Q&A: When and how to introduce a third language to a bilingual child?

by | Apr 23, 2017 | Coaches, Q&A The trilingual+ child, Rita R | 3 comments

When and how to introduce a third language to a bilingual child?




This website has helped me so much, it’s wonderful!

We are a bilingual family and live in the US. I only speak Spanish to my 15 months old and my husband English most of the time (he is American, I’m Latina). Both my husband and I work full time, we have an au pair at home that only speaks Spanish to our daughter.

Our daughter is exposed to Spanish 80% of the time. She doesn’t say any words, but understands so much Spanish. She also understands English, but not as much as Spanish. Schools here have Spanish classes, so I’m not worried about her learning how to read and write in Spanish, as I will be teaching her too when she’s ready, maybe at 4 or 5 years old.

I went to a German School (elementary and high school) and have relatives living in Germany (I used to be a fluent speaker, but now my German is a bit rusty). I wanted to introduce German to her, but I’m not sure when would be a good time. there’s no German schools close to where we live, but there’s an academy where she could go Saturdays 9-12 (only option I could find). They take kids starting at 4 years old. I was thinking to introduce it at around 2.5-3 years old at home, with dvds, books and games. I feel that the academy will teach her how to read and write, and have friends to speak the language with. I wouldn’t be speaking to her in German, unless we are watching a dvd or reading a book in German. I would like to just communicate with her in Spanish.

So, basically my questions are: Would it be a good idea to start introducing German at around 2.5-3 years old? Would it be a good idea to enrol her in an academy on Saturdays, or would that be too much for her? I feel like kids need the weekend for other activities after a whole week of school. Would it be ok to keep communicating with her only in Spanish since that’s my native language?

Any advice would be really appreciated!
Thanks so much,


Dear Maria

Thank you so much for your kind feedback – it is always music to my ears to hear from parents that my site has been useful for them! Likewise, it is a pleasure to read messages from parents like you who have clearly put a lot of thought into how to raise their children to speak more than one language.

As you state, both English and Spanish seem to be on a very strong ground for your daughter, so you are looking to introduce a third language, German, to her. You are in a great position to support her with learning German as your own German skills are very good.

It would be fine to introduce German through play at the age you suggest. She may pick up some words and even learn to sing a song or recite a children’s rhyme. She will however not learn to speak with this occasional exposure. It would however be a good introduction if you want her to attend the German academy at the age of four.

Without knowing the German academy’s approach to teaching the language, I am unable to comment on its suitability for your daughter. I would recommend that you ask to attend one of their classes before enrolling and that (if possible) you commit to a shorter period to start with. Once you see how your daughter reacts and fits in, you can make your decision.

If the academy uses age-appropriate teaching methods I can see it being a good choice. However, if your daughter would be the youngest among much older children, then you need to assess whether the class is right for her. Three hours of classroom-style teaching for a four-year-old may not be the best option, while a play-based learning would be more engaging. You also need to find out if there are any expectations on the children’s language skills prior to attending.

Coming back to exposure times, three hours a week at the academy and the occasional use of German during the week will not be enough for your daughter to pick up German. Before thinking about how she will learn to read and write the language, I suggest that you consider what goal you want to set for your daughter’s German fluency. If you want her to grow up trilingual, then you would need to arrange more interactive German exposure to her through contact with other German-speakers, and different German immersion opportunies for her.

Should you want to go into more detail with setting up a bespoke family language plan, please contact me and I will send you some information on the individual family coaching options.

Wishing you a successful trilingual 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. Annalisa

    We have a similar, but opposite, situation in our home. I am American, and my husband is Latino; we live in his Spanish-speaking country. Our child hasn’t been born yet, but I’ve already started a tradition of singing Bach’s Lullaby to him/her every night before going to sleep. I *know* that opportunities here for German are quite limited/non-existent; so being fluent in the language isn’t a goal I have. (Time & Place–one hour of exposure before bedtime–is my eventual goal.) However, I do want him/her to have exposure to the language should it be something that he/she wants to learn at a future date; the sounds and grammatical structure will all be familiar.

  2. Jose Medina

    I am a native Spanish speaker living in the U.S. My granddaughter is five years old and is bilingual in English and Japanese. When she visits I only speak Spanish to her. She’s been able to pick up a lot of words even with this modest exposure. We want her to be fluent in Spanish and are debating whether she should be immersed in an English/Spanish bilingual program in her school. My son (her father) is concerned she would lose her English proficiency if she is exposed to classes where other children are not native English speakers. What would you recommend?

    • Rita

      Hello Jose

      For her to learn Spanish attending a bilingual English/Spanish program would be a great help. There is no need to worry about her losing her English proficiency by doing so.

      Kind regards


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