your environment, and the schools they attended.

    Rita’s insights and experiences provide a valuable service to the thousands of families out there attempting to raise their children with multiple languages. As a bi/trilingual person – I’m saddened that you don’t see the value in that, but rather feel the need to insult – quite rudely – what she is trying to accomplish.

  29. Hi, I have a question. My partner and I have spanish as our mother tongue. Later on, by living in some english speaking countries I manged to learn english pretty well. Since our son was born we talked about getting him to become bilingual, but it has been two and a half years and I haven’t taken the courage to talk to him exclusively in english. I know that all this talk about bilingual kids is usually directed to parents from different countries… but… do you have any advise to parents trying to teach their child a language that is their second one (of course, in addition to their first language)?

    • Hello Juan, my first question is, how do you really feel about speaking only English to your son? How would it affect your relationship? You don’t have to be a native speaker to pass on a language to your child, but it is not an easy task to take on if you are not fully confident about the situation. I would also recommend that you arrange some exposure from native English speakers for your son if you decide to go down this route. If you were to speak English exclusively with your son and spend enough time interacting with him in English, he would no doubt learn the language.

  30. Your post is so interesting. I have no story to share as both my parents are native English speakers, though I love learning other languages.
    I have several mixed-language parent friends raising their kids to be bilingual. It is such a gift, and so sad for both parent and child if the opportunity is lost. It looks like you provide wonderful practical support here.

  31. this is a great topic and the article i believe is directed to the parents that just want to introduce a second language to their child..
    if you live in a country with a different language and your child goes to school or watches TV all day and listen to you speaking a second language to the people in the store they will learn for sure. But it definitely is a plan and depends on your dedication to keep them bilingual.
    im from Brazil, my husband from Panama and we live in USA. at home, my 2 daughters speak portuguese to me and in spanish to my husband (he doesn’t speak portuguese at all) and perfect english at school. but it IS a challenge because they will mix the words specially with portuguese and spanish and you need to make sure you correct them nicely and make them repeat.. they will eventually learn, kids love to learn. I refuse to talk to my kids AT HOME in spanish and english. I only do so when we have people either speaking spanish or english around. It is really nice see them abe to communicate with my parents in Brazil (they only understand portuguese) and with my husband’s parents in Panama (they only understand spanish) it is really important to keep the relationship.. they live so far away can you imagine if they can’t understand each other when they spend a few days together?
    but again, my recommendation to the parents that for example: both speak spanish and they live in a spanish speaking country but they want their child to be bilingual, to start with music, movies, books and start little by little talking to them about a specific topic they like in the language you want them to learn and 30 min today and 45 min tomorrow and so on.. and if they don’t want to talk don’t force them they will get frustrated and start hating that language 🙂
    my 4 yo told me the other day that her friends at school need to eat more vegetables so they can get smarter and learn portuguese or spanish! she still doesn’t get that how in the world they cannot speak portuguese or spanish, it is so easy… LOL

    hope you all have a nice day!! specially you Rita!

    Thank you! Gracias! Obrigada! 🙂

    • Thank you, Jacqueline, for your nice words and for telling us your family’s story. I can see that consistency has been high on your agenda and that it has paid out, wonderful! Absolutely love your 4-year-old’s take on language learning – not only is she aware of language skills but also of what is healthy to eat! 🙂

    • Spanish and Portuguese are not so different that they are mutually unintelligible. I would think the probem would be more one of confusing the words than of not understanding.

  32. Rita, your article is very interesting for me. I would like to know your opinion about this: my husband is Norwegian and I am Spanish but I grew up in France. We live in Spain. We have a one year old girl, daddy speaks Norwegian to her and I speak mainly French but also English to her. My mother and aunt speak Spanish and my husband and I use Spanish to communicate.
    Am I doing right? Could it be confusing if I continue using two languages?
    Thank you.

    • Wow, let me just get my head around all your languages to start with 🙂 Your daughter will learn Norwegian from her dad and Spanish from her grandmother, other relatives and the environment you are living in. So we are left with the two languages that you speak to her: French and English. How do you alternate between the two? Do you use French and English on different days or different areas in the house? It is not an easy task for one parent to teach a child two languages simultaneously. I am not saying it can not be done, but you need to find a away to clearly separate the two, so your daughter can identify which language you are using when. Another option would be to speak to her in one language first and when she has mastered that, switch to the other one. This is what I did with my elder daughter. Note however, that the switch is not easy – you can read about it here: http://multilingualparenting.com/2013/05/08/pricken-the-swedish-speaking-kitten/

      • Thank you for your response!
        In fact, I don’t have a specific plan with the two languages I speak to my daughter, I just try to express things in both languages. I also sing and read stories to her in the two languages.

        I tried during a few days to speak French at home and English when we were out but I didn’t like it. I think she is able to distinguish between the two and she already answers to questions in both languages.

        I like the idea of alternating days. Would you recommend that?

        Tack så mycket

  33. Hi, interesting article I am still hesitating what to do about languages with my soon to be born baby boy. We have four languages in our family. We live in Geneva so French is the local languange. I am venezuelan, I speak Spanish, English and French, but not Lithuanian. My wife is Lithuanian she speaks Lithuanian, Russian and English but not French or Spanish. We speak English between us. Should we each just speak in our own languages Lithuanian and Spanish and hope he picks-up French from the nursery and English from us? Is this too much? Should we phase in the introduction of one or two of the other languages?

    • What an amazing amount of languages to have in one family! You are right, ideally you should speak your respective languages, Lithuanian and Spanish, to your boy from the day he is born (or even before that!). He will most likely also pick up at least a passive knowledge of English (which will benefit him hugely when he goes on to learn English later on in school). Your son will learn French from other children or by the latest at nursery – so I wouldn’t worry too much about French. This is not too much, as there is a consistent use of the different languages. Best of luck to you!

  34. Thanks so much for this article. I have a similar question as Raul above. I’m German, my wife is Chinese, and we live in the US. We hardly understand each other’s languages, so our marriage language is English. If we now decide to each talk to our daughter (due date in a few weeks) consistently in our respective languages (German and Chinese), but talk to each other in English, will she be confused? And more importantly, in what language will we have family conversation in? Should we resort to English once she picks English up from kindergarten, or will we have three-way conversations in three different languages at the dinner table, translating each other back and forth to make sure everyone understands what was said? Thanks for your advice!

    • Thank you for your question, Josh! Your family language set-up is a fairly typical one for international families . Like I might have mentioned in previous comments, your daughter will not be confused with the two of you speaking English together as you will both be using your respective languages when you speak to her directly. Remember that she will not learn “overnight”, it will take some time before she starts speaking German and Chinese – during this time you both will have the opportunity to learn alongside her to gain some more insight into each other’s languages. This way you will both feel more comfortable in speaking your languages without worrying that the other parent cannot understand anything of what you are saying. Your daughter will initially probably become a receptive bilingual (i.e. understands English, but doesn’t speak), but depending on how much other exposure she gets to English (from other children, TV, when out and about etc) she might even speak before she goes to nursery or school. Don’t worry if she doesn’t, she will pick it up soon enough. From then on your challenge will be to keep German and Chinese going at home. Being very consistent from the start with your language use with her will be the best guarantee that she will continue actively using both languages. As to what you should speak when you are all together – if at all possible, avoid switching to English when you speak directly to her. Like I said, you will both learn to understand at least something of what is said in the other parent’s language and from the context you can figure out a lot more. Agree that it is ok to ask for a translation when you feel like you need one. Good luck on your multilingual family journey!

