Q&A: Choosing the school language for a bilingual child – one of the home languages or a third one?

by | Jan 15, 2017 | Coaches, Q&A The trilingual+ child, Q&A When a bilingual / multilingual child goes to school, Rita R, School-aged children | 0 comments

Choosing the school language for a bilingual child – one of the home languages or a third one?




My daughter is two years old. We live in Beirut, Lebanon. Our community language is Arabic. Our schools provide education either in English or in French. Some schools teach both English and French languages equally. Since birth, my daughter was exposed to both English and Arabic.

At first, I used to speak to her only in Arabic and sing songs and read stories in English. But after she turned 6 months old, I switched to speaking only in English hereby adopting the one parent, one language method (OPOL).

Now it is time to enrol her in a preschool. I am interested to enrol her in a French rather than English preschool to help her acquire a third language at an early age. However, I am not sure if this is the right thing to do.

I would highly appreciate your advice. Thank you in advance


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Dear Zeina

Thank you for your question – your daughter is so lucky to have a mother who helps her learn many languages while growing up! As I understand it, your daughter is currently exposed to English from you and the Arabic exposure comes from the other parent (and maybe the rest of the family?) It is fantastic to have the choice of schools and languages for your daughter’s education.

Many children (including my younger daughter) have successfully grow up trilingual in a similar environment to yours: two languages at home and an third at school. So this setup is definitely possible and in many aspects an ideal scenario.

There are a few things you should take into consideration when deciding which school to enrol your daughter in:

1. Quality, reputation and suitability of the school – when choosing a school the first criterion should always be how good the school is. Are you happy with the standard of the education, the teachers and the ethos of the school? Do you think your child will be happy in the school?

2. Secondary schools – once your daughter has finished her primary education, are there schools where she can continue in the same language? It is a big step were she to have to change her language of education once she goes on to the secondary education. If she were to start her schooling in French, then you would want her to be able to finish her education in the same language. Even if she is learning English from you – there is still a big difference in the level of fluency in everyday situations compared to what is required for school (see this post for a link to an article explaining the difference between BICS and CALP).

If both schools are equally suitable and there is the chance to continue in the same school language, next consider

3. Your own French language skills – will you be able to support her learning throughout school, also when the expectations get higher and homework more complicated? There is of course the option of hiring a tutor to help, if necessary, but this is something you need to also think about when making the school choice.

4. Amount of exposure to English – once your daughter goes to school, how much time will you spend with her? In case she starts a French school, will there be enough continuous exposure to English so your daughter can maintain and develop her English skills alongside learning French? It is vital for all language learning that there is a continued need and opportunity to use and enhance one’s language skills, independent of age, if one wants to maintain fluency in a language.

Take all the above into consideration and make a list of pros and cons with both options and I am sure you will be able to make the best choice for your daughter.

Wishing you a successful bilingual – possibly trilingual – family journey!

Kind regards

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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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