Q&A: Does a toddler need prepping for immersion daycare?

by | Mar 17, 2016 | Coaches, School-aged children, Toddlers | 1 comment



I’m a native English speaker, and speak Portuguese, French, and Spanish at intermediate to advanced levels. My husband is a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker, speaks English fluently, and has some basic French. We speak English to each other and live in California.

We’re expecting our first child, and want to raise him to be at least trilingual – with English, Portuguese, and French. I plan to speak to him in English and my husband plans to speak to him in Portuguese. Once our child is old enough for family discussions, we will experiment with having the family language as Portuguese in order to support it as our child’s minority language and to make family time more cohesive. I’ve been taking weekly Portuguese classes for almost two years, so my level is ever improving.

My questions are about how and when to introduce and support French. I plan to stay home with our son for the first year of his life, then we plan to put him in a French-immersion daycare, followed by French-immersion schooling at least through age 13 (i.e. at least until secondary school). What, if anything, should I do to introduce French to him during his first year when he’s at home with me?

Though I worked as a French speaking nanny for two years for two preschool-aged children, based on that experience I know I don’t want to speak French to him – because I’m not fluent enough to feel as emotionally connected in French as I do in English. Once he’s communicating more fully, i.e. around age three, I’d love to read to him in French, and discuss those books in French, have conversations in French as a fun game if he wants to, etc… but I really don’t want French to be our primary language of communication for the reason I stated above.

I’m a preschool teacher for children aged 3-5 years, so I know very well how to manage that age group, and I’m not worried about supporting three languages once we get to stage of his life…but I have no idea how, and whether it is advisable, to find some source of French during his first year of life – OR just stick with English and Portuguese for his first year, and introduce French with daycare at age 1 – OR…?? Other suggestions?

All thoughts welcome!
Thank you so much!

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Hi Vanessa,

The answer to your main question is a pretty simple one, let daycare and school take care of the French. As long as he is immersed before the age of six, he will pick it up very fluently, so there is no real advantage to speaking French with him at home before entering daycare. But, definitely feel free to play French games and read books whenever you’d like. I’d agree that your relationship should take priority over the language, so speak the language you are most comfortable with.

Your one parent, one language plan sounds good. With your aim to send him to French immersion school through at least the middle school years, you’ll find his exposure to English limited if you switch to Portuguese at home full-time. I would just recommend sticking with OPOL since occasional outside activities in English would not be enough to build fluency in the language if one of you wasn’t speaking it and he wasn’t speaking English at school.

Please feel free to ask any follow-up questions in the comments!


Nick Jaworski

Nick Jaworski

1 Comment

  1. Rita

    Dear Vanessa,

    i completely agree with Nick that you do not need to prepare your little one by teaching him or her French before starting daycare. Your little toddler will quickly pick up the language by being immersed in it. I am sure that the carers are used to the situation and will handle it well. If you are worried that your child won’t be able to communicate at all, you could consider teaching him or her a few baby sign language expressions for basic communication.

    With regards to switching to Portuguese as a home language, this is obviously an option for you. Thankfully you do not have to decide on this now – wait and see how your child’s Portuguese comes along and if you feel that it needs support (e.g. if daddy is working long hours and does not necessarily get that much one-to-one time), then you could consider using Portugues as the home language. Maybe not all of the time, but for example during weekends – you would be using a variation of the Time and Place strategy. But as I said, this is not something you need to decide on now.

    Wishing you all the best for your trilingual baby-to-be – he or she certainly has the ideal language environment!

    Kind regards


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