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My son is almost 3 years old. I speak to him in French, his dad speaks Portuguese, and we live in Australia.
He started daycare 8 months ago so he could learn English, but he only goes twice a week. 

He is clearly delayed compared to other kids his age. French is probably his strongest language, although portuguese is not far behind. He easily switches between the two, but his sentencing is not that good.

The problem I have is with his English. His teacher told me today that he doesn’t talk when he’s at daycare, or very little. And she doesn’t know if it’s because of the language barrier or if it’s something else. When he’s there, he steps back and doesn’t really engage with the other children. But he seems to understand and replies yes or no when asked a question.

His teacher told me that it would be better for us to talk to him in English as well. She said that otherwise he would most probably be behind when starting school. He is due to start school in January 2014.
When he’s at home, he sometimes speaks in English or imitates the sounds of English (while playing). He doesn’t make sentences yet, but I can hear that he’s learnt a few things. And he loves when we try to talk to him in English. He clearly knows that English is another language and he has no problem differencing the 3 languages.

My question is should I start teaching him English? I don’t really want to, but it breaks my heart to know that he can’t communicate with others and that he steps back because of that.

Also, he has become very shy since he started daycare. He doesn’t really talk to people other than my husband and I, regardless of what language is involved. My husband says that it’s because he realises that he’s delayed which is why he is shy to talk. 

I wouldn’t mind some advice…
Thank you!!


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Hi Lauren,

I’m quite in the same situation…

I come from Haiti (in the Caribbean), my husband is from Brazil and we have two girls (aged 3 and 4 rears old). We live in the US near New York City.

I always speak to them in French and their dad speaks Portuguese.

They went in a bilingual (French-English) day care 2 days per week. Next September, they will enter Lycée French School because I want them to be able to read and write French properly.

Their strongest language is French. They are with me very often and my mom lives with us and she only speaks Standard French and our French dialect from Haiti. My daughters also speak quite good Portuguese but my husband says they make some mistakes… They are very shy when it’s time to speak English and sometimes they refuse to speak it because their English is weak. I don’t stress with that, they will pick up English around in the future. 

Personnaly, I refuse to speak to them in English. It is not my identity. I make some mistakes in English and I don’t want to teach errors to them. I want to teach my girls my personnal heritage and my mother tongue which is French.
As we are in th US, English will not be so difficult to learn for them. They have time to learn.

So, this is my story! I hope it helps you!

Au revoir et à bientôt!


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We live in New Caledonia. We moved here from Canada a year ago. I have always spoken French with our 3 kids, now 2 and half, 4 and a half, and 6 and a half. Dad has always spoken Dutch with them. We live in an expat community and have a lot of Australian friends. In my experience, all kids learn language at different paces. I have seen Australian kids learn French in a year, some in a few months. My oldest in fluent in French and Dutch and is learning English by incidental exposure. My middle daughter is fluent in French, understands Dutch but speaks it very little the youngest daughter speaks French, understands Dutch and sprinkles Dutch into her French. My oldest was fluent in both languages by 3. Also, at three it is a little early to expect full acquisition of three languages. I think it just may take more time. Also, two days a week is not very much exposure….it may thus take longer for him to speak it. He may already understand much of it. I would not recommed you change the language you speak to him as the child most likely associated YOU with the language and daddy with his. Our kids regulary remind us that I don’t speak like daddy and vise versa. Keep speaking your languages to him.

English is one of the easiest languages to learn. If he doesn’t learn it now he will a little later. Think about it, who doesn’t learn English AT ALL as children who live in and english country.

A few more years in Australia and he may not even want to speak french or portuguese at all!!!

My niece and nefew in Canada are learning French from dad, portuguese from mom and english from their environment. It took until she was four for my niece to really start seperating the languages. It is possible. The most important part is to NOT neglect the minority languages which at this point only his parents can give him!!!! He is still young..!

Good luck!


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I´m from Brazil, my child have 1 year and half, so I speak Portuguese and my husband too, but the English here is very important to learn. I started to only speak in English with him and all my family (includes his dad) speaks Portuguese, he understand when i talk, and when his dad talk in Portuguese too, but only talks in Portuguese, not in English, i know he is very young, and have some words who he don´t talk too as in Portuguese. Have so many years who i didn´t talk or write in english to anybody but i stay trying to teach anyway, because is important to him. You can test if he stay shy to talk in english with the child in neighborhood…

Good luck!!



