Q&A: Choosing a school for a bilingual child – should language decide?

by | Jan 29, 2015 | Coaches, Q&A When a bilingual / multilingual child goes to school, School-aged children | 0 comments


What is your position/opinion on a family with a father half Norwegian, half American, a Portuguese mother who studied in France, with 2 year old twin boys living in Portugal, to have the kids in a French school from 3 years old on?

I speak Portuguese with the twins (and will do so also with the new baby boy due later this year). We live in Portugal and they go to Portuguese kindergarten. I myself speak and read perfectly Portuguese, French, English and Spanish. The father is Norwegian/American. He speaks both, but his first language is English so he always speaks English with the twins and everybody. The father and I speak English between each other. Nowadays no one speaks to the twins in Norwegian. Even their Norwegian grandfather speaks more English to them than Norwegian but we travel to Norway one month each summer. In Portugal everybody speaks English, the American culture is very present, all movies and TV shows are in original English language.

The language priority for us is Portuguese and English, and it is important to show them the American and Norwegian culture (since they don’t get so much of that living in Portugal), but we believe other languages are a plus.

We thought about putting them in a French school, which I attended because it is a very good learning system (better than the Portuguese regular system) and cheaper than English and American international schools. But there is no clear intention of teaching them the French language. It is rather about the teaching/learning system of this school.

What is your opinion? Should they go to a Portuguese or English school rather than the French one?

Thank you for your response!


Hi Ana,

Quite a multicultural family and great question! I think every family needs to make the choices best for them in relation to both language goals and other priorities in life. It’s fantastic they’re already learning two languages and a third would definitely be a great addition.

It sounds like part of your question may be if you’re wondering if French school would be a good fit because the children do not speak French yet. If that is the case, I would say not to worry about it. The children will struggle a bit at first until they pick up the language, but as they’re entering it at 3 years old, where academic expectations are not too rigorous yet, it doesn’t really need to be a concern. I’m also assuming the school is 100% French immersion and not a dual immersion model. If it’s a dual immersion model you will see some slower results on the academic end the first few years, but then children will both catch up and actually surpass their peers in a monolingual environment.

You also mentioned that your first reason for attendance was that you felt the French schools were the best academic option in line with your education budget. I would definitely go with the option that provides the best value to your family, especially as I think the fact that they’ll also learn French is a great addition. Many parents worry about supporting their children at home in terms of homework and help in an immersion environment, but you already speak French, so even that isn’t an issue for your family.

On the language end of things, children generally need about 30% of their waking hours in the language on a regular basis to become fluent. So managing 3 languages is absolutely no problem for a child as long as that level of exposure and regular use is in place. Once your children enter the French school, you’ll probably see them reach a very communicative level of French from within 3-6 months. If the transition period is of concern, you can start speaking to them now in French. That could be choosing days or times to regularly use French or it may just be playing some French games or having a French story time before bed. That would definitely help prepare them for the move into an immersive school environment.

I hope that answers your question and don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments if you’d like additional information on any of the points above.

Kind Regards,

Nick Jaworski

Nick Jaworski


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