Q&A: What is the best way to teach our child English as a minority language?

by | Aug 6, 2015 | Coaches, Maria Babin, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family | 0 comments



I have been reading through your website and I would like to ask what you recommend for our situation. We are a Slovak couple (fluent in English, but not native speakers) living and expecting to live in Greece for a few more years, but then return home to Slovakia or maybe move to a different country for a few more years before moving finally home. Therefore, we want to raise our soon-to-be-borne-baby as bilingual in Slovak and English. I am not afraid about the Slovak language, that is the only language normally spoken at our home. We don’t really want the child to pick up Greek, since it will probably not need it any more by the time it starts to speak 🙂

For English I plan to get an English-speaking baby-sitter for a few hours a few times a week (thinking about three times a week), and later on, try to find some English speaking playgrounds, nurseries, friends etc. Do you think it is enough exposure or should I add more English exposure by speaking English myself to the baby? I of course have to speak English when communicating with the rest of the world and I think if I am in an English speaking company, I will also speak English to the baby, I hope this is ok and not going to confuse the baby too much, do you see a problem with that?

The situation is quite simple compared to many of the 4+ languages described by others, but since we cannot really stick to the OPOL rule, I am not sure what I can do to help the baby to pick up English and get a proper English accent. Or should I not worry about the English at the moment and focus on it more when the baby is bigger? But if he does not learn English, he cannot communicate to anyone else the second he leaves the house…

Many thanks for your opinion!


Hello Jackie,

Thanks for your question. Here are a few thoughts that should guide you in establishing your family language plan.

If I understand correctly you would like your child to become fluent in Slovak and English, but you are seeking advice about the best way to transmit the minority language English.

One thing to keep in mind is that children generally adopt the majority language (the community language wherever you are living) more than the minority language(s) spoken in the home. If you plan on moving back to Slovakia, then this will indeed allow your child to become fluent in Slovak with little to no effort on your part. However, even though you speak exclusively Slovak in your home, if you stay in Greece for a few years (or another country), it is very likely that your child will begin to pick up the majority language there (Greek, etc.). Although this is difficult to avoid, it can be counterbalanced by increasing the amount of language input in the home through direct social interaction by the parents and others who speak Slovak or the target language.

As far as English is concerned, your ideas are very good and you may need to combine them in order to ensure your child receives sufficient language input. Here are a few questions/thoughts to examine to help optimize your child’s language acquisition:

1. Will the babysitter be a native English speaker? Will she feel comfortable and willing to speak exclusively in English? Will she be willing to read storybooks and teach nursery rhymes in English?

2. An English speaking “tribe” is essential when you are teaching a minority language that you are not a native speaker of. Play groups, parent support groups, friends, etc. and especially those who can model native English speech for your child. Read this post on Bilingual Avenue: Advice from bloggers around the world about building a language tribe.

3. Yes, you can indeed also speak English to your child, especially if you feel it is important in the presence of other English speakers. This will not confuse your child, but give him the additional input and emotional attachment to his parent and the English language. You could even set up a language corner in your home, where you could share English speaking moments throughout the day.

Finally, in response to your concerns about helping your child to acquire correct English, it will be important to ensure that he has people that will model native or near-native fluency. He will learn vocabulary, phrases, grammar, syntax from all people who model the English language for him, but to ensure that he learns it the right way, seek to spend quality time with people who speak it correctly and with native pronunciation.

I hope I have addressed all your concerns and that you feel more prepared to raise a bilingual child. Congratulations on your happy upcoming event! And please, write again to let us know how things work out for you or if you have additional questions.

Kind regards,

Maria Babin

Maria Babin

Maria, born and raised in the United States to a Peruvian father and a Mexican mother, is today the proud mama of four trilingual kiddos. She loves their multilingual, multicultural lifestyle, living in a suburb of Paris, France, taking family vacations to the United States and eating Mexican tacos. She graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah in 2000 with a Bachelor’s degree in French, completed undergraduate coursework in early childhood second language acquisition as well as graduate coursework in French literature. She taught beginning French at BYU before beginning her own in-home multilingual experiment. She blogs at Trilingual Mama in a quest to explore and exploit the secrets that lead to a family’s multilingual successes, including research, practical tips, resources and real life.


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