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My children – 3 and 5 have been exposed to multiple languages at birth.  My nanny speaks to them in Spanish, Dad speaks English and I, in Filipino.  They switch to diferrent languages easily, although English is their dominant language. Now that we are in Philippines, their Filipino is getting better and my 5 year old is reading in Filipino!  In June, he will be starting Chinese school so he will add another language, which is Mandarin.


IMO, I will not stop speaking the minority language.  They are in the ideal age to learn and process multiple language without difficulty.  Research have proven that time and again.  We won’t!


Hope this helps!




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Hi Lauren! Good to know for you (and me) that there are many more families struggling with the same thing!  My two girls of 3.5 and 1.5 are learning three languages since they were born here in Sydney Australia. I speak to them in Dutch, my husband in French and they learn english from  friends, daycare, tv etc. As my youngest is only 18 months old and saying some words only, it’s obviously best to now only mention what we do with our eldest daughter. She has gone to daycare two days a week since she was 6 months old. She picked up english words at daycare and then increasingly from singing songs and watching cartoons or other kids’s things on television like Pocoyo, Olivia, The Wiggles etc. She was at three years old putting a few words together, mainly in Dutch but then also some in English but she’s also come out with these “key phrases” that she simply memorised from either something she’d heard repeatedly in her favourite cartoon or from a book.

 Coincidentally, at her daycare I also had a chat with one of the teachers who equally mentioned to maybe talk to her in English so she could communicate better with the staff there and the other kids. As much as I did understand her point of view, I didn’t want to do that so I didn’t change much of what I was doing with her.  What I did do though and this might be of use to you, is that when we were going out for walks, my daughter and I, we were going over the things we saw around us and I’d ask her what it was called in Dutch, English and French. It became a bit of a game. So that way, her english vocabulary did expand but I wasn’t really talking to her in english but merely asking her what people would call something in English. I thought that was a good compromise and am still happy with this. Cause my daughter definitely associates persons with languages so I stuck to the One Person One Language thing which is what is advised on this forum I think. 
Since she turned three  I find she’s playing more with other children and perhaps because of that she is talking better but honestly I think it has more to do with her development. Her language has really taken off in the past 6 months so perhaps that may be the same with your boy. Besides, English is so easy! So much easier than French, Dutch and in your case, Portuguese!
Btw, when playing with her sister, she often talks in English or a mix of English and Dutch. I think she picks the English cause it’s easiest and also because most times when she plays with friends or when she’s in a playground, english is always the spoken language around her. 

Like your son, my daughter is also a bit of a shy girl. Part can be simply her character but I also think language is a big thing. I disagree that is it because she realises she is delayed. I don’t think a three year old has the capacity to analyse it in that way. It is more the parents that worry about it all! I constantly wonder how things will go in the future with the three languages. But it is true that as her english improved, she was able to answer people’s questions a bit better. 
She is still and will be for a while, behind in all three languages. Obviously, learning three AT ONCE is just a big stretch. But in the long run a great achievement so I am sticking to it! What I did decide already though is that I will probably not bother too too much with reading and writing in Dutch. I will do a bit but I think it may be too much for her to learn the Dutch language in depth. Especially if we stay in Australia and she needs to learn and write perfect English and French. But I do want her to be able to communicate with my family over the phone and in person and then the spoken language will do. Oh well enough time to decide. What are your thoughts on it for your son? 

A major difference with your son however, is that my daughter is attending the french australian preschool here in Sydney since August. Teachers talk in french but her french remains her third language (first being Dutch and second English) unfortunately because there are many non-french speaking kids in her class! But that is likely to improve over the years when all learning and reading material will be in french so I don’t need to worry too much about that I guess. My husband is very frustrated though how she keeps talking to him in Dutch and English 😉 Patience is very much required! And I don’t tend to have much of it…. but this is our decision to raise them trilingually so we have to stick to it, encourage her as much as we can, teach a lot and be patient. 

Ok with this I will end this email. Dear me, I didn’t think I was going to write this much!! Reading back over it, I may have rambled on a bit. But if some of it is of good use to you then great! 
Good luck with it all. Do know that you’re not the only one!! 
Regards, Irene


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