  35. […] Traduzi o texto para o português, mas se quiserem ler o original, escrito pela autora Rita Rosenback, cliquem AQUI. […]

  36. Hi Rita, congratulations on writing such a relevant article!
    I have a question that I’m wondering if you could help me with. I am raising my 3.5 year old daughter in Canada and both I and my husband speak only Portuguese with her. It’s going great and with the exception of a couple of mistakes here and there in both languages, I can say with confidence that she is fully bilingual.
    My question is about reading out loud to her. I read to her a lot, and love it when I have Portuguese books to read, but sometimes we receive lovely gifts of books in English from our friends here in Canada, or she finds books she likes in the library. Up until now, I have been doing “simultaneous translation” with her in those cases – reading English books but saying the words to her in Portuguese. I don’t know if this was the “right thing” to do, but it felt right at the time. Now, however, she is starting to learn her letters, will start kindergarten soon, and I am worried that not reading the same thing as what’s on paper will interfere with her learning process. I am concerned that she will see a letter, think it should sound a certain way, but I will be saying something completely different… So, should I start reading English books in English and portuguese books in Portuguese even though I consistently only speak Portuguese with her?
    Thank you!

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Luciana! You have absolutely done the right thing to translate English books on the fly for your daughter. Also, by doing that you have done a high level mental gym exercise yourself, which benefits your brains! You don’t have to stop doing it now that your daughter is learning to read English. It is also ok for you to read to her in English if you want to. What you can do is to explain to your daughter that you are TELLING the story in Portuguese when you translate on the fly, and when you want to use English, say (in Portuguese) that you will now READ a book to her in English. This way there will be a clear distinction between your use of Portuguese and English with her. By your dedication I can tell that she will grow up to be fluent in both languages and probably be interested in learning more! Good luck!

  37. Reblogged this on Carmen Arias and commented:
    Interesting and straight to the point , really useful tips when raising bilingual children . By a practicioner herself , Rita Rosenback

  38. […] 1 – It doesn’t happen by magic Children do not become bilingual “by magic”. There is a persistent myth claiming that “children are like sponges when it comes to language” and that they will learn a…  […]

  39. Rita,

    Thanks for the great article and ideas. There was not a single suggestion I didn’t agree with.

  40. Hi Abigail, we have a similar situation to a degree, here is our story: I am French living with my New Zealand wife in NZ. Our son (now 8) has Aspergers too.

    My wife speaks excellent French and so we initially spoke to him mostly in French at home, and he was exposed to English outside, with his cousins, at kindy etc. We were lucky enough that his French speech was not delayed but he resisted speaking English for a long time. He was diagnosed just at the end of kindy, age 5. Now at school (which incidentally is a school where the NZ curriculum is taught in French (3 days/week)and English (2 days a week) ), he still favours French but seems to have accepted that he needs some English. His English is still way behind his French but he is making progress.

    We use child psychologists using the ABA philosophy, methods and tools to improve his communication skills. There are of course many forms of Aspergers (almost one per child!) but often their conversation skills aren’t up to scratch from what our society expects so this is why we use these people and this is probably not related to our bilingualism. The sessions are all in English but we notice that we can apply the principles when we communicate in French too and so when I speak French to him, I am trying to “think ABA” and get him to make statements, ask questions, put himself in someone’s shoes etc etc. All in French.

    We also have a younger daughter, now 6, who is 100% bilingual. She has periods of rejecting French as most of her friends can speak English so we are trying as much as we can to get her to spend time with French-speaking kids and it works to a degree, they do speak in French sometimes. I make a point of always and only speaking to her in French. Her French reading, writing and speaking is very good, I have to say. She’s convinced her English is better than mine! (her accent and pronunciation certainly are 😉

    Not sure what my conclusion or advice should be, but in short – don’t give up and maybe it’s not too late to get this 30% French-speaking time at home! From our point of view, we don’t think the bilingualism in our son has delayed his language skills. But I know that it’s not always easy to tell as their communication is not obvious.

  41. […] ROSENBACK on FEBRUARY 26, 2014 • ( 51 ) 1 – It doesn’t happen by magic Children do not become bilingual […]

  42. Thank you so much for your comments! My husband and I are totally looking forward to the big adventure of raising a bilingual kid. All the best to your amazing families!

  43. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  44. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  45. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  46. My children are learning three languages, cause my husband is english, he, of course, speaks english to them; I am mexican, and speak spanish, and we live in Italy. I only speak spanish to them, but only speak english to my husband. They goto childcare, and that’s the place where they are learning the native language. They are born in Italy. What advice would you give me? Thank you!!

  47. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  48. I entirely agree, as a bilingual parent who has succeeded in teaching French to our daughter. The thing that helped along was the fact that we spend multiple trips to France for 6-8 weeks at the time and that she had to speak French to all the relatives. She also was by herself with my brother’s family for 2 months and went to school in France for that time. As well as that my mother came to OZ for 5 months and she was only speaking French. As an immersion teacher all our students were expose to 2/3 of teaching time in French. Now some of my ex students are still speaking French…

    • Thank you for your comment Pierre and telling us your very encouraging family story. You are absolutely right, immersion in the language (and culture) gives children a massive boost in their speaking skills. Your ex- (and current!) students are lucky to have (had) you as their teacher!

    • Hi! I am wanting to go to France to study French for 2 months and my daughter, who is bilingual, would need to go with me. Can you tell me what steps you took to enroll your child in a school in France for only 2 months? And what the cost was? I am hoping to make this move in September 2015.


  49. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  50. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  51. […] is perhaps the comment that I have heard the most often. As I have stated in another post, bilingualism does not happen just like that, unless the environment is ideal. In the perfect […]

  52. […] This post is also available in the following languages (click on the picture to read the post). More translations to follow: 1 – It doesn’t happen by magic Children do not become bilingual “by magic”. There is a persistent myth claiming that “children are like sponges […]  […]

  53. […] a multilingual child isn’t always easy, but when you succeed it´s definitely going to benefit the child. The benefits go beyond […]

  54. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  55. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  56. […] is challenging and it is going to take a lot of effort and time for us to succeed.  I was reading 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know and have experienced many of these just by observing my neice, […]

  57. Growing up in America to Spanish parents I had to grow up speaking Castilian and French with my mom and Catalan with my dad as well as English. My dominant language is however Castilian followed by Catalan, English and French. It’s a bit hard but my accent in English will never go away, and French people say I have a mix between a Spanish and Catalan accent. I think I will be moving to Madrid.

  58. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  59. We live in France. My husband is Russian and I am American. When the boys were babies I only spoke English to them (consistency). So often we hear couples ruining it for their children. My husband spoke Russian. When they started school, and day care, they didn’t speak a word of French. Some children actually picked up Russian words. In school they did well. When they were 10 they started Hebrew.

    Most interesting to note is that Daddy’s language took back stage as the boys always answered him in French when French became the more dominate language. We didn’t care. Now that they are finishing up University, they have gone back to speaking Russian to their father, French between themselves and English in London.

    I asked the youngest what he thought his maternal language was. He said French. I was surprised..

  60. Hmmm, seems my family may have a unique problem.
    I’m American and speak English to my children (now aged 12 & 9). We live in the Netherlands. My husband is Dutch by birth (and speaks Dutch to them), but his mom is Spanish/Catalan and his dad is Czech/Slovakian (but also speak only dutch to the kids). Telling you this because nearly everyone involved has grown up at least bilingual, but none of us know how to ‘fix’ this problem we’re having.
    When my oldest was little, I made sure to immerse her in the English language thru books/activities/playgroups as I ‘knew’ once she started school, Dutch would become her primary language. I wasn’t as strict for my 2nd (of course).
    Problem now is that even though they attend a normal dutch school and have dutch friends, apparently their mother tongue is still English (says their teachers). They are having some difficulties at school. My daughter’s vocabulary is much better in English. She can express herself nearly without difficulty. In dutch, where she does most of her speaking, she is stilted. She’s embarrassed. I encourage her to read as much as possible, but it’s hard to force her (and I find her secretly reading English language books).
    My son is more complicated as his English is really not great. He speaks throwing in worlds from which ever language pops into his head. His pronunciation in Dutch is not good and his word order is messed up and as social as he is, it’s becoming hard for him. He’s noticing that he’s having trouble expressing himself.
    I don’t feel like me switching to Dutch would help as I speak with an American accent. Also, the kids DO get immersed in only dutch for about 1.5 weeks per month as I am a flight attendant and am simply not there to speak English to them.
    Ever heard this happening? I feel guilty that they have this problem!! How did they get this way when I’m the ONLY one speaking English to them?? More importantly, how to correct this????
    Thank you!!

