Q&A: Does reading to a child in a third language work with OPOL?

by | May 12, 2016 | Coaches, Language development, Rita R | 0 comments


Hi there,

I’ve found your website really helpful. Thank you very much for sharing all that info!

I would like to ask for a bit of guidance. I am Spanish (fluent in French and English) and my husband is French (English fluent and good level of Spanish). We speak French in the house and we live in London.

Our son is now 2 years old. He does not go to nursery and I look after him at home. We go to playgroups, he watches TV and we have always been reading to him in English, even if I speak Spanish with and daddy speaks French with him. I am not sure if we can call that OPOL or will be more a 2P2L approach because of the fact that we read in English?

Our son knows a few words in the three languages but I have started to think that he might have a little delay because his vocabulary is not very wide (probably less than 50 words altogether) and he is not able to put two words together yet.

The thing is, we are moving to live abroad in Morocco for 1 to 2 years this month, and we are planning that he starts nursery there (French, Arabic and probably a bit of English too). I am not worried about French for now on but I do worry about Spanish and English.

We might come back to London or another Anglophone country after Morocco, though. Do you think I need to stop reading him in English and start to do it in Spanish and do OPOL more consistently? I start to think that he does not speak more Spanish yet because all this reading and TV in English.

I will really appreciate your thoughts on the situation.

Many thanks in advance,


Hi Natalia

Thank you for your question – I am happy to hear you find our site useful!

With regards to reading in another language (English) than the ones you and your husband talk with your son (Spanish and French) it is fine – any reading is good for children. However, if your son is only listening to English (being read to and watching TV programmes), I would not expect him to start speaking the language, as for this you need interactive communication with a real person. He may well pick up a receptive knowledge of it (understand but not speak the language), though.

If you return to an English-speaking after your stay in Morocco when your son is 3-4 years old, and he starts a nursery where the main language is English, he will fairly quickly pick up the language, independent of whether he hears it at home or not. So providing your live in a country where he is surrounded by English after your time in Morocco, he will learn English just fine.

Since he will have three languages to learn, the thing to pay attention to is the amount of exposure to each of the languages. As per above, if your moves to and from Morocco go as planned, he will eventually pick up English when immersed in it at daycare or school. Your husband speaks French with your son and the family language is French, and he will also get exposed to French at the nursery in Morocco, so the French exposure is also there. I agree with you that Spanish is the language you need to pay attention to the most.

As long as your son stays at home with you he will get plenty of exposure to Spanish, however, as soon as he starts nursery in a different language, this will change. Since you are moving to Morocco, this change in circumstances is imminent and I would recommend that you maximise any time for Spanish exposure – this includes starting to read books in Spanish. Books are great for building a child’s vocabulary and another opportunity for you to create happy memories in Spanish for him. Also, if he does watch cartoons and children’s programmes, you may want to consider introducing him to some Spanish-speaking ones, as they will support his Spanish, although they are not a replacement for using the language with you.

If you are worried about your son’s language development, I would recommend that you get him assessed by a speech and language therapist who is used to dealing with bilingual children. Just to be sure, you may also want to have his hearing tested, as this may affect language development. Generally, if you notice that he is progressing in his talking and understands simple commands, you are probably fine, but it is good to have this confirmed by a professional. It is vital, though, that you find someone who is familiar with the language development of children who speak more than one language.

Wishing you all he best on your Moroccan adventure and please do let us know how it all goes!

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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