Q&A: How to handle different character sets when raising bilingual children

by | Jan 15, 2015 | Coaches, Literacy, Maria Babin, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family | 2 comments


I love your website! It has helped me so much in learning how to raise our son and daughter in a bilingual home.

My husband is Thai, and I am American, and we live in America. I’m a stay-at-home mom, and conversational in Thai, so I speak Thai at home with my 2-year-old son and 4-month-old daughter. My son has started to speak mainly in Thai. I read mainly to him in English though since my Thai reading skills aren’t very good, and my husband reads to him in Thai.

He has taken a great interest in the English alphabet, which is completely different characters from the Thai alphabet. We are always pointing out letters together, and he has some activities that have the alphabet with an English word that corresponds to it. I’m wondering if I should try to say those words that go with the letters, but thought that would confuse him since I always say Thai usually when we talk about those words?

If you could give me some advice on how to help him, but not confuse him, that would be great!



Hello Sherri,

Thanks for writing! It sounds like you are very committed to raising your children with both of their heritage languages! Just out of curiosity, does your husband also speak only Thai to your children? If that is the case, I am assuming you have opted for the minority language at home (mL@H) method.

I sense you are fairly enthusiastic about being able to speak Thai to your children even though you are American and your mother tongue is English. If this is what you wish to do with your children, I would encourage you to continue. Raising a bilingual family should be a thrilling, happy experience. Your children will feel your enthusiasm and this will be an added benefit. Enthusiasm is contagious!

If you wish to help your son (and later your daughter) with letters, sounds and words in English, this should not pose a problem to your children’s progress in Thai, nor confuse them. To help your children make a clear distinction between the languages, you might want to set aside a special time during the day for this activity: as an early morning activity or during quiet time in the afternoon.

Another idea would be to create a small language corner dedicated specifically to English. You could fill the corner with books in English and whenever you go to your English corner, your children know that you switch languages for a short time. See more about setting up a language corner here: A language corner for teaching a foreign language in the home

I wish you the best of luck in your bilingual endeavors and don’t hesitate to let us know if you have additional questions.


Maria Babin

Maria Babin

Maria, born and raised in the United States to a Peruvian father and a Mexican mother, is today the proud mama of four trilingual kiddos. She loves their multilingual, multicultural lifestyle, living in a suburb of Paris, France, taking family vacations to the United States and eating Mexican tacos. She graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah in 2000 with a Bachelor’s degree in French, completed undergraduate coursework in early childhood second language acquisition as well as graduate coursework in French literature. She taught beginning French at BYU before beginning her own in-home multilingual experiment. She blogs at Trilingual Mama in a quest to explore and exploit the secrets that lead to a family’s multilingual successes, including research, practical tips, resources and real life.


  1. Sherri Pengjad

    Hi Maria!

    Thanks so much for your helpful response! I love that idea of a language corner where we can read in English together! I can’t wait to incorporate that! My husband does speak Thai to my son, so we are doing the ml@h method and it’s amazing how much my son is learning Thai. I’ve learned so much more Thai through it, and love growing my Thai while teaching him his other culture.

    I was also wondering how to help him learn that when he is around English speakers it’s fine for him to speak English? He speaks Thai to my English-speaking parents, and all our friends, so I translate for them :). I’m guessing since he is only 2 years old, once he is older he might understand more that not everyone knows Thai and he can speak English to English speakers? Any thoughts?

    Thanks again for all your help!

  2. Maria (Trilingual Mama)

    Hello again Sherri! I’m glad you found my response helpful! You are right, your son is still very young but will catch on quickly to your prompts if when he speaks Thai to English speakers, you intervene in English. Translating can be helpful to the English speakers, but there are a few little things that you can do to help your son. When he says something in Thai to an English speaker, rather than systematically translate for his interlocutors, try to pick out a few key words of vocabulary and tell them to your son in English. Ask him if he will repeat with you. Make word sandwiches (English-Thai-English) to reinforce what he already knows in Thai and to teach him that the Thai words he knows have an English equivalent. For example, if he says in Thai that he wants a drink of juice, tell him: “Juice-น้ำผลไม้-Juice. Can you say juice? Do you want a drink of juice?” In this way, you take advantage of the teaching opportunity and his interlocutors know what he means without you necessarily having to translate.
    I hope that helps.
    P.S. I googled juice in Thai, I hope I got it right!!!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.