Q&A: How can a nanny support and understand a trilingual baby?

by | Mar 24, 2016 | Babies, Coaches, Q&A The trilingual+ child, Rita R | 0 comments



I am nannying for a family who are multilingual, the mother is Chinese, the father is German and I am English. Also they speak English to each other. The child is eight months old at the moment. I was wondering if you had any tips or the best way to ensure she grows up with all three languages easily and how to cope when she speaks a language unknown to the individual (like speaking to me in Chinese), I have always been fascinated by the learning of languages this way and different ways to bring up children anyway.

Any help would be great!


Hi Beth,

Thank you for your question! How exciting that you can be part of raising a trilingual child!

I presume you will be spending a considerable amount of time (all day?) with the baby, so she will be getting a lot of English exposure from you. In addition she will hear her parents speak English between them, so that will add to the English exposure.

You do not mention where you live or what the planned school language is for the baby, so the answer to how to make sure she easily grows up with all three languages is to ensure as balanced amounts of exposure to each language as possible. If both mother and father spend evenings and weekends with her and consistently speak their respective languages with her and also read books to her, then she will have a good chance of acquiring all three languages while growing up. However, if there is considerably less exposure to any of the languages, then this language will need additional support.

This is really a case where the best option would be to set up a tailor-made Family Language Plan for the family, taking into account all the different exposure types and times, as well as community language and education language. This is however not something that can be done in a few paragraphs, so I would recommend that they get in touch if they are interested to proceed with this.

With regards to the child speaking a language you don’t understand (you mention Chinese), I would not be too worried. You can ask her mother to teach you the most important words in Chinese for your daily life, such as food, water, play, favourite toy etc. Your discussions together will not be too complicated and it is fine that you repeat in English when you have understood what she says. If you are really struggling with a certain word, then record it and ask her mother later on.

I would also recommend that you read this response from Marianna about different ways that a nanny can support an infant’s language development.

Enjoy your time with the budding tri-lingual, and please do reach out if the family is interested in individual language coaching.

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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