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We are expecting our baby by end of this year. 🙂
But lately, we have been confused and wondering about the language system in our family->what should we speak to our child?
I am Chinese, my husband is Swedish-speaking-Finnish, our home communication language is English, and we are living in Finland. So, this sums up 4 languages in our small community: Chinese (my native language), English (home language), Swedish (husband’s native language) and Finnish (society language + husband speaks fluently Finnish).
Our wondering is that what language should we speak to our child? What would be the rule? I probably should stick on Chinese because that is my native language; when we are all together, our home language should probably switch to English, as we want to understand each other that what we are speaking with child; but when the question comes to husband, what language should he speak to child? He personally prefer to speak Swedish as he feels more comfortable with it, but we are living in Finland, official speaking language out of home would be Finnish naturally… can baby really handle 4 languages? or should we drop 1 language and reduce the amount to 3?
We are really worried now and do not know what to do. Any families in similar situation here? How do you handle this issue? Or is there any practical suggestions? We would feel so appreciated if you could share your experience and thoughts….Thanks a lot!!!


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Hi Lulu,

I grew up bilingual (Spanish and German), my mother is German and only spoke German to me. My father is Mexican and spoke only Spanish to me. The common language was German at home, Spanish outside. I went to a German school in Mexico.

I noticed that to master a language you have to be exposed constantly to the different languages and with native speakers. I learnt English by German teachers and so I unfortunately have a German accent when I speak English.

So, I guess the best is you only speak in Chinese to your baby and your husband in Swedish. And keep speaking English between you both. And try to get somebody to speak Finish to your baby. He/she will get it anyway later at school and from friends. I would concentrate in getting Chinese,Swedish and Finish as good as possible. English will come automatically, slower but surely.

I also have friends living in the US and tried to have a four-lingual child, but ended up sacrificing one. I guess it is possible, but it is hard work and you need to have the baby exposed to all the four languages by native speakers.

Even me, after being exposed until 18 years of age constantly to Spanish and German feel sometimes a bit insecure compared to native monolinguals.

I hope this helps



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Dimitri, thanks a lot!!
Eva Bjork

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Hi Lulu!

We are in the same situation. Four language family. For us it has worked, I speak Icelandic to my children. My husband speaks Finnish to the children. Together we speak English. And we live in danish society.

There has never been any pressure that the children answers us back on the language that we speak to them in. As we noticed that the children go through “faces” where one language has taken over for a while.

Today, my teenager speaks fluently four language. She is getting the top character in all languages in school. But strangely, English is her preferred language, although we have never spoken directly to her in English.

My younger one is getting extra assistance in the school as it was discovered she speaks danish really well but she has a tendency to mix the understanding of the words. But she functions in normal class and is having normal teaching. She just get private lessons once a week with one other child and it is mainly for daily words.

Other thing I discovered on the way is that my children have hard time to understand group messages. Which is not so good when they come to school age. In practice it means they have hard time following teaching in “normal” school class. There is nothing wrong with them intellectually but when there is lot of disturbance in the class, the message from the teacher does not sink in. Our solution has been having them in school where there are small classes, which means the local school is out. We get to do lot of driving .

Otherwise… it is hard work to get all the languages in. But they can do it and it is so worth it. The biggest worries from my family was that they would not be able to communicate with my children. But they can and the Finnish part of the family can as well. I love to be able to talk to my children in my own mother tongue.

Oh… and finally, yes, I meet skeptics on the way. The hardest has been dealing with well meaning teachers that are advising me with so bad advices. The best advices I have gotten, is from other families raising multi language children.
Johanna Polvi

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Great to hear about positive quadrilingual experiences out there. Our little girl is 14 months and she has been surrounded by four languages, Finnish, German, Spanish and passive English.

Before she was born, I fretted over the choice of speaking either Finnish or English to her (also on this site), opting in the end for Finnish though I am native in both. Since her birth, it has seemed the most natural choice, as I also grew up with Finnish at home. I have worked full time since she was six months and she spends most of her day with our Spanish speaking nanny. Nevertheless, all of her first words have been in Finnish, so apparently the influence of the proverbial “mother tongue” is very strong.

I would argue that her language development far exceeds the average for her age and her peers. She clearly demonstrates an understanding of all three active languages and speaks so many words in German and Finnish (oddly, less in Spanish) that I have lost count.

I look forward to following all of your stories and successes!


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It works, I am Chinese and my wife is German. (Sandy can be a guy´s name, so you should be confused :-D).

We live in Sweden and I speak Swedish to my wife. Our daughter who is not yet 4 years old, speaks all three languages without any problem. Our son is 1,5 and start to speak a lot of words in all three languages and doesn´t mix up things.