  61. It’s very true that it’s good to agree who speaks what language from the very beginning. However, being a single mum I took up a challenge of speaking two languages to my daughter since the day she was born. As I am Polish and we lived in Poland at that time I spoke a few hours of English and then switched to Polish. I read books in both languages to her and she watched CBeebies in English and listened to the CBeebies radio. At first my parents,who don’t speak English, were a bit sceptical but never advise me to stop and when she was three and bilingual they were so proud of us. She is 8 now and for two years has been going to English-Spanish school and her understanding of Spanish is great though I don’t speak it. Also her ability to figure out the meaning from the context while reading or watching Spanish movies keeps me amazed. Knowing a few languages when you are still a child is a great gift.

    • You have done a fantastic job, Magda, proving that you can raise a bilingual child as a single parent. You should be so proud of what you have achieved! In this post I wrote about different scenarios for a single parent bringing up a bilingual child.

  62. I am Japanese german bilingual living in the netherlands for 14 years. I am fluent in dutch and english as well. I was born in Japan, moved to germany at age 5. I went to german regular school and on Saturdays and Wednesdays I went to Japanese school. At home I spoke Japanese to my mother so my Japanese was always better than german. I have always been very self assured in speaking german, had no german friends cause I was too Japanese for them. At 16, I decided to behave like other german girls to enjoy my youth. Cause with my Japanese timid behaviour I was getting nowhere. But I kept on reading Japanese books, even studied diplomatic translation in Japanese english at the university with success. I am thankful to my mother that she encouraged and supported my Japanese all my life even in the end I had to admit that none of my languages are 100%. My writing and reading in Japanese is better than german but the speech in german is better than Japanese. I will never be able to feel really at home in one language. Always torn apart in two complete opposite cultures, that of Europe and Asia. But I will always be a representative of Japanese culture to build a bridge between and to solve misunderstandings. Now I have a daughter (5) and my husband (Dutch) prohibits me from speaking Japanese to her in his presence simply because hè cannot participate in our conversation. But since hè is paraplegic hè is at home 24/7. So my Japanese time with my daughter is too little. In the past three years my mother came to visit for 90 days from Japan which helped my daughter to start actively using Japanese language. I was so happy! But my husband was furious and hè even threatened with committing suicide if I didn’t stop it. So 2 months ago I gave it in. I spoke dutch while we were all together. Meanwhile my daughter doesn’t answer in Japanese any more. I still keep on speaking to her in Japanese while alone but she keeps on answering in dutch. I know how difficult it is cause I have been there. But with so much hindering from my partner I feel so powerless I feel like crying. I want to give her the possibility of having a career in being a translator in Japanese like I had. But maybe as it often happens with her as half Japanese children that effort of one parent might end up in vain. Because the gap between the language is too big that the other parent cannot cooperate. I know of many half Japanese teenagers that they were so angry at their Japanese mothers that they didn’t teach them Japanese. But I know why. Cause their german husbands prohibited her from using Japanese at home cause hè didn’t understand. Only a few half Japanese children managed to accomplish success in Japanese that grew up in a german Japanese home where german husbands were interested in Japanese culture and were tolerant to have that language at home. Too bad that my husband does not belong to that category.

    • Dear obp – thank you for telling us your family story. Please allow me to send you a warm virtual hug for being brave and sharing it. There is a limit to what we can do as parents, and you have certainly done your very best in the family circumstances. Since your daughter can understand Japanese, and has spoken Japanese in the past, it will not be that difficult for her to pick it up again later on, if she wants to. So your efforts have not been in vain – your daughter may not be interested in speaking Japanese now, but she may well see the situation differently when she is a few years older. Wishing you all the best for the future!

  63. hi Rita it is a good article i am egyptian so i speak arabic my husband is italian and we speak together in english but we dont speak english with our son and his daycare they use english and arabic and little french my 3 years old son is speaking both but he is much much better using the arabic but i think this is because i am more talkative than his father my question is now our boy he likes to watch cartoons in many languages german, russian, french is this normal and can i allow him to watch cartoons in many languages or i stick only to italian and english ??? thanks

  64. My wife is from USA and doesn’t speak a word of English.

    I think it would be worth considering that there is an age at which children will find it increasingly more difficult to learn a second language. In my experience as an English parent having two children in France and two in Thailand it is 12 years old. After that they may learn the grammar but they will never lose their mother tongue accent, hence Franglais(e) and Tinglish.

    Like all subjects, education is about discovery. Keep it interesting and start early.

    May the force be with you.


  65. […] éste artículo no hay mucho que no se haya dicho antes pero siempre va bien leerlos y encontrar nuevas […]

  66. I grew up bilingual, English and French. Then when I was 10 we moved to Italy and I picked up Italian. When I was 12 my family moved to the US and then my dad decided we would only speak English at home. Oops, big mistake. We forgot the other languages to the point that speaking fluently was no longer possible, although pronunciation was still excellent. I regained French by studying it in college, skipped all the lower level classes because basically I knew the stuff, just had filed it away in the back of my mind. I became a French teacher. One sister lived in Belgium for a year and within a month was speaking French fluently again. My other sisters speak it haltingly. As far as Italian, I think I could get it back because I still understand so much, but my conversations are halting and vocabulary is lacking. So not only is learning a language essential, but practice and continued exposure are needed to keep the language.

    I can see why they say that you have to be exposed at least 30 per cent of the time to a language to pick it up. I see kids who watch TV shows and pick up a few phrases, and their parents proudly say their child speaks the language. But when you try to engage them in a conversation their limits are quickly evident. There is a lot of difference between learning functions and being able to communicate.

  67. […] in more areas of their lives. It’s estimated that kids need to be exposed to a language at least 30% of the time before they begin internalizing […]

  68. Can I give a different perspective?

    Though I don’t agree with Ben’s (comment 30) remarks on how your article is all wrong (I do see them as good suggestions).. I do agree with his “go with the flow” attitude. I don’t see this language thing a make or break ordeal as most parents do. Should we encourage children to learn other languages? Absolutely, but not at the expense where we have to rush and make our children extreme natives so they speak like a native. Many kids are not comfortable speaking the minority language and it is certainly not a good idea to force them either. My husband and I spoke Spanish and English at home to both my daughters, but they choose to speak in English as I can tell as it’s what they are comfortable with. They never really spoke Spanish at home and it didn’t bother me at all. I felt that when and if they want to learn, they can learn when they are ready rather than forcing them. My older daughter started to get a desire to learn Spanish when she was a teen. She took Spanish in high school, later majored in Spanish in college, and then took a trip to Spanish speaking country for a few weeks. She’s near fluent now and can even read and write proficiently and extremely well now. Sometimes she does struggle, and asks me to help her out. Rather than pointing out faults and blaming her for not speaking spanish when she was a kid (I see alot of people do this and it’s wrong), I help her too. It defeats the belief “that it’s too late to learn another language after 7”. Learning is a lifetime venture anyway, there’s no deadline to stop learning ! My younger daughter is not at all fluent but can get by, and that’s OK. I tell both my never regret anything…If you want it bad enough you can do it. You just need to take initiative. The fact that you can’t no longer learn languages at a later stage is complete bogus. There are many Americans and other people who become proficient at other languages once moving to other places and have had NO exposure to that language when they were young. It’s easier when young, but also doable when older. Don’t blame your parents for not teaching you. Many examples of this. I don’t know why many parents are not seeing the bigger picture of things. Let your children be them. There shouldn’t be much regrets in life especially when learning things. It can be done. So those who regret not learning another language…DON”T REGRET, if you want to learn, learn it..it can be done !

