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Hi Everyone

I’m mom to a 13-month old boy and would like to raise him to be multi-lingual (tri-lingual at the very least) but I am confused about how to go about doing it. I would appreciate any advice / info that can help.

Our goal is to have our kid(s) to be fluent in English, Chinese and German, as well as 1 other Chinese dialect, either Cantonese or Hokkien.

This is our situation:
1. I’m Singaporean-Chinese and my husband is German.
    1.1. My primary language is English, 2nd language is Chinese (able to manage simple conversations, but generally not good in it and unable to use it on a 24/7 basis due to lack of vocab). I can comprehend basic French, German, Cantonese and Hokkien (a Chinese dialect). I used to be fluent in Cantonese but lost the ability to speak it when our Cantonese-speaking nanny retired and we started to speak English exclusively at home.

    1.2. My husband’s mother tongue is German, 2nd language is English (is very fluent in it).

    1.3. My mom (i.e. baby’s maternal grandmother) is fluent in English, Chinese and Cantonese but has a preference for speaking English. I have been trying to get her to speak to baby in Cantonese but she often forgets. She usually stays over with us alternate weeks for 3-4 days at a time and will help to baby sit during that time.

    1.4. My dad (i.e. baby’s maternal grandfather) is fluent in English, Chinese and Hokkien but has a preference for speaking English. He usually speaks to baby in English, though I have asked him to speak in Hokkien. Among all of us listed here, he spends the least time with baby (max 2 – 3 hours per week).


2. We currently live in Singapore where the community language is English, with different races having their own mother tongues i.e. Chinese, Malay and Tamil / Hindi. There is a possibility that we may eventually move to Germany or another English-speaking country, e.g. UK or USA.

3. Since baby’s birth, we’ve managed on a somewhat crippled OPOL system:
    3.1. Husband speaks mostly German to baby unless we are with company. But he watches an English language DVD (Your Baby Can Read!) with baby on a fairly regular basis.
   3.2. I speak mostly English (80%) to baby with a smattering of Chinese (20%).
   3.3. Between my husband and I, we speak English.
   3.4. If I’m speaking with my mother and baby is present, the languages used can be a mix of English, Chinese and Cantonese at any given time.
   3.5. We’ve noticed that when baby learns a word in English, a short weeks later, he will be able to associate the same German word with it if used repeatedly. E.g. learnt the word ‘clap’ – matched with action of clapping hands, some weeks later after some repetition, is able to associate German word ‘Klatschst’ with the same action.

Questions / issues:
1. Is the system that we use ok or too confusing for baby? Is there a better way to go about it?

2. Should we focus on just English, Chinese and German and forget about the dialect?

3. Since Chinese is probably the minority language in our case, how can we best teach it to him?

4. How can we prepare for a possible move to Germany and not lose his grasp of Chinese when we live in a non-Chinese speaking environment?

5. Can someone recommend good German / Chinese resources for teaching baby? Are there any good audio books / DVDs (similar to Your Baby Can Read!) available?

6. We are on the verge of combining a flexi day-care programme with an accompanied parent-child programme which will start when baby turns 18 months. We hope to continue with a similar system till he is 6 years old, with the parent-child programme eventually becoming a nursery/kindergarten programme. This system is described below and we’re not sure if it’s too confusing for baby:
– Day-care centre, 3 or 5 days per week (either half or full day): Teaches English and Chinese
– Accompanied parent-child programme (I will go with him), 2 hours, 2 days per week at international school: Choice of predominately German or predominately English.
Eventually this programme will be replaced by a nursery / kindergarten programme (which will gradually increase from 3 half days to 5 half days) in either English or German when he turns 3 or 4 years old.

7. We are in a dilemma with regards to future formal education if we continue to live in Singapore. We have a choice of using local schools where he will learn only English and Chinese or international school where he will learn English and German, and possibly Chinese if there is sufficient demand to start a class.