4 languages is not a problem, plus Finns doesn’t speak much 😀

What is more important to think is: You should learn all the languages your kids will learn. My wife understand Chinese, and same for my German. In this case, you never need to repeat or ask for translation. Kids do not feel it´s problematic to use all these languages, we were living in Spain last year and I am sure if we stay longer there, they will pick up Spanish, and still keep Swedish (passively hearing when parents speak).

I don´t know yet how well they will read and write Chinese, that´s another part that I haven´t started to read related articles yet. Send some link if someone got some idea.

Both my wife are I work with languages, and this also might be reason why it worked out so well.



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I´m so glad there are other quadrilingual children out there, and hear your positive feedback. I never wrote to any forum before, but I´m starting to be  nervous about our son´s language development and the strategy/ies we have chosen. it´s a long story (sorry!) but really appreciate any comments/advise…

I´m Tunissian and my husband is Portuguese. we met in Japan and always spoke English together (we speak French when we don´t want our son to understand…). We lived in Germany when our son Francisco-Iheb was born, almost three years ago. I always spoke arabic to him. When Francisco-Iheb was born, my husband was travelling a lot and we decided that the weekends are not enough to teach our son Portuguese, so he kept talking to him in English. Francisco went to german daycare. So in the first two years he was exposed to three languages and understood all three very well. A year ago we moved to Portugal and the language strategy was an issue again.

Francisco-Iheb continued to go to German school here in Portugal, as it was the language he had started to speak most and we didn´t want to loose the “investment” he made so far in this language (I´m also German citizen, and so is Francisco-Iheb).

I continued to speak arabic to our son, and the family language remained English. the question was whether my husband should start talking to him in Portuguese as he is now travelling less… after some readings, we decided not to change the language system, so not to confuse him at the age of 2 where he started to talk more…

Francisco-Iheb started being exposed to Portuguese with the rest of the family here, and with some portuguese children in the german kindergarten.  Recently, we hired a Portuguese maid who should speak exclusively Portuguese with our son (about 2-3 hours every day after kindergarten).

From next year, our son will start going to English school, because it´s the language we want him to have his education.

Francisco-Iheb talks so far in all four language,:best is english, followed with german, arabic, and very little portuguese. he mixes up german and arabic though, which i think is beacsue i understand both and sometimes was mixing up both languages as well. English is clean, since he knows very well that papa doesn´t understand german, nor arabic. portuguese seems to be also “clean” although he speaks less.

The questions are:

1. what to do to help him spearate languages and not mix up.

2. he is not doing so well with German as other “German” kids at school, and I´m worried that it would affect his behaviour/feelings/self esteem/etc (sorry don´t know the right word for all this…). that´s the reason i talk German to him sometimes to repeat something he says in a correct way, in an attempt to help him improve his German…

3. if and when should my husband start talking to our son in Portuguese, with English remaining the family language only.

4. is it realistic to maintain German as active language after he starts going to english school, and how shall we do that (is there a minimum time needed to keep a language alive?). can i talk arabic and german, different language at different days, or is that dangerous? one idea is for him to keep going to german kindergarten one day per week, would that be enough?

I apprecaite your feedback and comments, and sorry again for the long email..

Thanks and regards,


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I’m a little confused with all you wrote Besma, but here’s what I think.

1. Since Dad is Portuguese, it probably should’ve started already. Dad should begin reading to Son in Portuguese and slowly but surely adding more and more Portugese to their daily exchanges. Read a few books in Portugese and take a few sentences from the book, then change those sentences by changing the vocab.
Example: Good night moon.  Start saying good night ___ in portugese.

Also, let your son keep going in German for a few more years at school. He’ll be more likely to hold onto German if he speaks it at least until 7-8 years old. If his home language is English, he’s not losing any time. You guys can read to him in English and AFTER he’s learned to read German, he can learn to read English more easily. Change his school in grade 4 or 5. Not now, unless you want to lose German.

Stop blending German and Arabic when you speak to him. Speak just Arabic, you can read in both langauges to him, but only speak Arabic. His German will sort itself out if he continues in the school system.

I think the only major change that should occur is Dad should persist in Speaking Portuguese with son. You should stop blending Arabic and German and son should remain in German school until 3rd or 4th grade. That way he will have close friends who continue to speak German with and to him all the time. Let the home language remain English.

Son will find a way to cope. Kids are amazing like that.


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Hi Siya,

Thanks for the feedback and advise. I know it’s confusing… not easy with four languages.

In the meantime, Francisco started picking up Portuguese faster than we anticipated, just spending 2-3 hours with the nanny every day. he is really amazing!

I am also paying more attention and speaking only arabic to him. the effect is not visible yet, but i think it will after some time. he speaks german back to me and i answer in arabic. sometimes, i pretend that i don’t understand a certain word and ask what he means, he then finds it in arabic after some thinking. I don’t want to push him too much… so, as long as he understands everything in arabic, speaking will come eventually.

the only thing i’m not quite sure about is the school. german or english. I have meetings with both schools to discuss this. we still have a year to decide…

Thanks again!