    Not trying to play devil’s advocate, but trying to make people critically think outside the box !

    • Dear Teresa,

      thank you for your comment and for sharing your family’s story! Every family is different and what works in one may not be the solution for another – I am happy to hear that you have found the best way for your family. You must be so proud of your daughters!

      As a matter of fact, I can’t really see much where our opinions differ. I do however want to point out a few things, so not to leave anyone with a wrong impression of my views:
      – I do not promote that parents “rush and make [their] children extreme natives so they speak like a native” on the contrary, I suggest families “choose their own perfect” (see point 7 in the post)
      – I am definitely against “point[ing] out faults” when children are learning a language, I do believe in offering the right word or phrase in a supportive way when it is appropriate
      – I also believe in that it is never too late and have never said “that it’s too late to learn another language after 7″ nor “that you can’t no longer learn languages at a later stage” – I have often pointed out the opposite

      When it comes to “go with the flow” – this may well work out okay, as it has done in your family. It will especially do so in scenarios where there is enough exposure for the language in the community and opportunities to use and study the language in the education system. Many minority language parents do however not have such support for their language and have to put extra effort in if they want their children to be able communicate with their side of the family. I can’t see that I or other parents who have passed on their language to their kids have not “let them be them” – I think we have given them the chance to fully embrace who they are and thus helped them be them.

      Wishing you and your family all the best!

  69. Dear Rita, i really enjoy reading almost all the posts and your answers…cant get enought. I learned english since i was 8 attending to english school ( private language school) and always like it… Reading listening to music….and traveling to…. Im brazilian and i met my husband ( Also brazilian) in california, he speaks english too! We decide to speak in our house english with our two daughters! My oldest now with 4 and half when she was 2 and 8 months she only speaked mainly english because she was always with me, but awayls hearing the family in portuguese. I started to work in a canadian bilíngüe school here in Brasil named maple bear!!! And she started to study to, thats is how she learned portuguese with the new friends! All the classes are immersion in english until 6 Years old and the 50℅ portuguese and 50% english! But they learn to right and read in portuguese mainly!!!! Now she speaks both leanguage! Better in english but the portuguese is very good too just make some gramatical mistakes in both langages still! And the yougest 2 and a half understands both language and mix a lot while talking, i think i was not só ristric with the second one…. It being amazing and i dont regret! Now we decide that my husband will speak in portuguese in our house and i will keep the english and they are still attending to the bilingue school! I cant say it is not challaging but tottaly worth it!!!! Havê u ever heard a story of a couple teaching a language that is not their first language?

    • Dear Christiane, thank you for your kind comments – I am happy you find the page useful! You story is a great example of how it is not too late to introduce a language later on. Immersion schools are a fantastic resource for those families who have access to them. With regards to passing on a language which is not your first language, yes, it can definitely be done, but there are certain factors one need to take into considerations. We have answered a few questions about this topic, e.g this one http://multilingualparenting.com/2014/07/10/native-speaker-can-teach-daughter-french-help-become-bilingual/ – you can check out all past questions here.
      Thank you!

      • Dear rosa, y I read the story about the UK ladie trying to teach french and i saw that u encourage her 🙂 i was wondering if it OK if my husband now starts.to.speak with them in portuguese is OK! There are some biblical words expressions and explanations that are easier for US in portuguese! My husband is a pastor! And i will stay with the english because they are doing great! It just that some times i think that my oldest cant be só detalist about things on both language…. Is that normal?
        Do u havê wazzup or skype we could talk 🙂
        Thank u for ur attention

        • Dear Christiane

          I can’t see any reason for your husband not to speak Portuguese with your children, as I understand it he is bilingual. You may meet some opposition from the children, though, and you will need to find a way to motivate your children to switch the language they speak with their father. Bilingual children develop a different pace in their languages, this is completely normal.

          I do offer individual family coaching over Skype – if you are interested in this option, please contact me http://multilingualparenting.com/home-page/contact-2/ and we can discuss this in more detail.

          Kind regards

  70. Dear Rita,

    My wife and I live in Trinidad & Tobago (my wife is a native, I am German) and we now have a 10month old that we want to raise bilingually. I speak to him exclusively in German and my wife in English, but I speak to her in English even when he is around. In your opinion, what are some things that we need to be aware of or that we should encourage him to do as he grows up if ultimately we want him to be fully proficient in both languages, that is to be able to speak, read and write at a high level.

    Thank you


  71. Great article,

    I was similar to Teresa’s daughter who learned way later in life. I’m Chinese and my parents have never forced me or my brothers to speak Cantonese at home. We spoke English and never had attended Chinese school. I think the best way to learn a language, or for me is when you really get the passion through positive experiences with the culture..etc. I had gotten a strong desire to learn when I was 18 and took it myself to attend classes and even lived in China for a year and a half by choice. I’m almost fluent, with an accent however, and can get by in reading and writing, though not much, but I believe I can advance in that all my life. I don’t feel ashamed that I can’t speak like a native and also don’t get why people have to regret they can’t speak their language. I don’t see any reason to regret. Now there is always opportunities to learn any language, even minor languages thorough online resources (ex: Youtube). and other ways. My brothers don’t speak a lick of Canto, but you can tell they ‘re proud of their Chinese heritage. I think that whatever language we communicate in is sufficient, and even if we have family members who don’t speak English, it does not mean there will never be a strong relationship. My siblings and I had a tight knit relationship with my grandparents even though they spoke broken English, and even though there were things we didn’t understand, we always found a way to get across. Language barrier did not break our bond.

    When I have kids, I def will encourage them to learn Cantonese, but will not force it against their will. If you raise them with right morals, and keep a open positive relationship, you may be surprised. Only saying that because I see many Chinese parents enforce their language the wrong way and it yields to negative results where kids despise it and hate the culture.

    There are some kids who never speak their parents’ language, and that’s OK too. The world is not going to end if your kids don’t speak your heritage language. IMO it’s not a breaking point. I do not think language intertwines with culture only because I have an American friend who speaks no Italian but has a strong understanding of Italian culture. My philosophy is you can never lose anything, your heritage, language..etc even if you hardly use it. If you have a desire to learn about your roots and learn your language, it’s never “too late”, start digging it up like some treasure buried under the sand for years and explore it. It doesn’t matter if you are 4, 16, 43 years old or whatever age, the opportunities will always exist. If you want it bad enough, go get and fetch it! 🙂

  72. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  73. […] Generally, I would say that parents to bilingual children may find that they need a bit more patience than those with monolingual kids when waiting for longer phrases to be uttered. Not to forget: a dozen more things parents of bilingual children need to know. […]

  74. Hi
    Thank you for this great information. I have a 17 months old son and i speak turkishwhile my husband speak english to him. I m confused these days because i m not sure in which language i need to tell him the letters. He loves his letters book and i started to make thesounds in turkish so he can learn turkish letters but should i teach him english letters instead of teachingturkish now and teach turkish letters in the future.
    Thank you

  75. […] of your brain is much larger than when you only speak one. Researchers looked  at the brains of bilingual children and compared them to kids who speak just one language. Their findings were quite surprising. They […]

  76. Hi Rita! Thank you for your article…I think about this all of the time! I am American and my husband is French. My husband and I have always spoken French together and still do. When we were living in France I was worried about my future kids not using English for that very reason. I knew that for them it would be “less important” because French was spoken at home and in school. I guess my question now is now that we live in the US, will they be able to speak French from their exposure at home? When they are young they won’t know necessarily that I speak english and my French is very good so I’m not worried about that. I’m just worried that one day when they are older, they will know that I’m American and that their father also speaks good English and they will just drop the French. Do you think as long as we speak French at home it will be instilled enough in them that they will not be inclined to drop it later in life?

