The Best Way to Raise a Multilingual Child?

by Corey · 11 comments

Bilingual Family - Multilingual Child - Ask Multilingual LivingPlanning ahead for the arrival of our children is important in a multilingual marriage. Although things may just fall into place once our children arrive, it sure helps to have a language plan worked out with our spouse ahead of time!

Frank and his fiancée are doing what they can to plan things out now but they are a little worried about what to expect. What advice can you give them? What would you have done the same and/or differently if you could start over again?


Dear Multilingual Living,

I’m Chilean, so Spanish is my mother tongue. My fiancée is German so she speaks German, obviously. We met in Chile while she taught English. Our relationship grew in English since we are both fluent in that language. She knows a little Spanish and I know a little German.

We started planning our life together and of course the question popped up: How are we gonna raise our kids? What languages are we going to teach them? Is it possible to teach them 3 languages?

This has been overwhelming me a little. Also the thought that my family will not be able to understand my kids if they only know English and German and vice versa, if they only know Spanish and English my “family-in-law” will not understand them. I need a little orientation here.

Thanks in advance,

(Please post your responses to Frank in the comments section below…)

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kia October 14, 2013 at 12:18 am

Hi, Guten Morgan, and Hola Frank,

It is certainly feasible to teach your child all three languages. My best advice though is to only speak in a language where you are completely proficient. Your child will talk to you in the language they think you know.

Our daughter is five. She has been introduced to French, Chinese, Kiswahili, Igbo, Sign Language, Chinese, & Spanish. Her capacity to learn all of those languages is there. Our ability to pay for that language instruction is not. We narrowed it down and have found a school that is teaching her Japanese and Spanisg in a full language immersion setting. They also offed Chinese at the school so she understands some basic conversational Mandarin. She is receptively fluent in Japanese and can respond some as well. Spanish is being newly introduced. I taught what little sign language I know and will pursue that probably next year. Anyway, my husband and I only know English. It is important to us that she is introduced to language as early as possibly because that is when we truly have the capacity to learn and retain languages. I wish you the best! Oh, please teach your child German. I was born in Germany to American, English speaking parents. We left there when I was two so I didn’t learn German but it would have been nice 🙂


2 Frank October 14, 2013 at 9:39 am

Thanks! I’m learning German myself, not easy though!


3 Tibisay October 14, 2013 at 4:10 am

Hi Frank,

I understand your concern as my husband (French) and I (Venezuelan, mother tongue spanish) were in a similar situation when we met and decided to get married (we met in England).
However, we now have a 4 years old daughter who can speak Spanish, French and English almost at the same level the 3 of them.
Since birth, I have only spoken spanish to her and my husband only French. However between my husband and I only speak english at home (well a bit of spanish as well, as he speaks a bit of spanish but not a lot) and we live in England.
Our daughter first spoke spanish and then some words in french. 4 months after she started nursery (at the age of 3) she started to speak english.
At the beginning she was very quiet at school and did not want to speak any english at all but after 4 months she started her confidence started to growth and she is a very happy trilingual child at the moment. She can even translate for me what is going on between my french in-laws when they come and visit us!
Our rule (if any) at home is that we only speak to her in english as long as there are english only speaking in our house or in social life. Otherwise our conversation having dinner at the table goes from spanish, French and english. …..unbelievable, we manage to understand each other…. and of course my french is starting to become better, at least I understand and follow what my husband and my daughter are talking about it. Good luck and have fun in the new journey…. it is a beautiful and rewarding adventure!


4 Frank October 14, 2013 at 9:39 am

Thank you very much!


5 Ute October 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Like the others already said: it’s feasible. I grew up bilingual Italian and German, adding French when I was 6. My kids grow up multilingual: German, Dutch, English and Italian. We talk German at home (a long story, you can read it on my blog here: You can start by following the OPOL (One person one language) method and see if this works for you. Your children will also learn English passively, if you continue talking English to your fiancée and if, at some point, they will need to talk it, they will have the advantage to have already a passive competence in it (and believe me, don’t underestimate this: my son knows French only by me talking French to my husband when we don’t want our kids to understand what we’re saying ;-)).
You can also ancourage your children to learn those languages by showing them that both languages, Spanish and German, are worth to be learned. There will always be one dominant language, but this doesn’t mean that the other one must be neglected. On the contrary, you will need to find and create opportunities for your children (and yourself?) to keep it active. One thing that I like to recommend is to learn your partners’ language. Not only for the children, but also for the extended family. Learning a language is a sign of respect and love. – I wish you good luck (I would love to know what you’ll decide)


6 Galina / Trilingualchildren October 15, 2013 at 7:20 am

Hi Frank,

You can teach your child all three languages.
One of the options, and this is what our family follows (, is to use One Parent One Language (OPOL) approach. You speak only Spanish to your child, your wife speaks only German, you and your wife – English.

You do not write where you live/ plan to live. In case you live in non English speaking country, it would be a good idea to switch from passive to active English teaching as soon as your child masters speaking Spanish and German. It will happen approximately after his second birthday.

While you and your fiancée are waiting for your family to grow, use this precious time to master each other languages. My husband and I did it. Knowing each other languages helps us to communicate not only within our family, but also with the monolingual extended family members.
My best wishes on your journey to a multilingual family! 🙂


7 multilingualexperiment October 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I am a student at University College of Social Studies in Poland and writing my MA thesis on multilingual families using English as a lingua franca.
The design of the research will be easy to conduct in home settings. All the personal details will remain confidential. I will send more information if required. The study will take place between late November 2013 – early January 2014.
If you are interested, please do not hesitate to contact me:
I would appreciate any help!


8 Nargis October 22, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I speak Russian, my husband’s first language is Spanish, we live in the States. Unfortunately, we don’t speak each other’s language. Our son was trilingual until the age of 4. We sent him to an American pre-school and after that he started responding in English only. He still understands though. If I could turn back time, I would continue sending my son to a Russian pre-school and then send him to a Spanish immersion for elementary school.


9 Fred October 24, 2013 at 7:02 am

Hi Frank,

My husband and I are in the same situation: I am French, he is German, we met in England and developed our relationship in English mostly because of the country we were living in, but also because we were not proficient in each other’s language. Now we live in Germany and have two small children aged 2 and 9 months. I cannot yet speak for long term language learning, but in the two years we’ve spoken only our mother tongues to our daughter (me French, him German) while keeping English as our common language. We also decided to use Baby sign language to help making a “bridge” between the different languages but also in order to allow our baby to communicate earlier and more efficiently (I must say it was a great success with her, while with her younger brother it does not look good yet, every child is different!).
Our 2yo perfectly understands both German and French, we are realising that she does also understands a fair amount of English despite us not addressing her in that language. She is able to use both our mother tongues even starting to use the appropriate language with the right people! But it takes time, patience and NO pushing. I would say: do things naturally, consistently (consistency is THE most important thing to me) and always observing your child, his reactions and needs.

Kids are clever and usually very willing to communicate, given the tools they can go fast, very fast!

Now, good luck and whatever you choose you just need to be comfortable with it 🙂


10 Sonia November 13, 2013 at 2:01 am

Buenos días, os dejo un “episodio” de mis hijos en su crecimiento entre lenguas


11 Petra November 19, 2013 at 3:11 am

I think you can teach your children all three languages. But primarily it is important to teach them both of your native languages, they should know them as well as English.


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