Q&A: How to introduce an additional family language to a 4-year-old?

by | Mar 26, 2017 | Coaches, Q&A How to motivate a bilingual / multilingual child to speak a family language, Rita R | 2 comments

How to introduce an additional family language to a 4-year-old?




I am after some advice. I am Lithuanian, my husband English. Our son is 4 1/2 years old. My aim was to bring him up as bilingual but somehow it didn’t happen. I spoke to him in my native language but not consistently enough. He doesn’t really understand it apart of a few words/phrases that I use with him. I really want to change this.

I want my son to speak my language so he can have a relationship with my family back in Lithuania. Could you please give me some advice of how do I start this process? My dilemma is whether I go cold turkey and speak to him ONLY in Lithuanian (although it will cause him distress I’m sure) or I choose an hour or so a day only to start with.

Any advice/tips would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you very much in advance.


Dear Lauryna,

Thank you for your question on how to reintroduce another family language, your mother tongue Lithuanian, to your little son. I am happy that you have decided to do this now, because it is indeed easier to do this the younger he is.

You are considering whether to go “cold turkey”, i.e. to completely switch to Lithuanian from one day to another, would be the way to start this process. I agree with you, that it would be a very big and sudden change so I recommend a more gradual transition. As I have been through the process of switching the language I spoke with my own daughter when she was five years old, I know it is not a straight-forward change.

With a 4-year-old I would try different approaches to slowly bring in Lithuanian to your communication – see what works. Dedicating an hour a day may not be conducive to getting him interested. Instead, you could make it a game by using Lithuanian words in familiar situations – it should be clear from the context what a word means. For example, do this at meal times (not if you have a rushed breakfast, but when you have more time) by introducing words for cup, spoon, plate, water, cereal, milk, juice and so on. Then expand by using simple sentences: Do you want juice? – lift the juice box and offer to pour some. Give me your plate! – reach out with your hand towards his plate. Another great situations are when you are putting clothes on or going shopping. The more familiar the situation, the better.

The best way is to play on your son’s interests and then weave in Lithuanian in the situation. You can engage in his favourite game, but do it Lithuanian. Find a simple cartoon, fun songs and rhymes to watch, sing and recite them in Lithuanian. I love the concept of monolingual toys to bring in a language to a child’s life.

Introducing a language to a small child is a topic that comes up quite often, and I have already written some articles which relate to it, so I will list them here

Bilingual children – (re)introducing a family language

5 practical tips for (re)introducing a minority language

Since your son already has some knowledge of Lithuanian, it should be an easier start, but please don’t push him too hard – instead work on further ways to motivate him – find more ideas in these post:

Top tips for motivating bilingual children to speak their languages

3 ways to intensify the minority language exposure for your bilingual child.

Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey – please let us know how it 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.


  1. Annalisa

    Typo? “You can engage in his favourite game, but do it Latvian.”
    Love all the advice you give, Rita, and I always look forward to reading your next post!

    • Rita

      Indeed! Corrected now (along with another typo!)
      Thank you!


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