Q&A: Daycare in a third language – how to handle and maintain all languages?

by | Oct 15, 2015 | Coaches, Practical advice, Q&A When a bilingual / multilingual child goes to school | 1 comment


We are a French-German couple living in Germany, and expecting our first child for January. Our family language will be French (we met in this language) and my husband is fluent. We are quite clear on using the OPOL system, so I will speak French to the child, and my husband will speak German.

I shall add that I am working from home in English as well, so my child will hear English but we don’t intend to switch our family language to English as neither of us are native speakers.

Now given the poor childcare options here, we are considering going for a daycare – turns out the person we found is a native English speaker. Our baby will go there at least three years, three days a week all going well. We have also some expat friends here raising their children in English/German/whichever other language.

My concern is around the addition of English, and how to maintain it along with the two dominant languages, while he is in daycare and once the daycare is over ? I am worried it might be very confusing for the child, not only to hear me speak two to three languages on a daily basis (but only French with him), hear my husband speak two (his native one and the family one) and the childcare person speak another one.

Thank you for your reply. Any comment will be much appreciated.


Hi Ceffes,

You have nothing to worry about. Your child will pick up all three naturally assuming about 30% of their day is spent in each language. Depending on the amount of time spent in a particular language, you may need to be intentional about increasing the amount of exposure. If your child only hears German at home for an hour in the evening and weekend, for example, this won’t be enough to build strong fluency. So you’ll just want to really look at how much exposure is out there. My daughter currently spends most of her day in English daycare, so we take advantage of every second to play, read, watch movies, and interact in our other languages.

Once daycare finishes, you’ll need to supplement for English exposure. A child can completely forget a language within 6 months to a year if interaction (not just exposure) in the language doesn’t continue. The child will always have some wiring for the language and will be able to pick it up faster than someone that never spoke it, but it’s still more work than just maintaining. You’ll want a plan at that point in the form of schooling options, tutors, English-speaking friends, etc.

There will be no confusion for your child. The most important part is that, when you speak to your child, you use only one language. I regularly speak 3 languages around my daughter, but when we interact with each other, we use only one. She knows I speak and understand her other languages fluently, but we have an unspoken agreement that Chinese is our language of communication.

Hope this helps – please do ask any follow-up questions in the comments below!


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1 Comment

  1. Ceffes

    Dear Nick,

    Thanks a lot for your reply and for your detailed comments ! The 30% rule is something to remember.



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