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This link is what i was looking for. Our family is dealing with four languages too. So far, our little one 4y/o is fluent in three languages – English (we live in US), Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish. My only concern is that she’ll start kindergarden in an immersion program Cantonese, which would be a completely new language for her. She’s doing so great with English, Spanish, Mandarin that I wonder if adding another language would be not such a good option???? We chose the Cantonese immersion school because it’s a very good public school and she got in. Besides, the chinese characters are the same in Mandarin and Cantonese. The Mandarin immersion public schools are not that good and she did not get in. Public schools is a big head ache (another topic!)
Our system is English community language. Parent one speaks mainly Mandarin chinese to child. Parent two speaks only Spanish to child.
So I wonder, once she starts the Cantonese immersion program, how could we help her to keep up with the three languages she already has? should we make sure that she has one language that speaks better than the others? or should we try to keep all the three languages that she has at the same level?
Any ideas/suggestions/comments would be appreciated!

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grateful for tips to our following challenge: I am Danish, my wife is Russian, we speak mostly English (but also some Russian) together, and we live in French-speaking Brussels.  I speak Danish to our 16-month old son, my wife speaks Russian to him, and he of course hears us speaking English.  We now have to decide on daycare and have a choice to make between a small Danish nursery or a French-speaking one.  Plan so far is that his schooling should be in English (he can only join an English kindergarden as of next year).  Our thinking was to invest more in Danish now since I work a lot and only see him a few hours every day, and then let French come later (since we live here).  Alternatively, he might benefit from early French input and then simply pick up Danish as we go along (I only speak Danish to him).  Any tips, suggestions? My fear is also that exposing him to too many languages at the same time might confuse him.

all the best,  Thom

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Hi to everybody!

I am really happy I found this page.

First of all I would like to suggest is a book: “Growing up with Three Languages” Xiao-lei Wang It’s a good guide and gives you some food for thought.

We are expecting our first little baby in 02/2011. So four + month left. We are trying to figure out how to best organise our multilingual journey. My partner is Spanish (plus English, German), I am Sorbian (not to confuse with Serbian) (plus German, English, Spanish, Russian (basics)) and currently we live in Germany. We are struggling with same worries/questions as any multilingual parent. At the same time we are really excited to face this difficult task. At the moment we are drawing our motivation from the “illusion” about the fruits it will bear. We will worry about the difficulties when they come along. Some of my conclusion from my studies so far are as follows:

  1. The most important thing is, that the child has a stable consistent environment. (Everybody knows how irritating it is to live in an “unstable” environment, I speak of experience)
  2. The parents are patient.
  3. Parents are willing to make a lot of sacrifices. (I believe this is the most underrated issue, for sure by us, otherwise we wouldn’t start the journey I think )
  4. Parents have a clear objective/aim (motivation) to teach their kids different languages (the more “selfish” the better, this keeps you afloat in difficult times I think )

We are planing to raise our kids quart-lingual. Sobian (me/my family), Spanish (my partner/her family), English (between us/nanny/playgroup/kindergarten), German (environment/kindergarten/friends/nanny). I am really not sure how it will work out, but one thing is for sure, we will have to rely on many good people (last but not least on you) to help us make this work. So please keep on posting while busy to teach your kids all the nice things in life.



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Dear All!

My family is quatrolingual as well:-) Polish, Hungarian, English (passive) and French around us.

 As for now our son (25-months-old) speaks very little, just few words, but he understands both mine and Dad’s language.
English- before he didnt like when we spoke it at dinner, now he accepted.
And French- we have adaptation in daycare but it’s so hard, he cries all the time, stands at the door, doesn’t want to play at all…. It’s also separation anxiety- he was only with me at home untill now, no babysitter, no family around…

Sometimes I feel Im so cruel, sending him to daycare (just for 2 mornings per week), he already has problems with sleeping, eating, more tantrums…
Did it happen to your 4 languages kids as well?

Would love to hear some advices,

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Hi Everyone, I just came across this exchange in my mail box and was reading my own messages/questions…

I hope you all are having positive experience with your quadri-lingual kids.

Francisco is doing great with all four languages. He goes to german school (we decided we would go for German otherwise he would loos it for ever). He speaks fluently portuguese. he speaks english as it is our family language, although sometimes he tries to answer in gemran or portuguese. and he understands arabic, but not so active speaking it.

Overall, I think it was great journey and still is. he is amazing in dealing with all four languages, and switching back and forth in a split second.

it was difficult at times, but it is worth it.

so good luck everyone!!

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Hi All,


Here is a webblog from a quadri-lingual family with 2 kids. They started it in 2005, so you can see how they have developped over the past years.


All the best,






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