Q&A: Can a bilingual mother speak both languages with her child?

by | Sep 18, 2016 | Coaches, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Rita R | 0 comments

Can a bilingual mother speak both languages with her child?



My question is: how to choose a language when the mother is bilingual herself? We live in France, so our community language is French, while our home language is Italian. The point is that I’m bilingual myself, Italian-French, so which language should I speak to my 2-year-old son? It is natural for me when I’m outside or alone with my son, to speak to him in French, but when of course dad is around we speak Italian to him. Is it confusing for my son the fact that I speak two languages to him depending on the occasions and with really not strict rules? Should I speak to him family or community language?

Thank you very much!


Dear Chaya

Thank you for your question about choosing which one of your two languages to speak with your son.

I will answer your second question first: is it confusing for your son to hear you speak both French and Italian? The answer is No! – you will not confuse your son by speaking both your languages with him. As you describe, you will be choosing which language you speak with your son based on the situation you are in. He will become accustomed to the switching of languages, and you are behaving like a great role model for a bilingual person. Children are actually very apt at distinguishing different languages and you can continue the way you use languages at the moment, if that is what feels most natural to you.

You do not mention how much time your son will be exposed to Italian. Does daddy come home before your son goes to bed in the evenings, so that there is some time when all of you speak Italian each day? I am asking, as what may happen if your son’s Italian exposure shrinks to very little each week, then he might prefer speaking French only. If he starts attending daycare in French, then French will become an even more dominant language for him.

What I would recommend is that you continue the way it feels right for you, but keep an eye on how his Italian progresses. If you notice that he is reluctant to speak Italian or that he prefers to answer in French even if his dad speaks Italian with him, then you could consider speaking Italian also when you are alone with him. A natural way to do this is for example to read more Italian books to him, have Italian music on at home, (if he watches TV) choosing Italian cartoons, engage extended Italian family in Skype calls and so on. It does not mean that you have to fully switch to Italian, just that you help with the exposure.

Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey!

Kind regards

Rita Rosenback

Rita Rosenback

Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages.


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