    • Hi Ashley!
      Thank you for your comment and question. I will only give short reply as our forum for answering questions is the Q&A section (if you would like a more detailed reply, please submit it through our contact form): I don’t think you have anything to worry about. You have already established French as your home language and this is what your children are used to, and will continue to be so providing you don’t choose to switch to English yourself.

  77. Thanks so much for this. I wish we had been more disciplined for our first; by the time he was 12, we had lived in 4 countries, and he had been exposed to English, French, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish, Indonesian, either from us, his school, or from the country we were living in. Our plan was : My husband spoke French whenever he was not traveling for work and was home (rarely) and I spoke English and Mandarin with our son. Due to all the juggling between home, school, society + frequent absences of my husband for work which made me also add in French to compensate (probably the wrong thing to do) and whatever else, our son dropped Mandarin (the hardest one of all), and we let him. Now he has just turned 16, and although he picked it up again 3 years ago, he is not as fluent in it anymore.
    We decided to stay put in France 3.5 years ago for more stability. Perhaps it is less complicated, and perhaps the environment around us is more conducive, perhaps we have learnt from our first…… Our 9 year old daughter is totally bilingual in French and English, reads and writes beautifully in both, (and is actually writing 2 novellas, one in each language, for publication). Furthermore, she is learning Mandarin and is comfortable using it. She has also picked up Spanish and will start studying it as a Foreign Language in school September on.
    So yes, it is tough to find a balance, and our mistake was listening to everyone around us, telling us that there were too many languages floating around our son, thus overloading him. If nothing else, we learnt to be consistent and to trust our gut. For information, my husband is French, and I am Canadian of Chinese origin (thus the French, English, and Mandarin).

    • Thank you for your comment, Serina, and for sharing your family’s story! I wouldn’t call your choice to drop Mandarin for your son a mistake, rather that you made the best possible decision with the best intentions in the circumstances you were and with the information you had. You can not ask for more from an already, by the sound of it, very busy parent! Your son still retained some of his Mandarin and has even picked it up to study some more + your daughter is learning an impressive set of languages!
      You are right, trusting your gut as a parent is so important – all the best to all of you!

  78. Hi Rita,

    Great blog, and a lot of interesting, educational stories told. I hope to do a better job of keeping a more consistent tab on the different conversations now that I rediscovered your blog! I live in my native US, was born to English speaking parents, and am married to a wife from the same situation. I lived, however, for five years in Germany, where I picked up German to a pretty proficient level, and to a point where maintenance became somewhat of an obsession (I am now licensed as a K-12 German teacher along those lines). Since the day my children were born (now 7, 6 and 3 years old), I have spoken exclusively with them in German. I read to them daily, listen to German music and kids’ stories, and if they have “screen time”, force much of it to be in German. Unfortunately, living in a suburb of Minneapolis, frequent opportunities with native speakers is fairly rare. And, as my kids obviously realize I speak and understand English (their mom and I communicate only in English), the kids answer to me only in English. They are poster children for “receptive bilinguals”. They can hardly say even some of the more simple things in German (how are you is “Wie bist du?” instead of the correct “Wie geht’s dir?” for example), which is very understandable. Occasionally we will have “German hour (Deutschstunde), where I force them to try German, but I feel bad about it because it is so difficult and frustrating for them. That brings me to my first question-do many others out there have experience with “feigning” language ignorance after such a long time of accepting the primary language (i.e. pretending to not understand their English, or basically trying to force them to speak German, at least some of the time)? Any advice or experiences that people could share? Secondly, a light of hope for me (us) has been the beginning of school. As they have begun to learn to read in English, I have piggybacked on their progress and pushed German reading as well. While they are not quite as fluent reading in German, they do quite well, and the more they do it, obviously, the better they are becoming. I’m therefore curious to hear what experiences learning to read and write (they have “Pen pals” in Germany, and we exchange letters as well) has had on “receptive bilinguals”? I’m skeptical, but at the same time hopeful, that as their reading improves, their ability to speak will also gradually improve (and they are very strong in their receptive abilities; they translate between myself and my wife, understand fully TV shows and books and my speaking with them, too).

    OK, longwinded enough. Again, would be much appreciative for any similar experiences people have had! Regards!

  79. […] ramlade av en händelse över en artikel om två-språkiga barn och vad man som förälder aldrig får glömma bort. Det var en i sej väldigt peppande artikel, men […]

  80. No Dutch? 😉

    • Hi Annemarie,
      thank you for visiting my blog 🙂 I would love to have a Dutch translation (or any other new language for that matter), but so far no one has stepped forward to do the Dutch one. All the translations have been done by my wonderful team of volunteer translators and I publish new language versions as and when someone does one. If you or anyone would like to join the team with a new language (Dutch or any other), please contact me!
      Thank you,

  81. When my children were growing up my husband didn’t want them to learn Farsi, his native language, so they grew up pretty much monolingual, something I regret. Now my son has married a Persian girl, and their daughter is growing up bi-lingual. Mom (and other grandma, and all the aunts and uncles) speak Farsi around her. My son speaks English, her books and toys are all in English. She doesn’t really talk yet, her single words have been mostly in Farsi with a few in English. I know that will change because I see her cousins speaking predominantly English with their parents, although they grew up with Farsi first. Their grandmother, though, is addressed in Farsi. It’s interesting to watch. I think this is natural bilingualism that is common to immigrant families.

  82. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  83. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  84. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  85. […] on käännös englanninkielisestä alkuperäistekstistä ja julkaisen sen tänään maailmanlaajuisen bloggauspäivän […]

  86. […] Original English post: 12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know. […]

  87. In deference to point #1, my 10 y.o. bilingual son (French-English) does something that I think is complete Magic – he can read English even though we never taught him reading, aside from some Leap pad books around 5-6. He knows how to speak/read/write in French because he goes to a French school. The thing he cannot do is write English. I’m wondering what you think about his ability to transition to writing English if we were to move to the US for example. And, if you have any thoughts about being able to learn to read without being taught. Really glad I found this useful blog – THANKS!

    • Well, children can do magical stuff, can’t they! My daughter also learnt to read Finnish by herself – I wrote about it in this post http://multilingualparenting.com/2015/02/04/from-bilingual-to-biliterate-learning-to-read-and-write/ I must hasten to say that this is however much easier to do in Finnish than in English.
      I think your son will learn to write quite quickly when he is ready for it, or maybe when he gets a little bit of writing tuition.
      Thank you for your kind comment, glad you like my blog!

    • I learned to read and write in French, and was never taught to read and write in English. Reading well is the key for him learning to write in English. He might very well be able to do so already (but not know it) , depending on his reading level. I don’t think the transition is necessarily a difficult one. Maybe he could write letters or e-mails to English speakers, and you could see how well he does.

  88. Hello,
    Excellent read and advice. Thank you.
    I myself am Canadian from Quebec and am fluent in both French and English. My wife is Chinese (Cantonese) from China but immigrated to Canada when she was 8 years old. Our 2 year old boy is currently learning all 3 languages simultaneously and is doing wonderfully. No signs of linguistic confusion at all. He instinctively knows to speak to mommy in Chinese and to me in either French or English. If anything, his language skills seem to be ahead of the curve. We are very pleased with our decision to forge ahead with our language plan for him and certainly have no regrets.
    Thanks again for the info.

