Why, What, Who, When, Where?

by Corey · 8 comments

When it comes to raising multilingual children, this is the place to start!  These are the most important questions to ask yourself and your spouse before you even start your multilingual parenting journey!

By Corey Heller

Perhaps you are just now making the decision to raise your children bilingually or maybe you are already well on your journey as a bilingual family. No matter how long you have been raising your children bilingually it is always good to take a moment to reflect on the following questions and, if possible, sit together as a family to make sure you are all in agreement.

Each step along the path of being a bilingual family usually brings up new answers to some of the following, very important questions:


Ask yourself WHY you are motivated to raise your children bilingually. It is because you or your spouse speaks a second language? Maybe you just feel it would be a wonderful opportunity for you and your children? Ask yourself if your motivations are purely language-based or are also for cultural and personal reasons. Perhaps you believe it will provide your children with a better future?


Make sure you are clear on WHAT your vision or goal is for your bilingual family. Are you interested in making sure that your children can speak, read, write and communicate comfortably in more than one language? Or are you satisfied if your children pick up what they can along the way with out any specific guidance from you? Are you prepared for disappointment if your vision doesn’t pan out along the way and what are ways you might deal with this? To what degree are you willing to be flexible with your intended goal?


Next ask yourself WHO will be speaking which language(s). Will each of you speak a different language with the children? Will you both speak the non-dominant language together with the children? Will you speak more than one language with the children based on a specific plan?


Figuring out WHEN to speak each language can sometimes cause difficulties. It is important to come up with at least the framework for a plan and to try your best to stick to it so that your children won’t become confused. Will you always speak the same language with your children or will you speak a different language when certain people are visiting who don’t understand your language? Make sure to think this through before your child has friends and their parents over who don’t understand the second language.


We need to examine WHERE we spend our days with our children and what language we will speak when we are in each place… the playground, school, playgroup, when visiting family members in their homes, shopping. Will you speak a different language when visiting other countries and cities?

These questions should be discussed and decided together as a family.

Write down your answers so that you can read over them again in the future. Although your decisions aren’t set in stone, you should try to stick to them as much as possible. Children will be more responsive to your bilingual efforts if they are clear on what the “rules” are. If you change the rules on them too often or if they aren’t clear that the rules have changed, they could possibly become frustrated and confused and possibly refuse to participate.

Agreeing together as a family also removes the potential of you and your spouse arguing about these issues in front of your children and making them worry that they are doing something wrong.

Ultimately it comes down to creating a larger framework from which you can then more easily and calmly make the smaller, everyday decisions. Remember that you are allowed to change your decisions. Just make sure to sit together now and then to discuss what things are and are not working for your family and come up with a new plan. Don’t allow yourself to be driven solely by what others say or do. Make the decisions that work best for your family and everyone will thrive.

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 14, 12 and 10, in German and English.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karen Egenes May 30, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Somewhere reading here was something about what do people say to you in public? I can’t find it right now but I have gotten many, many comments in the last three years in public with my grandaughter. People have often said, “Doesn’t she speak English?” To which I reply, “yes she does, but I have never spoken English to her hoping she will grow up knowing two languages.” That said, there have been few times when I have spoken English to her, around other small children that I need to speak to all at once, and then often I will tell her in Spanish also, or at her horse riding lesson so the instructor will know what I have said etc. Other than that I just talk to her in Spanish and if it leaves others wondering, so be it! Maybe they will be inspired….


2 Corey June 5, 2010 at 12:26 am

Karen, thank you for this! The article you are thinking of may be this one: http://www.multilingualliving.com/2010/05/26/who-says-you-can-not-raise-your-children-bilingually/. It is so fabulous that you have such a clear plan in place. I am certain that you ARE an inspiration to many by what you are doing with your granddaughter. She is so lucky to have you so supportive of her language!


3 Isabelle June 1, 2010 at 12:20 am

Its great to set up these questions. Thats what hubby and I did at the beginning of our marriage. It was like an informal contract but it was great because it helped us and made us ready when our first child was born. It was hard to each speak my own language when the other was speaking another language to me, Infact one sentence or conversation was made up 2 languages. But we had decided this at the beginning, so now its really easy and comes naturally to us. We each speak our own language but adapt for respect for others. When my kids have their playfriends over, they all speak french, so I will speak French to accomodate them but always address my children in English. Unlike Karen, I have received lots of comments in public, mostly positive in regards to my children’s bilingualism, however unfortunately, it hasn’t always been the case with professionals.


4 Corey June 5, 2010 at 12:28 am

It does really help to have a plan in place, doesn’t it? I notice that for us as well. In fact, research is showing that kids can work out all of the language stuff in their brains. But it is hard for US to stay consistent if we don’t have a plan and our kids might just get tired of not knowing what is up and decide they want to speak the community language. As you said – having a plan is great so we don’t have to think about it all the time!


5 Isabelle June 1, 2010 at 12:26 am

Sorry Karen, I read incorrectly! I mean’t to say Like Karen I have received many comments……

and sorry about the following grammar error:

It was hard to each speak (our) own language when the other was speaking another language….


6 Corey June 5, 2010 at 12:29 am

Oh gosh, no worries at all!!


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