Should I Stop Trying to Help?

by Corey · 13 comments

Bilingual Family - Multilingual Child - Ask Multilingual LivingWhen is it ok for a parent use a non-native language with his or her child(ren)? Does it matter whether or not the non-native language parent is absolutely fluent? Or does every little bit count when it comes to helping our children become bilingual?

Please share your wisdom with Nicholas who isn’t sure what he should should: He wants to help his 16 month old daughter grow up as bilingual as possible but he worries that he is hindering her more than helping. What do you think?


Dear Multilingual Living,

My wife is bilingual and speaks French to our 16 month old daughter. She has done this since our daughter’s birth. We live in England and my native language is English.

I have also also only spoken French to our daughter even though my French is relatively limited. My french has rapidly been improving since her birth. However, I worry now that my ‘broken’ French will be detrimental to our daughter’s speech development.

Should I stop speaking French to her from now on and just stick to English (to reduce damaging her language development) and leave it to my wife to speak French from now on?

Thanks in advance for your help,


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alexandra Wallace September 17, 2013 at 9:29 pm

I would say: “NO! Don’t stop speaking French to her!”. I am French and have been speaking French to my now 3-year-old since the day he was born. My husband is American, and he has been speaking French (sometimes broken French) to him as well since birth. We live in the US at the moment. I am of the opinion that every little bit helps. It is not only grammar and vocabulary that you are passing on to your daughter as much as love, passion and interest for another language/culture. This French “thing” is not just mommy’s thing, it is a family thing. My three-year-old does sometimes correct my husband’s French with some chuckles. Don’t worry about the mistakes you make, your daughter has plenty of opportunities to pick up the right grammar from your wife, books, children songs, cartoons, etc.


2 Annamari September 17, 2013 at 11:08 pm

I absolutely agree with Alexandra. And something to add: Nicholas, just go on improving your French (you have wonderful resources – your wife and daughter, and all the materials Alexandra listed). For inspiration, read Jane Merrill’s Bringing Up Baby Bilingual (she also raised her child in French). Just don’t give up! 🙂


3 Annika Bourgogne / Be Bilingual September 17, 2013 at 11:47 pm

I think that using the minority language as a family language is a great way to reinforce it against the ever-present community language, which in your case is English. I understand that you might be worried about passing along language mistakes, but as long as your child interacts also with native speakers this shouldn’t be a problem (when my daughter was three years old and heard me use the wrong gender with a word she just looked at me, incredulous, and said “mommy it’s LA cagoule, not LE cagoule!”). You can think of your role more as a language partner rather than a language model. You provide more interaction and opportunities for your child to use the language than she would normally have. You also contribute to a very French athmosphere at home, which like Alexandra says, makes the language a family thing.

So yes, I would recommend you to stick to French, but only if you feel at ease with it yourself. You say that your French has improved a lot since your baby was born and I’d encourage you to continue learning. I know from personal experience that having the spouse as a teacher is not always the best thing, but there are possibilities like the Mixxer to have a language partner on Skype (I’m sure there are loads of French people wanting to learn English), cd-programs for the car, movies, books. For baby/child-related words and concepts, the online parenting forums in French can be very educational.

Last thought…while consistency is good, especially when the children are smaller, it doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other. Our children are nearly 8 and 13 now and we have French as the family language, but with a twist. There are times when I like to speak to them in Finnish and this often happens when I’m alone with the kids (or when the teen gets difficult and I don’t want her to correct my French as I try to talk to her), but when daddy’s home it’s all in French (even if he speaks perfect Finnish, too). Du courage!!


4 Rowan September 18, 2013 at 12:29 am

Keep it up. I’m English, my wife is Venezuelan and we live in England. She always speaks Spanish to our two sons, while I mostly speak to them in Spanish. Our older son is 4, and recently started school. His English is fine, but his Spanish is brilliant and is still his preferred language. He hasn’t even realised yet that Spanish is not my first language! (I do have a bit of an advantage, in that I studied Spanish to degree level and use it a lot at work). When we make mistakes (my Spanish is good, but not perfect), we correct each other – which shows that far from being a hindrance to him, my speaking Spanish to him is actually an opportunity for us to help each other.