  89. Hi! 🙂

    I am Spanish and my husband Thai, we have a 10 month old baby girl, Alba, and we live in Thailand. My husband and I speak to each other in English (not a very good one ^.^). I would like to know what would be your advice because we would love her to learn Spanish, Thai and English. I searched about this but I have normally found literature focused on bilingualism, not how to do it with three languages.

    We are using what we read as “One parent, one language”, that mostly says that we should speak to her in our mother tongue. So I speak to her in Spanish, and Chaw in Thai (well, we try our best! it is not easy!) but I am concerned about English… as many people say that she will get it listening to us, but I have my doubts… (mostly because our English it is not that good…^.^)

    I know the perfect thing would be sending her to an International School but, one, they are sooo expensive and two, we would love that she starts school as later as possible. So I wonder maybe it is too late…

    I would really appreciate any advice 🙂

    Many thanks! and congratulations for the article, it is so useful and interesting!

    Eva 🙂

    • Hi Eva!

      Thank you for your message and for your kind comment – I am glad you like my article! As we also have a Q&A section on the site (so that as many parents as possible can benefit from the answers) we will feature it on there. Due to the high amount of questions coming in, the next available date is on the 14t of January 2016 – we will feature the question on that date and I will also send you the link to it. In the meantime, please do take a look at previous Q&As in the archive as we have answered similar questions in the past.

      Kind regards

  90. Hi! I love coming here and reading about everything you write. I’m Brazilian living in Argentina with my Argentinean husband I. We have a 22 month old baby and we are trying to raise her in both languages. We think we are doing ok, however sometimes I get confuse and not so sure about what to do. For example, she goes to a day care center in Spanish and is starting to say some words in Spanish to me and since I only speak Portuguese to her, not sure how to respond to this. I speak Spanish to my husband I but since our daughter was born I have limited my Spanish at home but sometimes I switch to Spanish with my husband. Also not sure what to do when we around other Spanish speakers. Should I continue to only speak Portuguese to my daughter or it is okay to speak Spanish when we are hanging out with other Spanish speakers, for example. My other doubt is regarding my husband Language. He doesn’t speak Portuguese that fluently but he is mixing a lot in front of our daughter since he is also leaning Portuguese by listening to me. Thank you!!

  91. I’m English living in Spain. My kids (23 and 18) are bilingual in Spanish and English, not only that, they speak with a native accent in both languages.

    I must stress that it’s really important for kids to answer in the minority language. My daughter at the age of 10 became embarrassed speaking to me in English in front of her friends, so spoke to me in Spanish. I told her if she didn’t speak to me in English, I wouldn’t listen to her. After a week of not listening, she realised she had to speak to me in English (she speaks to her brother in Spanish, they were both born in England!). It sounds harsh, but I notice a big difference between my friends’ children who speak English with a very pronounced Spanish accent, or they find English very difficult, because they never spoke to that parent in English.

    It’s difficult, but it’s really important for the minority language to be two way, so that children are bilingual! Children have to speak to the parent too, not answer in the majority language.

    My son has learning difficulties and I was told by professionals in the UK that it would be very difficult for him. Within 6 months he was bilingual and now he translates when family and friends visit! A lot of professionals have studied the theory, but not put it into practise!
    Go for it! Good luck xx

    • Dear Tessa,

      thank you for your comment and telling us about your family’s story. Interaction is definitely the key when raising a bilingual child. The more a child is involved in discussions in the language, the more confident he or she becomes in using it.

      Like you have done, it is also good to be consistent in one’s own language use and foster an environment where the child wants to answer in the minority language. Every family and every parent is different, and I am really happy it has worked out well for you. Like I mentioned in my post last week, I myself am not a fan of the refusing to speak approach, it just does not suit my overall parenting style, and I have heard the same from many other parents. It just goes to show that there is not one right way, but every family can find the way that works for them.

      I am glad that you ignored the professional’s comment with regards to your son’s prospects. Unfortunately there are still doctors and even speech therapists who have outdated opinions about bilingual children. Nowadays research is clear on that bilingualism does not delay the overall language development of a child, nor does it confuse a child and nor should you drop a language in the belief that this would make a language impairment disappear. It will still take time before these facts reach all professionals, though.

      Wishing you and your family all the best!

  92. We are an English speaking couple living in France. Our son was born here and we only speak english at home and to him, read books in english and watch tv in english. He is now 4 1/2 and his English is not great neither is his French. He has been going to french school/nursery since 2yrs old and I wonder if this has enhanced his delay in english? He didn’t start putting sentences together until 3 1/2. I am torn whether to introduce french cartoons to him or not. I realise that as soon as he gets a good grasp on french he will probably prefer it as most of his days will be spent speaking french while at school and with friends. I really don’t know how to help him progress with both languages.

    • Dear Grace,
      bilingualism does not cause language delay. Bilingual children may learn things in a different order, which again might come across as language delay when compared to monolingual children. However, one should never compare a bilingual child’s language development to that of a child who only speaks one language. The minority language at home approach you are using is great, and has been found to be the most effective one for a child to become bilingual. I would keep the home as an English-speaking zone as much as possible. My youngest daughter was the same age when she started using sentences, she is now an adult and is fluent in several languages. However, all children are different, and if you are worried about your son’s language development, contact a speech and language specialist who has experience in dealing with bilingual children.
      If you want a more extensive answer, please submit it to our panel of Family Language Coaches.
      Kind regards,

  93. Hello! I was wondering if it was normal for bilingual children to have a more delayed speech development. My daughter is three and it she still speaks a lot of gibberish. She can express a lot of things but she’s definitely not up to par as some of her monolingual friends. Thank you.

    • I think all children start speaking at different ages. I have a monolingual nephew who did not really start speaking until he was in pre-school and actually had to communicate.
      According to my son, my grand-daughter was speaking gibberish, but when I heard her she was actually speaking quite well and in complete sentences…but not in his language! He just didn’t understand her.

    • Hi Noelia,
      please see my response to Grace, as she is asking an almost identical question.
      Kind regards

      Thank you for our comment, Michelle!

  94. Hi
    I loved reading your post, I am after some advice. We as a family are bilingual. I am British , my husband is Brazilian and we live in Finland. My 4 year old daughter has never had a speech delay , if not amazingly speaking earlier than the normal. It’s like she was born to be good with languages. She speak all 3 languages at pretty much the same level and fluently. We have been very consistent at home and about that I spelt speak English my husband Portuguese and in daycare Finnish, which she has been attending since 1 and half for 5 days a week 8 hrs a day. So she has had about the same exposure with almost all 3 languages. Portuguese being the minority language. But we boosted that with TV programs and regular 40day visits to Brazil each year and Skype calls with family and reading stories. Alove we have a strong social connection with Brazilians IN Finland. She has very close friends would who she only plays and communicates in Portuguese. I can not say that she is stronger in any 3 languages or weaker. They are about the same level. If someone starts to speak a particular language with her, she her self will refuse to switch it later. She knows which language belongs to whom and what circumstances and will not blend them. She refuses to speak to me or her father in the other language.
    I have one concern now and that it ishould we now have a 6 month old baby boy and we will be moving to England not year. I belive our daughter will lose the Finnish language. Which is a shame but I think the 2 family languages are more important right now. I just do not know what I should do. Should we continue the way we have been ? Or should we switch that in the family home amongst just us 4 speak solely in Portuguese an watch Portuguese TV etc . We are afraid she and our son will lose the language as our social connection will stop . Thereally are no Brazilians or Portuguese speaking families where we will be moving. And also think our regular yearly trips to Brazil will become further apart due to the costs. What do u recommend? We are afraid our son might never learn the language.