Hence, this influences the decision we make regarding his present day-care arrangements. We are concerned that if we omit either German or Mandarin at this age, he might be disadvantaged when he starts primary school (7 years old) at either a local or international school.

I hope my queries are clear. Thanks for reading and for any advice that you may have!

Best regards,

1. Country you live in: Singapore
2. Languages the family speaks: Mainly English, some German and some Chinese (Mandarin)
3. Ages of the children: 13 months
4. Language system (OPOL, ML@H or any other method): Mostly OPOL (I think!)


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Hi Corinne,
we are in a very similar situation. We have a 2 y old son and we are trying to raise him tri-lingual as well. We use 90% opol method, I speak italian, my husband mandarin, he is from malaysia and his dialect is Hokkien, and between eachother we use english. We live in the UK and might move to Singapore in few years time. I understand your concern, it is quite hard to know what to do if not sure where you going to live and which school will attend. At the momet my son can understand all 3 languages, his vocabolary is so-so but improving every day.

Regarding the dialects, if they are very important to you then by all means try to expose them to your son but we felt it was little bit too much, we lived in Singapore and it seems to me the dialect among young people are not very much in use, if you decide to stay in Singapore for good then your son can learn the dialects by having regular contact with relatives and friends.
My husband work full time so he sees his son in the morning, aftenoon and weekend but even so our son understand pretty much everything he says so I can only suggest to speak mostly Mandarin to your son and your husband German and learn English from you 2 speaking together and the outside.

For us, if we decide to stay in the Uk his Italian is going to be more predominat then Chinese due to the fact that we can go to Italy more often and here Chinese exposure is quite limited but if we are going to Singapore then his Chinese going to be more predominat than italian.
I think with 3 languages we have to be more realistic, at the moment my son is learning the alphabet and numbers in english so we help him by repeating them in english. 

 In Singapore there are lots of options regarding preschool, try to keep a balance between English and German so when you know which school your son is going to attend he is pretty much ready.   

Sorry I can not help you with more informations, hope our experience give some light!! 


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Hi Ema

Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s heartening to know that I’m not alone in this

As much as I wish to speak mandarin to my son 24/7 like your husband, it’s difficult as my command of the language is rather poor (i scraped through with a borderline pass at GCE O levels). I lack the vocab to give him instructions, play, etc… and not to mention that I find it exhuasting to think/speak in mandarin as I’ve grown up speaking English all the time. I think it might be easier for your husband as I find that Malaysian-Chinese are more fluent in mandarin and tend to speak it more at home.

Does your son understand any Hokkien at all?

I feel that a dialect is nice to have, as part of his heritage, etc. Unfortunately the government here doesn’t support this and focuses on English and Mandarin, hence many young people do not speak it anymore (primarily because their parents and grand parents think that the government is right and do not use dialects with them). I find it such a pity and a real loss of heritage. So among my son’s peers, there will probably be hardly any who can speak dialect. We don’t see my extended family regularly enough for him to maintain dialect by speaking to them.

Yes, I’m bombarded with pre-school options and am very confused about all my options. It’s only recently that we’ve started to think about combining English-Mandarin day care with German parent-child group – and we’re not sure if this would work.

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Hi Corinne,
 no my son does not speak Hokkien at all, we have not expose this language to him, for my husband would be too hard to speak both. If we move to Singapore then he might have a chance to learn some Hokkian because my husband still speak the language at home and among his friends but I can see it is hard to mantain so many languages.
Just yesterday I found this pre-school in Singapore that might interested you as well, it is called Mandarin Ducks, they have a website. I do not know how the school is but something similar would be a good idea to improve Mandarin.
Your plan regarding the school sound good, I would do pretty much the same thing, see how it goes for the first few years.

Where we live we have limited choises regarding after school language classes, we buy the materials in Malaysia but the Mandarin exposures, in the future, is going to be limited at 1-2 hours per week if so.


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