Q&A: When to introduce the majority language to a homeschooled child speaking two minority languages?

by | Sep 3, 2017 | Coaches, Q&A The trilingual+ child, School-aged children, Ute Limacher-Riebold | 1 comment

When to introduce the majority language to a homeschooled child speaking two minority languages?




My daughter just turned two and I’ve been speaking to her in Cantonese since she was born. My husband has been speaking to her in Korean. She currently speaks both languages well. We live in the US, so community language is English.

I have yet to introduce her to English other than the alphabets which she knows. I plan to homeschool her, and I found that the curriculums I want to use are all in English which means she’ll have to learn English from me eventually.

My question is: when is a good age to introduce her to English, and what’s the best way to do so since I only speak to her in Cantonese?

Thank you!

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Dear Jade,

What a great bilingual start for your daughter with Cantonese and Korean!

I understand your concern on introducing the local language to your daughter, but I suppose that your daughter has contact with local children on playgrounds already? If so, she is already picking up the language in the most natural way. It might be that she doesn’t speak it (yet), but she might already understand what other children are telling or asking her. If this is not the case, I would recommend that you increase her exposure to English. As you are living in the US and it is a full immersion situation, this shouldn’t be a problem.

If you want to find out how much she understands English, try to observe how she interacts with children on the playground – without pressure. When a child comes to her, does she interact, understand or try to understand what the child wants from her? How can she make herself understood when playing with peers?

It is crucial for her to communicate with peers, with people outside of the family in general as it helps her to integrate into the society and become more self-confident with others and with the language. Maybe you already do this, but attending playgroups or doing activities with local children (music, dance, art… whatever she likes) she not only learns important social skills, but also acquires the local language in the most natural and fun way.

She is two years old and short sentences and concepts will be easy to acquire. But for her to do this consistently, there must be a “need” and it should be fun and natural for her. At home, you can support her improving her vocabulary by listening to children’s songs and nursery rhymes. Once she understands the necessity and the pleasure of understanding and talking English, she will do so naturally and you may not need to teach her to speak English.

When you start homeschooling her, you will find guidelines on where to start (usually it’s with sounds) in the program you follow. You don’t mention the state you live in, so I can’t give you specific advice or help, but on this site you can find laws and regulations in the different US states.

I would also recommend to get in touch with other homeschooling parents in your area. They can give you plenty of advice about how and when to start and they usually meet with their children anyways for some group activities.

There are different methods to homeschool. Did you decide already which one you want to follow? Does this method or system include foreign language teaching? If not, have you thought about when to start introducing reading and writing in Cantonese and Korean? I usually advise to wait until a child is confident in one language before introducing another alphabet and language. But it always depends on the child, too. If a child shows interest in reading for example books in the other language, it’s a good sign that she is ready to learn it.

I know it’s still very early, but there are many resources available also over internet. If you need any help with that, don’t hesitate to contact us again.

I’m looking forward to knowing how it is going with your daughter. Please keep us informed!

I wish you the best of success.

With kind regards,

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Ute Limacher-Riebold

Ute Limacher-Riebold

Ute Limacher-Riebold is a researcher, writer and an independent Language Consultant and Intercultural Communication Trainer at Ute’s International Lounge. She has a PhD in French literature and a Masters in Bilingualism and is a trained Speech and Language Specialist. Ute combines her knowledge in linguistics and intercultural communication, and her experience as multilingual and multicultural, who managed to successfully adapt to other languages and cultures, Ute made it her mission to translate research into evidence based, easy-to-apply tips for parents, families and practitioners, to use in everyday life. After Italy, France, and Switzerland she now lives in the Netherlands with her Swiss husband and three multilingual and multicultural children. Ute is fluent in English, German, French, Italian, Dutch and Swissgerman, and understands Spanish and Portuguese.

1 Comment

  1. Selly

    Hi, I have a quite similar situation with Jade. I live in California, my daughter just turned one, I planned to homeschool her and I speak Indonesian at home all the time, but I mostly read to her in English. I want to expose her to english but my active english (speaking, writing) is not as fluent as my passive (reading, listening). So what I do is read the text (english) and then talk about the picture in Indonesian. Will this confuse her? Is it Ok I try to talk to her in English, even though I probably make mistakes while talking?


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