Q&A: How to introduce a second minority language to a child?

by | Mar 9, 2017 | Coaches, Q&A The trilingual+ child, Rita R | 0 comments

How to introduce a second minority language to a child?




I have been reading your website with interest and hope you can help me in introducing French to my two-year old son.

I am half English and half French and fluent in both languages, although my dominant language is English. My husband is Iraqi and fluent in both English and Arabic. I speak to my son in English, my husband speaks to him in Arabic. The common language at home is English and we live in Dubai – where English is the main language with some Arabic. He is definitely now speaking English and fully understands Arabic and even uses some words.

He has had some exposure to French, as we regularly skype call my mother who is French speaking. We also sometimes read French books etc.

I’m keen to make sure he is well exposed to French but have found it hard to speak only French at home when other languages are being spoken.

Should I switch to only speaking French? I have been told to gradually phase out English to only speak French, as he is so well exposed to English through nursery and will be at school eventually. I have also read on this website to dedicated a time/area to French speaking but I don’t know if this is going to be enough exposure.

Your guidance and advice would be much appreciated!

Looking forward to hearing from you.



Dear Solenne

Thank you for your question on how to introduce another minority language, French, to your son who is already well on his way of becoming bilingual in English and Arabic.

As your son is attending an English-speaking nursery and later also school, English will be his dominant language. In addition, your home language will presumably continue to be English, so it will always have its place in your home. To ensure that he also learns French, establishing a routine of speaking it with him now would be the best decision.

I understand your situation well from a personal experience as I was in a similar position with my eldest daughter. Initially I only spoke Finnish with her, but was determined to also pass on Swedish to her. The switch was successful, but not a straight forward one to do, mainly because I waited until she was five before I did it. Your son is only two, so the switch will be easier for him now than in a few years.

It will be a challenge for both of you, but at his age, probably more challenging for you than for him. As you quite rightly point out, it is not easy to change the language you are used to speaking with someone. I do however think that you should aim for a complete switch as this will the best guarantee for him learning French, especially since there will little other exposure to the language.

I agree with gradually introducing French, working towards a situation where you always speak French when you speak directly with your son. This does not rule out the use of English when you are together as a family. A total switch from one day to another would be too big a change both for him and for you, so doing a transition at a pace that feels comfortable is more realistic (and more likely to succeed).

Here are some ideas on how to bring in French to your daily routines.

  1. Create an area in your home where you put “all things French” in one place and use this area when you sing, play or read a book in French. Maria has a great post on creating a “language corner” in your home.
  2. Use your Skype-calls to engage your son to participate. E.g. do a clapping game or recite a rhyme that you all do together over the call. Another idea is to read (or talk through) a book together, so that your mother has the same book as you and you can look at the pictures, talk about them and turn the pages together.
  3. Introduce toys that speak only French – this is a concept that is perfectly acceptable for a two-year-old. It could be a puppet, a teddy, an action hero doll, any toy really. The most effective one would probably be a hand puppet. You can introduce phrases little by little according to what keeps your son interested (read this Q&A for some ideas on a “dialogue” with a hand puppet).
  4. Decide on certain activities that you will only use French in. Select something that you do daily, for example dressing and undressing. Choose an activity where it as clear as possible from the context what the words mean. Gradually add more things you do together in French.

What you will find is that once you get going it will become easier for you to increase the amount of French you speak with your son. Arm yourself with a lot of patience. There might be days when you feel that it is too hard or that you cannot see progress – on those days, keep in mind that you are giving your son a fantastic gift for his future and it will be worth it in the end, and keep going!

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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