Q&A: Choosing the language of childcare for a bilingual toddler

by | Feb 25, 2016 | Coaches, Q&A The trilingual+ child, Toddlers | 0 comments



We are a trilingual family with me speaking in German to my son, my husband in Spanish and between my husband and I we speak in English.

We have recently moved from Germany to New York and are now wondering which child care option to choose. They have English, Spanish and German on offer. The English one also offers a weekly sing along in Spanish. All others are immersion in one language only.

Our son is 18 months old and currently understands (and speaks a few words) in Spanish and German. He has picked up a few words in English as well in the last few weeks (Hi, Bye, Up, Down). We will be in New York for at least two years and will afterwards be most likely to continue living in an English or German speaking country.

We are unsure whether we should give him the opportunity to learn English at his day care (and German and Spanish at home), or if we should opt for the German (or even Spanish) daycare. It is my understanding that the schooling (and the environment) here in New York does also expose him to a lot to Spanish, so exposing him to more German now might be a good idea. However, we are worried whether he might struggle once he starts school (with 4-5 years here) if the school is in English. How much would he pick up from the playground and hearing us speak in English between us and to our environment?

Any thoughts are welcome.



Hi Katja,

Excellent questions! It’s great you are teaching your son so many languages and clearly thinking through your options. The most important thing is to have a plan with goals in mind, so you’re definitely on the right track!

I’d probably say the biggest factor will be where he ends up in a couple years. If it’s going to be another English speaking country, I would probably opt for the German or Spanish as he will pick up the English when you move – but it depends on his age as well. If he is under the age of six by the time you move, I wouldn’t worry much about language development in the majority language of the country you will be moving to. If he will be over six when you move, making friends and adjusting can be harder if you don’t have a solid foundation in the community language.

Some other factors to consider: He will not pick up English-speaking from you if that is what you use between you and your husband, unless you actually speak it directly with him. I can tell you from personal experience and experience with many other families that this is the case if you stick to a strict OPOL (one parent, one language) strategy. He may come to understand a good portion, but he won’t have the speaking ability, so don’t count on this as a way for him to learn English.

The same goes for Spanish. Many kids at his school in New York may speak, but they will inevitably speak English with him as that will be the language of the classroom. He will not pick up more than a few words, if anything, from just hearing other students speak to each other in Spanish.

I would also consider how much practice your son gets with each language. Are you or your husband working a lot? You generally want about a third of your child’s waking hours where he uses the target languages. Less than that, and he won’t acquire them as strongly. Also, remember this is production based, not just listening. So if you or your husband are working a lot and not able to speak with your son much, you may want to opt for reinforcement through school.

It also sounds like you are living in big cities where there should be many language options. You can be assured that the majority of big cities will have an English option for school, even in non-English-speaking countries. Spanish and German are usually not hard to find either.

Lots to think about, but my final advice would definitely be to continue with OPOL at home. I would probably choose for him to attend an English school since you are already speaking the other languages at home and plan to continue to do so. Also, English will be useful any country you move to, so it iss worth starting young.
I wish you the best of luck in your journey!


Nick Jaworski

Nick Jaworski


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