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Having read a lot on this very interesting forum already, I now post a message, as I would be happy to get some advice on a good language system for us.

Let me first explain our situation:

  • father is from Netherlands (native language: Dutch)
  • mother is from China (native language: Mandarin Chinese)
  • father doesn’t understand or speak Chinese
  • mother understands a little bit of Dutch
  • in our daily life, and at home we communicate in English; we’re both fluent
  • we currently live in Malaysia (community languages are many, but mostly Malay and English)
  • our baby daughter was born here in May 2013 [smile]
  • for the time being we’ll stay here, in the future we may move (e.g. to the Netherlands)

Our goal is to raise our daughter in three languages: English, Mandarin Chinese and Dutch.

As there are two of us and three languages, one-parent-one-language won’t work. Also asystem like minority-language-at-home won’t really work. We do need English at home, as it is the only language in which father and mother can understand each other.

So we need to come up with something else. We’re not yet in the phase that our daughter starts to talk, but we understand we should start early. Even though not speaking yet, she is already learning we understood.

What may be relevant to know too, is that father has a full-time job so only spends time with baby in the evenings and weekends. Mother is currently a full-time mom, so spends a lot of time with baby.

We put a lot of effort in working out a system that would work for us. Below a few a few systems that we can think of. All come with their issues and concerns though.


  • Mother speaks Chinese when alone with baby (=daytime)
  • Father speaks Dutch when alone with baby (=short spells in evening and weekends)
  • Both speak English when everyone is together (=most of evenings and weekends)

This is our preferred system basically. It gives exposure in all three language, and is convenient in a sense that father and mother still understand each other: when together English is the language. It iswhat we have mostly been doing so far. But here are the concerns:

  • It means that we swap languages a lot. Especially father alternates between English and Dutch towards baby. Too confusing for baby…?
  • Dutch exposure quite limited

Really concerned about the possible confusion for baby. You read everywhere that the baby gets confused if the same person alternates between two languages when speaking to him/her.

So that’s why we have been thinking of alternatives.


  •  Mother speaks Chinese when talking directly to baby, and repeats in English when father needs to understand too
  • Father speaks Dutch when talking directly to baby, and repeats in English when mother needs to understand too
  • Father and mother speak English to each other

The may be less confusing for baby as we speak only when language each to the baby, but here are the concerns:

  • Baby may not learn to speak English well. Although exposed to it (by listening to father and mother), no one speaks English with her.
  • It may just not work in practice. We kind of tried this too, but it just feels…. odd. It’s strange if we all the time say things that the other cannot understand when together as a family, or need to translate it. At the end, we need to have a “family language” in which we can communicate with everyone together at the same time. We’re one family, not two. For which English is the only choice.


  • Mother speaks Chinese when alone with baby (=daytime)
  • Mother speaks English when father also around
  • Father always speaks Dutch to baby, and repeats in English with necessary (to make mother understand)

A mixture of the two other systems. It gives reasonably equal exposure in all three language, but there is still the oddity that father is not speaking the “family language”, but is speaking a lot in a language that mother doesn’t understand.

In addition we can also make plans to start with English and Chinese first, and add Dutch later. Or start with SYSTEM 3 and trust that mother will also pick up Dutch when being exposed sufficiently. Or…

But before typing even longer: I am happy to hear some feedback, opinions, suggestions, advice, ….


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Hi there, we have (almost) the exact same language configuration at home – Dutch on the father’s side, Chinese on the mother’s side, and English between the parents. The only different is that we live in the Netherlands, and will expect way more Dutch input once our toddler (now 15 months) goes to school. So far, we use the one-parent-one-language approach, with our child getting no English input. Would love to connect and see if there’s experiences we can share!

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Hi didistar,

Thanks for replying to my post, and indeed it would be interesting to get in touch given our similar situations! I am not so keen to post my email address here in public though, for all the spam that it could generate.

I am trying to figure out if there is a way to send a personal message via this website, but so far I couldn’t figure it out. In fact, after minutes of searching, I could not even find a way to create an account in the first place. (Had posted my message without creating one). I will contact the webmaster to try to sort this out….


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I’ve come across this site when googling about ‘Dutch-Chinese’ children…

We are of the same composition: mum Chinese (born in England) & dad Dutch (born bred Dutch but moved to England 10+ yrs ago). We have a 4yo boy & a 4mo girl. We live in rural England.

Son was pretty good at Chinese at the toddler stage (but we are talking about discrete words & at most short phrases). Then he has been in nursery 3-4 days a week when I returned to work full time. That was when he began speaking more & more English. Nowadays, even if I consistently reply in Chinese, he prefers to carry on in English; at best he just repeats after me, & he always initiates in English. I expect he will be worse once he starts school in September.

Recently a couple of other local Chinese mums (& a couple of non-Chinese parents that want their children to learn Chinese) & I started a ‘playgroup’ in Chinese (the mum who is a native Mandarin speaker sort of ‘led’ it) in my house. It went well (except son was more interested to play w/ his toys being on home-turf) w/ DVDs, picture cards, etc. However the leading mum has been/is away all of this month leaving us a bit high & dry… Hopefully it will pick up after she returns!

Our children’s father isn’t that bothered about their learning Dutch thus that doesn’t help. Even when they are Skyping w/ family he is happy to mediate bet/ son & Opa/Oma. We have many Dutch children’s books & even Dikkie Dik DVDs (though DVD too advanced – if he hasn’t got all the words he can’t get a whole dialogue). He is lukewarm about the materials (& prefers the English ones). Daddy has a few Dutch colleagues – they are in similar family settings (mothers non-Dutch) & are also not that bothered w/ the language.

Incidentally our neighbours’ children are half-Japanese & a little older. They can understand their mother all right, but always speak English.


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Hello Tulippanda

We are in a similar situation to yours and we use SYSTEM #1 with our ~1.5 year old son born last April 2013. 
In particular, we are a couple living in Belgium (in a French speaking area) with the following languages mix. 
1. My wife is Hungarian and speaks Hungarian as native language and English fluently and then a bit of French and Spanish (not really fluently).
2. Myself I speak Spanish as a native, English fluently and a bit of French but not really fluently.
3. Our son is currently 1.5 years old.  He lives in a French speaking environment. He goes to a creche where they speak in French to him and will go to a school in French when he is 2.5 years old

We try to follow some sort of “One Person One Language” system. I speak in Spanish to him and my wife speaks in Hungarian to him. However, my wife and I speak in a mix of English and Spanish between us. My wife wants to improve her Spanish and that’s why we sometimes we speak in Spanish among us. 
I am starting to think that our son can end up very confused in the current 4 languages environment ( Spanish, Hungarian, English, French). I wonder if anyone in this forums could ahve some advices as to the best language system in these cases?



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