Q&A: Speaking a non-native language with your child – how to plan it and what to speak when family is around?

by | Apr 17, 2016 | Babies, Coaches, Non-native language, Rita R, Toddlers | 1 comment


Dear sir or madam,
my wife and I are both Czechs living in Czech Republic. Now we have 3-month-old son and I want to rise him bilingual, Czech and English. I speak fluent English, but as you can read, not really perfect. I lived in US for a while and have a diploma from language school in San Antonio, plus few more certificates.

I have read in many topics that one of the way how to raise a bilingual child in monolingual family is that one parent speaks one language (dominant) and other parent speak the other language. I believe, this would be our case, mother would use Czech and I English plus I would like to give him other exposure to English like game, books, songs and TV. Do you think this could work?

I do have one more concern, as I said, I read if I will start it, I should speak with him only in English (not switching Czech and English, because that could confuse him). But we have family meetings pretty often (aunts, grandmothers, cousins, etc.) and I can’t speak with my family in English I can with my wife, but not with whole family, will this be confusing for him as well? I mean me speaking to him in English, but to other members of family in Czech?

Thank you for your advice.


Dear Jakub,

Thank you for your question. Great that you are thinking of this at a stage where your son is still small and you can put together a plan for how to raise him to be bilingual.

There are a few things you need to take into consideration before choosing to speak only English to your son. I have written a three-part article series on exactly this scenario and I recommend that you read all of those articles. The first part is called Passing on a non-native language to your child: Considerations and the next parts Family language strategy and Activities. I have also answered a few similar questions in the past which you can find here and here.

Using the one parent, one language strategy as you describe is certainly possible. You could also try a variation of the time and place family language strategy as described in my above post.

Children can cope with a parent speaking two different languages – as long as the languages are kept separate in some way. The issue is more the amount of exposure to the non-native language and the child’s willingness to speak it. The fact is that the child will prefer the language which is easier, and if a parent switches frequently between the easier majority language and the (for the child) more difficult minority language, the child will most likely try to use the majority language with the parent.

You are absolutely fine to speak Czech with others when he is with you – this will definitely not confuse him. On the contrary, you are acting as a role model for how a bilingual person behaves.

Please get back to us with any further questions you may have – wishing you good luck for your multilingual 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.

1 Comment

  1. AM

    Jakub, I can also recommend book Family Language Learning by Christine Jernigan.
    It help us a lot to start our bilingual (Czech-English) journey.


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