Q&A: In which language should children watch films in an OPOL-family?

by | Oct 13, 2016 | Coaches, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Rita R | 0 comments

In which language should children watch films in an OPOL-family?


Hello everyone!

My partner and I bring up our children (3 and 4 years old) bilingually. I speak English as I am from England and my partner speaks German as he comes from Germany. The children’s biological father also speaks German to the children as he is German. We agreed to do it this way when the children were born and it has proven to be a great success.

Our 4-year-old does not mix the languages up at all and our 3-year-old only occasionally. However, the children’s biological father has started watching English films with them. A family psychologist (not a linguist) recently wrote to us: “Während die Einhaltung der 1 und 1-Regel durchaus empfehlenswert ist, erscheint die strikte Trennung der Sprachen auch nach Wohnungen übertrieben”. I would translate this as “Although following the 1 to 1 rule (or method) is definitely recommended, the strict division of languages between homes is over the top.”

How do other families deal with this and is my request to keep the languages separate as originally agreed over the top?

Thanks for your help!



Dear Leanne

Thank you for your question about in which language your children should watch films.

You are doing a fantastic job with your children as they are already able to keep their languages apart so well! It would be completely normal for both of them to mix languages at their age.

Since both your partner and the children’s biological partner is speaking German with your kids, this is an excellent way for them to get varied exposure to German. You do not mention any concerns for their English exposure, so I presume they get enough opportunities to hear and interact in English.

You have been successfully using the one parent/person, one language (OPOL) strategy to pass on both English and German to your children. In your case this has meant that the children’s biological father’s place has been a German-only environment for your kids.

Now to the question of choosing the language your children watch films in when they are with their biological father. I commend you for asking the question and to being open to an answer that may differ from your own view, as I understand from your message that you would prefer that his house was kept as a German-only zone.

I do agree with the psychologist’s opinion that extending the consistency rule to films that your children watch with their father may be too stringent. Especially so if this is an issue that could cause disagreements between the two of you. I don’t know how good the relationship between you and him is, but if there is any chance of this becoming something you cannot agree about, I would not mention it. I presume he is still speaking German with the children, so watching a film in English now and then will not do them any harm.

While it is recommended to be consistent when following the OPOL approach, it is not to be taken as a rigid rule from which you should never deviate. The general rule is that the less exposure a child has to a language, the more consistent the speaker(s) of it should be. I would also normally recommend to watch cartoons, films etc. in the minority language, but this should also not be taken as an absolute must. If I were you, I would let your kids enjoy a film with their father in whatever language it may be.

Wishing you a continued successful bilingual 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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