5 Laura S. September 18, 2013 at 4:04 am

Keep up the French, both learning it and speaking it with your daughter. I think your best bet is to have French as your “home” language and English as your “community” language so for that you will need to speak to her in French, mistakes and all! The bilingual/multilingual life may have some bumps in the road but it sounds like you are on the right path, keep going!!!!


6 Jen September 18, 2013 at 4:27 am

Hi Nicholas,
I’m happy to discover this site.
I raise my 4 years old daughter with 5 languages, and Im only fluent in almost 3 of them.
As a multilingual children from birth specialist, and language children acquisition and pathologies (PhD, University of Paris) I have an opinion. ( at the moment building my web site and writing a book )
I just need details.
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Thanks for share your matter.


7 Judith September 18, 2013 at 5:06 am

I think you should keep on trying to speak French to your daughter, but only if you really enjoy doing so. You don’t have to have a perfect knowledge of a language to speak to your child in this language, especially because your daughter can interact in French with native speakers (your wife, other members of the family…).

Here is a possible “strategy”: French at home and English outside/with other people than your wife (and her family)&you… Best of luck!


8 Tibisay September 18, 2013 at 5:53 am

Don’t give up! Raising children in multilingual environment it not only means given them a big gift for speaking more than one language in their future but it is also means helping them to develop their left and right brain and a more balanced way of thinking and made syntax for the use of logic. It also expand their own “Map of the world”. I am from Venezuela, my husband is French and we live in England. Therefore we speak to our daughter in Spanish and French but between my Husband and I we speak English at home (as My French is not good, either my Husband’s spanish) but We never speak to our Daughter in English unless we are with English speakers only. At the beginning sounds like we were creating our own “little language or dialect at home” as many times I was using some “broken French” or my Husband “Broken spanish” but our daughter is now 4 and she perfectly speaks the 3 languages with no major mistakes and/or each other accent. She is able to recognise when I made a mistake in English when I am speaking to my husband and to correct me if I am saying any “broken” French word to any one in my husband’s family. Amazing what children can do. It is worth it! Happy for you to contact me:


9 Galina / Trilingualchildren September 18, 2013 at 2:02 pm

It is wonderful that you speak French to your daughter! I am sure she is thrilled that your family has this “special family language” to communicate with each other. My children love to hear any Russian language input from the Italian speaking father.
My best wishes to you!


10 Ana Paula G. Mumy September 23, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Nicholas – the only caution I would give is make sure you’re not sacrificing your ability to share your heart fully with your daughter because of a language barrier. Below is an excerpt from my parent guide “Practical Bilingualism: A Concise and Simple Guide for Parents Raising Bilingual Children” (

“In order to communicate love and affection, to instruct, to communicate beliefs and opinions, to correct and discipline, to instill character and values, to praise and encourage, to express humor, to share sorrows and disappointments, to share victories and joy, one must be able to dominate the language in which all of these are communicated. Another good question to ask yourself is, “In which language can I most effectively and naturally play with my child?”

I say all that to say, if you choose French, just make sure you’re using it because it’s important to YOU and that YOU feel comfortable using French with your daughter. Your wife can find creative ways to reinforce French in your home and to make it relevant and important in your daughter’s life (if you chose not to speak French)…that’s what I have to do with my children in Portuguese (our community language is also English). My husband uses his broken Portuguese at will from time to time with our children, but I would be asking him to communicate in a way that feels unnatural to him if I requested or expected Portuguese from him with our children.


11 Sonia November 13, 2013 at 2:02 am

Las lenguas siempre tienes que estar vinculadas a algo real. No desistas!! Os dejo una reflexión sobre este tema en el caso de mis 2 hijos


12 Petra November 19, 2013 at 3:09 am

I don´t think you should stop speaking French to her, keep going, and your French will improve as well. 🙂


13 Mike March 12, 2014 at 5:59 pm

As everyone else has said, don’t stop; you don’t need it at a native level for it to give her benefits. I’m about to blog about this very topic.


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