  95. Hi Rita,
    Thank you for nice posts!
    I would like to translate “12 things…” into Belarusian language, if you need it.
    We use some of these ideas with our daughter. Though she does not speak much, as she is 1y 4m old only, she understands words in Russian, Belarusian and English.

  96. Very interesting post. I am Namibian and my husband is Italian, we speak English and Italian at home. Our 4 year old son understands English but has a hard time speaking English. I realise i have to put in more effort and increase exposure time since everything in Italy is in Italian. It’s very important for me that my kids are able to interact with relatives from my side of the family too. I have to make a plan and any suggestions for a 4 year old and a 9 months old baby would be appreciated.

  97. Hum – my son is now 13. Our family language was English because I’m monolingual so he speaks English. He attended a Czech preschool – we live in Prague – and now attends a Czech public school so he speaks Czech. His mom (who died recently) was German and she spoke German with him when possible so he speaks German; it’s the weakest of his three languages. He’s taking French; two years now; not fluent but making good progress. We made no special effort to develop his language skills except for reading to him (English and German) when he was younger. That aside, we made no special plan. His mom spoke German, English, French, Czech, some Italian. I think he inherited her linguist skills.


    • Hi Creag – yes, when the circumstances are ideal, like in your family’s case, then the child will naturally learn all the languages, not through “inheritance”, but through the right amount of exposure to each language. Of course there might also be a difference in the aptitude to learn languages. Many children (myself included) acquire the languages without the parents having to plan it, but in many families extra attention is needed to make sure there is enought exposure to each language.

  98. […] I know that achieving true bilingualism takes a lot of diligence and effort on everyone’s part. (Multilingual Parenting has some great tips here). So when my daughter started preschool and after only a month has decided she doesn’t want to […]

  99. Hum – my son is now 13. Our family language was English because I’m monolingual so he speaks English. He attended a Czech preschool – we live in Prague

    • I learned Italian as child even though neither one of my parents spoke it. We were living in Italy and I went to pubic schools, and had Italian play mates. I have since lost fluency as I was no longer ecposed to it when we moved back to the United States.

  100. Me and my fiancé are Japanese-Americans. I can speak both Japanese and English. My fiancé is trying to learn English. I’m pregnant with my first little girl. My first baby ever. And I speak to her in both language’s. Is it okay to mix it like that?

    • Congratulations on the soon-to-be family addition!
      It is fine to talk any language to your little princess while you are expecting her. Whether you would need to take a different approach once she is born depends on factors such as:
      – how much English will be spoken in the home?
      – will her dad only speak Japanese with her?
      – how much other Japanese exposure will she get?
      – at what age will she attend nursery/school and in which language?
      If you would like a more extensive answer, please submit your question (with the requested information) through the Contact Us page, and we will answer you through our Q&A section.
      Kind regards

  101. My husband came from the UK and I’m from the Philippines, although our country is predominantly an English speaking country, I’m afraid that our baby will grow up just speaking english and will no longer speak Filipino – our native language.

  102. I wonder if you have any recommendations. My child is 7 and has lived in Italy since she was 8 months old, however she didn’t start going to schools til she was 5. At home I (mom) speak to her in English only and everyone else (including dad) speak to her in Italian only. However she speaks better English than she does Italian, probably because I talk with her the most, my husband did work from home most of her life but I’ve always been in the primary role. She does spend time with grandparents as they live above us, I just have never been sure she gets enough talking time with speaking Italian. Now she’s in seconda and I’m concerned that she isn’t relaxed enough in her speaking in Italian. Her teachers mentioned it last year, asking if we only speak English at home. I’ve told my husband she needs more regular speaking time but is there more I can do? I worry that it’s holding her back from making friends, as easily as the other kids. She has friends but her rapport is not as easy, from my observations. I could be wrong but I still think she needs more emphasis on speaking Italian cause English just seems easier for her.

    • Dear Adrianne,

      thank you for your question about your daughter’s majority language skills. Due to the number of questions coming in and to be sure as many readers as possible can benefit from the answers we now answer all queries via the Q&A section of the website. To be fair to everyone the questions are answered in the order they arrive, and your question will be on the website on the 22nd of December. Should you be interested in individual family language coaching, please send me an email to rita[at]multilingualparenting[dot]com and I will send you a proposal.

      Kind regards

  103. Hi Rita.
    Thank you for the lovely advices.

    I am Mongolian and my husband is Italian. We have two kids aged 4 and 2
    Years. We live in the U.K and we always used English at home. My daughters are absolutely great at talking and expressing themselves in English.

    Although I tried couple of times teaching my language I have failed. 2 weeks ago I made strong decision to teach my language to my kids and be consistent with it. They have shown a interest and unexpected improvement.

    However my husband still speaks English. Do you thing we should wait to introduce Italian or he should start now?

    Also how can I encourage my husband to speak more Italian? He finds it very difficult to communicate with kids other than English. As their verbal expression is very clear in English and gets bit upset when other language comes along. Is it too late?

    • Dear Zoya,

      Thank you for your comment and question. Since there are so many queries coming in through different channels, we are answering them through the Q&A section of the website and in the order we receive them. This way as many readers as possible can benefit from the answers. Your question will be featured on the 29th of December, so please keep an eye on the home page on that day!

      Kind regards

  104. I grew up with danish and tagalog, tagalog being the minority language because i live in Denmark. I can’t write or read anything in tagalog and do struggle when I speak with my mother. She on the other hand struggles a lot with danish and this causes a lot of misunderstandings and arguments between us. It is quite frustrating to not be able to properly communicate with my mother. I really wish that i had been thaught how to read and write in tagalog and that i was better at it, but i never had any classes or anything. I only had my mother and a couple of aunts who spoke tagalog to me. Because we live in Denmark i don’t think my father ever saw it as important that i learned tagalog and he would often say things like “speak danish, we live in denmark”. I think anyone who is considering multilingual parenting should take this into consideration! You should be 100% supportive of each other if you wish to raise your child with more than one language!
    I can say that it is really annoying to argue with my mother so much because we don’t understand each other, and it really frustrates both of us! So if you do raise your kid like this, don’t do it half heartedly!!!

    • Thank you for sharing your story and for describing the struggles you have had and are still experiencing. I do wish that you can find a way to an easier communication with your mother.

      All the best to you!

      P.S. I made a few small modifications to your colourful choice of words just so that no one would be put pff by your message due to the expressions used.

  105. I have question and maybe this may seem silly, but do you think that the fact that parents who don’t teach or raise their kids as native billinguals are “poor parents”? My son is 7. He speaks predominantly English at home but can communicate a little bit in Spanish with my parents. It never really bothered me because they have a good relationship and he enjoys his time with them, despite him not being fluent (he understands everything just fine too) in Spanish, but I have been criticized by other people in our community because he cannot speak like the folks back home and have been telling me I am poor mother for not teaching him Spanish and letting him speak English with me. My sister gets it worse because her kids can understand the language and somewhat speak, but they prefer to speak English. It’s been bothering me lately. My does speak Spanish with my parents only, and he learns more when they come visit, but I never realized it’s an expectation that he has to be exceptional in it. Even my parents weren’t bothered by it because regardless of some communication struggle, the love between them is pretty powerful. He speaks English with my husband and I and I find he does love to engage in Hispanic culture. I don’t know, I know the Hispanic community in general is very judgemental on language and tend to berate those who don’t speak Spanish or speak it fluently. I thought about just going with the flow and let him learn at his own pace, because I thought kids learn best when discovering the beauty of learning a language on their own rather than me forcing him to speak more, but I guess it’s not ok? Or maybe it’s just that people are absolute jerks and that society is just not so kind? What to do in this situation?

    *Edited for grammar

    • Dear Sarita

      Sorry for the long delay in getting back to you. Let me just make it very clear that I definitely do not think you or any other parent whose children may not learn to speak the family language(s) is a poor parent, of course not. All parents should make their own parenting choices and I firmly believe that as long as a child is cared for and does not come to any sort of harm, others should keep their own opinions to themselves.

