Q&A: When and how to introduce a third language to a small child who will attend a bilingual school?

by | May 8, 2016 | Coaches, Q&A The trilingual+ child, Rita R, School-aged children | 0 comments



I have the following question. My mother language is Bulgarian, my husband is French and we live in France. I am also fluent in English. We have a one-year-old son and I have already start thinking about the number of languages he needs to speak.

Currently I speak with him in Bulgarian and my husband in French. I would like to include the English as early as possible, but I have no idea when is the right time and how to do it. For example do you think it would work if I speak with him during the week in Bulgarian and during the weekend in English?

I hope I will be able to put him in French/English school when he is three years old but I would like to start with the English before that. I am looking forward to your opinion and advice.

Best regards,


Hello Denitsa,

Thank you for your question on how to raise your son to be trilingual.

You mention that you are thinking about the number of languages he “needs to speak” – this is a very important aspect of a child’s language learning. As you will be speaking Bulgarian and your husband French with your son, he will have a natural need to speak these languages. You live in France, so by time, French will most likely become his dominant language.

Until your son starts school, there is no real need for him to speak English – yes, you would like him to speak English, but from his point of view it is not a necessary language. I am bringing this up, as it is important for all parents to put themselves in the child’s position when it comes to choosing the language a child should learn. For a child to learn a language, the child should need and want to speak it.

Will you be the only person speaking Bulgarian to him, or do you have Bulgarian-speaking relatives or friends who your son will be in regular contact with? Will he stay with you until he starts attending the French/English school at the age of three? What I am trying to establish is how much exposure he will get to Bulgarian prior to starting school.

Are there any expectations from the school as to how much English your son should know when he starts? Just in case you haven’t already, I would recommend that you speak with the teachers to find out, so that you can set your goals accordingly. From what I know of similar schools, my presumption is that the school does not require much English knowledge, if any at all (the latter being more likely).

You can introduce English to your son through children’s songs, rhymes and play – I would not go down the route of trying to “teach” him English, but to do activities he enjoys in English. This you can start with straight away. You could arrange a dedicated English area in your home where you keep English books, listen to and sing songs in English. You could also have certain toys that you play with only when it is time for English.

I would at this point not switch to speaking English for full days with him. For the future, it is very important that he maintains Bulgarian as the main language between the two of you. If he is going to also continue his education in a bilingual school, he will soon become very fluent in English, and he might even prefer to use English with you instead of Bulgarian. The more he is used to speaking English with you, the bigger the chance that English would become the language of choice also for when he speaks with you. Of course, you can insist on sticking with Bulgarian, but if he is used to Bulgarian being the language to speak with mum, there is less of a chance that this situation would arise.

Good luck with your trilingual language journey – I am sure your son will be happily communicating in all three languages when he grows up.

Please add your comment or any further questions below!

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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