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I’m a native English speaker living with my husband and parents in law in Brazil so the major language at home and outside is Portuguese. We want to bring up our 8 month old son bilingualy so we speak to him in English and my husband and I always speak English to each other. However, a lot of the time at home when other family members are around, and when we’re with friends, we use Portuguese because we don’t want to exclude them. I also often use a mix of English/Portuguese because my Portuguese isn’t that great and sometimes I don’t know the word or it’s just easier for me in English, though I do try to speak an entire sentence in the chosen language rather than just throwing in random words in the other language. My son also goes to nursery for a few hours a day and it’s all Portuguese there. I would say at the moment that he’s exposed about 60% Portuguese and 40% English.

Will it confuse my son if I sometimes speak to him in English and sometimes in Portuguese and sometimes in a mix? Will he be slow to learn to speak? Which language is he likely to speak first or will he likely pick up some words in Portuguese and some in English. If he learns at nursery that a dog says “au au” but I teach him “woof woof” is he going to be confused? WOuld it be better if I always spoke to him in English? I really don’t want to do that as I wouldn’t feel comfortable exluding other people from our conversations even if it’s just baby talk. When I point out something to him like dog should I say the word in the 2 languages or just in English which is my main language?


Adriana Colaco

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Dear Kate

I totally understand the way you feel and I sympathise with you. I am Brazilian and I teach English at language schools. I have been doing that for 12 years since I came back from England where I got my diploma. I am not expert in Early Education, but since I had my baby girl, who’s now 8 months, I have been researching a lot on the subject from what I have read I would say that it would be best if you just spoke to your son in one (chosen) language. Apparently, babies can function in many languages as long as they are presented in a consistent manner. So if you decide you should speak to him in English, stick to it. It is also suggested that you choose the language you are more comfortable with and fluent in. Experts usually advise us not to mix languages as this might create some kind of confusion in the child’s brain.  Ever since Rebecca was born I  have just spoken to her in English and in English only. My husband speaks to her in Portuguese, though. Actually, the whole family, with the exception of myself and Rebecca’s godfather, speaks Portuguese to her. However, all her DVDs, Cd’s, TV channels are in English. Today , I’d say she is exposed to 70% English and 30% Portuguese. Regardless of the people around me, I only speak to her in English, to be consistent and for her to know that that is the way mummy speaks and that’s how she will talk to mummy. I believe I am giving her the gift of a second language naturally. When she is old enough to go to school, I’ll try to put her in a bilingual school as she won’t spend as much time with me like now. And a bilingual school will give her this balance between the two languages. If you want I can email you a bunch of sites you can log on to and get more info on this fascinating topic.
For the time being, I would just like to say that you too can give your child the gift of a second language without any hassle or struggle we adults had to go through. Be consistent though and stick to one language. Your son will pick up both languages naturally as time goes by and he will switch from one to another naturally as well as the situation require will require.
Good luck and email me if you like. I’d love to share my findings with you and check up on your progress with your son. I live in Sao Paulo. How about you?
Take care and keep me posted.


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Hi Kate, I empathise with your situation because like you, I am wondering if it’s better to mix languages or speak one language only to my son. The only difference is, in my case, my native language (English) is also our community  language. He speaks only Italian with his father and we try to speak Italian as a family, and up until now I tried to speak as much Italian with him as I can also, because I’m aware that the community language will soon win out. But unfortunately my Italian, although quite fluent, really doesn’t cover baby talk and I am finding it hard to find the words for baby-relevant things in Italian, so I can see that this is lower-quality input than the input I can give him in English. So maybe I’m better to just stick to English? The trouble is, he spends much less time with his Dad than me, and whenever we go out or are with family/friends it’s always English, so I’m concerned that his exposure to Italian won’t be enough. We plan to travel there but only for a couple of months every 3 years or so. (It’s too far & too expensive!!! We are too far away down here in Aus.)

The other trouble I have is that we have much less books available in Italian, so I either limit the exposure he has to books – which I don’t want to do – or else read him more books in English than Italian. (Or keep reading the same ones in Italian over and over…)

I’m not really concerned about language confusion, as I am confident that will be a stage he moves through and he will know that Italian and English are used in different places with different people. I’m just more concerned about giving him adequate exposure and input.

People who practice ML@H – what do you do if you’re not the native speaker and you don’t know a particular word or phrase?

Adelaide, Australia
Languages: English (P1, P2 as 2nd lang & all outside) / Italian (P2)
Method: Undecided between OPOL and ML@H

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Hi Julia,

This is a REALLY late reply – you might not even read it! But I’m trying to find someone who is in the same situation as me and you seem to be. If you do read this and can reply, how have you got on? Did you go for mL@H? Or did you go with OPOL? My native language is the same as the community language (English) and my husband speaks Japanese. I can understand Japanese and speak some, but like you, don’t feel confident speaking it all of the time. I’d struggle with baby words and also would like to sing songs I know etc (ie English songs) and go to some mother and baby groups (which are in English). I’m happy to speak Japanese when we’re all together as a family, but probably when other people aren’t around. However, my husband will speak exclusively in Japanese.

I haven’t helped answered your question, although I’m hoping you resolved the problem since it was a while ago that your message was posted!



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I’m in a very similar situation and am also looking for success stories — I hear a lot about being consistent with OPOL, but I think any little bit of the minority language should help. My daughter is 16 months old. I’m a native English speaker and we live in the US; my husband is bilingual Farsi/English but is speaking Farsi to our daughter. (He and I speak English to each other.) So what I’ve been doing is speaking a mix of the two languages. Unlike one of the earlier posters in this thread, my Farsi is more like baby talk than anything else — my verb tenses are pretty poor, but my baby vocab is incredible now! So I mix the two languages; often repeating the word in both languages so she’s exposed to both. She will be going to Farsi-language daycare/preschool in a few months, so I probably could be English-only to her, but to tell the truth, I’m enjoying seeing my Farsi vocab and comfort level grow! Long story, but I would love to hear from someone who didn’t stick to a program and still ended up with a smart, bilingual kid. (I should add that our daughter already understands both languages and has 70 words she uses somewhat regularly – about 30% Farsi/70% English. So, so far it doesn’t seem to be inhibiting her!)

Thanks for this wonderful forum!


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