Q&A: How can a majority language parent help her child with two additional family languages?

by | Dec 11, 2016 | Coaches, Majority language parent, Non-native language, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Q&A The trilingual+ child, Rita R | 0 comments

How can a majority language parent help a child with two additional family languages?



Hello Rita and other coaches!

I’m Italian, my husband is Egyptian and we’re currently living in Italy. We have a 6-month-old baby girl to whom we’re speaking our respective mother languages. I have a few concerns which I’d like to have your suggestion about:

1. ARABIC: My husband is the only Arabic speaker she’s in contact with. I do not speak/understand Arabic. My husband and I speak mostly English (mixed with Italian) one another. I think it would be helpful for me to learn Arabic for encouraging her use of the minority language. Is it necessary? Will it be enough to have a basic knowledge? I will follow anyway the rest of your suggestion I find here in your blog.

2. ENGLISH: I’d like to give my daughter also English as third language, first because we’re using it in the family and then because she will most probably use it at school together with Italian. How can we do? English is not our mother tongue. At the moment I’m just spending some time reading stories in English (almost 15 min in late afternoon). What else can we add?

3. Additional day-carer: What would you suggest choosing an Arabic or English speaker? Please consider that here in Italy bilingual kindergarten are mostly in English/Italian or other European languages. It is hard to find other Egyptian speakers and create an additional language exposure routine.

Thanks in advance for your help, I will appreciate all your suggestions.

Best regards,


Dear Donatella,

Thank you for your question about choosing the languages for your little girl, who I am sure will grow up to be able to communicate in many languages. With regards to your specific questions:

1. Arabic. Whether your daughter will become an active Arabic speaker or not depends on how much time she will be spending with her father or anyone else speaking Arabic. Several other couples are/have been in the same situation as you where only one of the parents speaks one of the family languages, but have still successfully been able to pass on the language to their child. It all depends on the amount of Arabic exposure your daughter will get. To be able to give a more in-depth answer I would need to interview you to get a better picture of your family’s language setup. If you have the time and the energy, by all means, learn some Arabic, but keep in mind that it will take a fair amount of time for you to get up to a level where you can help your daughter with the language. Having even a basic knowledge of Arabic will however be helpful for yourself to be able to follow some of the communication between your husband and your daughter. If you do decide to embark on the Arabic-learning journey, check out these posts on using a non-native language with your child.

2. English. Since you are speaking English with your husband, your daughter will inevitably pick up some of it as well. If you keep up with your English reading routine, this will further help her with the language. However, your daughter will not learn to speak English unless she gets a chance to also interact in the language. Maybe you can find some English-speaking playgroups she could attend when she is big enough for them? You could also incorporate some English songs and rhymes into your daily routine. As you mention, it will not be too difficult to find opportunities for English exposure for her. If you get a place for her in an Italian/English kindergarten, this will be the perfect way for her to learn English as well. By the way, most bilingual kindergartens do not expect that children know both the languages prior to the start.

2. Childcare. If the exposure to Arabic will be very limited and only depending on her father, then it would be beneficial for your daughter to have an Arabic-speaking nanny or au pair, perhaps. I understand that it is difficult to find formal childcare in the language, but if you can arrange for an Arabic-speaker to spend time with her, this would be ideal. I would generally try to put more emphasis on supporting your daughter’s Arabic in any way you can.

Wishing you a successful trilingual family journey!

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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