      All incoming questions are answered in the order they arrive, and I would like to give a longer answer to your question, so on the 9th of February your query will be featured as the Q&A of the day. Please check the home page on that day.

      Kind regards

  106. Hello,
    I would like to ask something important. I am Egyptian who speak Arabic and my wife is Hungarian and we live in Hungary. We have 2 years and 11 month child and I speak to her in Arabic and the mother is Hungarian plus me and my wife speak English because we don’t know each other language.

    Now my daughter speak Hungarian, Arabic and English, but just words and sentences, but also she understands everything we tell her and if we are talking about her me and my wife , she understand that we are talking about her.

    My question:

    1- When do I expect my child to speak fluently not just sentences and words?
    2- Is my child late in speaking fluently?

    Thank you for anyone will help me

  107. Hi Rita – Every point you made resonated with me, especially 2 and 4. I wanted to add my family’s experience as another perspective. We are a trilingual family – my husband and I both speak Tatar, Finnish and English proficiently, but at varying levels.

    2 – You need a plan.
    Absolutely. We spent a lot of time discussing our language speaking options… OPOL (one parent one language), ML@H (minority language at home), Time and Place – we went through them all.

    I think this is a huge service parents can do for their children – to take the time to find out which is the best approach for the family.

    We decided to take the OPOL approach when our older daughter was born and we were living in the US. I spoke Tatar, my husband spoke Finnish, and English was the community language (plus my husband and I speak English to each other).

    4 – You will have to pay attention to exposure times.
    Yes. For us we had to pay attention and adjust exposure times as our circumstances changed. I think it’s important to note that the community language can change quite dramatically, especially for multilingual families.

    When we decided to move to Finland when my daughter was 2, we made the decision to switch to ML@H (Tatar) and supplemented English with cartoons and children’s music. We were very conscious of keeping English an integral part of her life even after moving away from the US.

    Our older daughter is quite fluent in Tatar and English at age 4, and now we are paying attention to and increasing her Finnish exposure. Yes, she will learn it in school, but we would prefer to have her comfortable with the language before she starts school. We enrolled her in Finnish play-school for a few hours a week, and she is already starting to speak Finnish outside the home after a few months. We’re also showing her more Finnish shows and reading more books in Finnish. We are following the same approach with our younger daughter, who understands both Tatar and English, and is learning to speak both at age 2. She will start Finnish music play school in the fall.

    This is a fantastic article. Thank you.

  108. hi All, points are correct in the article, although details may be different.
    I have two bilingual kids, one is 3,5 other is 1,5. We are Estonian/Hungarian family and both of my kids know both languages. I do speak both languages, my husband learns with the kids (pretty good I would say). The younger one does not really talk yet, but the words he is saying are mixed.
    My elder one is a talker 🙂 All the time. She goes to Estonian kindergarten, so when she started there her Estonian skills quickly superseded the Hungarian ones (which were dominating before). Now, sometimes it happens that she cannot find the words to explain me what happened during the day. I am the only one who talks to her Hungarian, so this problem will remain. But when I talk to my kids, I always use Hungarian (I am Hungarian). With father, I talk Estonian. With kids we use a lots of books to build vocabulary, but I am very consistent that I do not read “daddy books”. We can look at the pictures and talk about them, but not read them. So my daughter learned to distinguish between Hungarian and Estonian books (mummy and daddy books). There are some occasions when I really need to speak to them in Estonian, but then I repeat my words in Hungarian too. Also, when I have discipline issues, sometimes I just say a sentence in Estonian, then my daughter knows that something is “out of order”. So she is a bit shaken up and understands that I really mean what I say (of course I repeat the same thing in Hungarian too). Now we have been in Hungary for a month for summer holiday. She is exposed to my native language here and Hungarian starts to become the dominating language again. This takes a lot of engagement with her fantasy and all Estonian-speakers are away. Before she had problems constructing grammatically correct sentences in Hungarian. After almost 4 weeks in Hungary, this is still an issue sometimes, but remarkably fading away. My main concern is that I need to expose her to child-talk in Hungarian, because she has not been around to Hungarian kids. I will take her to a “camp”, probably part time and I will sit there too to see. Temperament of kids is also different and she still needs security.
    But all in all, I can say from experience that consistency is the key. When my first one was born, we needed to decide on language. After some reading the decision was made – see above. First it was hard for me to switch between the languages, but with attention and effort it became automatic. There are limits to what I can give. Here planning and investing some extra resources are justified. My overall goal is that besides the openness, my kids would acquire both languages as so to say “working languages”, so they would have the ability to study and later use them in their work, without people being able to say that they are not really Hungarian kids.

  109. Hi, we are a German/American family living in Germany. I myself grew up speaking both languages (first German, then move to US- summers in Germany). Our family language is German and we speak this when we (my husband and daughter (2 years) are together. When I am alone with my daughter we speak in English. EXCEPT when we are in public, like gymnastics or swimming classes, as I would like to teach her that when you are in a mixed group, you speak the language everyone speaks (in our case German).

    There is a strong English-speaking community here due to the university, but my husband and I are more introverted and don’t feel comfortable meeting up with strangers. I, however, am afraid that our daughter is not getting in enough english time. She definantly understands everything in English, but her active vocabulary is limited. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Jessica

      Thank you for your question and sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

      Due to the big amount of questions coming in and to reduce waiting times, we have decided to answer some queries in LIVE Facebook Q&A sessions. The sessions will be aired in the Multilingual Parenting Facebook group. Click on the link to join the group if you haven’t already done so. Remember to answer the three joining question for a quicker approval.

      Your question will be featured during the Facebook Live Q&A session this week, on Thursday the 26th of October – the exact time of the session will be announced in the group. If you attend the live session you can also ask any further questions through the comments. There will also be a recording available in the group for you to listen to later in case you are unable to attend the live session. If you cannot attend live, please do not hesitate to send us any further details you would like us to consider when answering your question.

      In case you would like a more in-depth answer and/or have a Family Language Plan set up, I also offer individual family language coaching. If you are interested in this option, please contact me directly and will send you some further details.

      Kind regards

  110. Hi Rita,

    My daughter is 4 and I have been always speaking to her in Italian. My husband is Spanish and keeps speaking to her in Spanish (altough he is bilingual as was born and raised in the uk).

    We live in Dubai so she was born here and her nanny/school are english.

    She always replied to me in english.

    She understands perfectly italian and spanish but never ever talked to us in any other language than english 🙁

    I am loosing hope especually now that the brother is 2 and they have started to speak to each other in english.

    We both work long hours but evenings, holidays and week ends i thought would have been sufficient.

    What Am I doing wrong?

    Tia for your help

    • Dear Federica

      Thank you for your question and sorry for the delay in getting back to you. No you are not doing anything wrong – but we may come up with things to do differently to entice your daughter to use her other languages.

      Due to the big amount of questions coming in and to reduce waiting times, we have decided to answer some queries in LIVE Facebook Q&A sessions. The sessions will be aired in the Multilingual Parenting Facebook group. Click on the link to join the group if you haven’t already done so. Remember to answer the three joining question for a quicker approval.

      Your question will be featured during the Facebook Live Q&A session on Thursday the 26th of October – the exact time of the session will be announced in the group. If you attend the live session you can also ask any further questions through the comments. There will also be a recording available in the group for you to listen to later in case you are unable to attend the live session. If you cannot attend live, please do not hesitate to send us any further details you would like us to consider when answering your question.

      In case you would like a more in-depth answer and/or have a Family Language Plan set up, I also offer individual family language coaching. If you are interested in this option, please respond to this message and I will send you some further details.

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