How Can We Help Our Adopted Child Become Bilingual?

by Madalena · 0 comments

Dear Madalena,

We just recently brought home our 16 mo. old daughter from China.  We live in Germany.  My husband is German.  We have one daughter, who is bilingual in English and German.  We speak English at home but German outside the household.

Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with the bilingualism in our family?  Our daughter from China will clearly be delayed as she has to lose the Chinese and gain the English.  She will then go to a German Kindergarten starting at 3 yrs. (or 4 yrs.) until the age of 6 or 7.

Do you have any access to information or families in our situation? Thank you in advance and I look forward to hearing from you.

Warm Regards,

Dear Elizabeth,

Let me reassure you straight away that there is no reason for you to change your family’s language policy because of your new daughter. Children will adapt to any practices that make sense around them, and your use of your two languages certainly makes sense. Start her on her new languages as you would a new baby, though taking her age and interests naturally into consideration. Engage your baby daughter in what she likes to do, in her new languages, just like you did for your older girl, for whom your languages were also new. She will follow suit.

You need not worry about her Chinese. Chinese will naturally be pushed to the background of her linguistic repertoire, but whether she will “lose” it is a moot point. She won’t need to lose one language in order to acquire others. She may even one day wish to (re)learn her Chinese language, and find that this language had only been slumbering, up to then. Her development in English, or German, won’t be affected by her having acquired another language first. Languages wax and wane simply according to the use that we make of them.

It is not certain either that she will experience delay in any of her new languages, once she starts using them regularly. Given her age, and related cognitive development, she will acquire them differently, and at a different rate, from a newborn. Comparisons with her sister, for instance, are unwarranted. Do expect silent periods, though, and nurture her through them: she will need time to work out, at her own pace, what to speak to whom, when and where. It will be interesting to see what language(s) she and her sister decide to use with each other, for example.

I cannot unfortunately help you much with your last question, about other families in a similar situation to yours. But the question will, I’m sure, find echo among Multilingual Living readers worldwide. You may also consider reaching out to other families by posting on the Multilingual Living Forum.

Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.


Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, PhD, University of Manchester, UK, is a multilingual parent, educator and scholar, and the author of Multilinguals are...?, a book on myths and misconceptions about multilingualism. Her blog Being Multilingual deals with multilingualism at home, in school and in clinic. Her contact, and details on her work, are at:

Disclaimer: This post and the comments provided below have been provided for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional financial, medical, legal, or other advice. This post has been published with the full consent of the author. The author has agreed to Madalena Cruz-Ferreira answering the Ask Madalena question publicly as well as readers leaving comments in the comment section below. Multilingual Living makes no representations or warranties and expressly disclaims any and all liability concerning any treatment or action by any person following the information offered or provided within or through this and any other information on this website. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional or medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. Please read our Terms of Use for more detail or contact us with any questions.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: