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We’re a Finnish-Italian couple living in China. Our home language is English. We are now expecting our first child and I’m getting confused thinking about the language situation.

We could possible stick to both of us speaking our native language to the child, and speak English only as an adult language. The problem is we don’t speak each others’ languages, so would not be able to understand what’s being said to the baby. This worries me, as I want us to be able to communicate as a family. Learning each others’ languages is out of the question at the moment.

Does anyone have experiences of speaking a third language also to the child when the whole family is together? In this case that would be English. Is the child able to make a disctinction between the situations and languages?

In any case, I feel that English should be the child’s main language, and Finnish and Italian can be at a level where she can handle basic communication with family members. I am afraid that our speaking our native languages exclusively to the child will make English the weakest of all three languages.

At the same time, as strange as it may sounds, English is the language I identify myself with. Finnish is the language of my childhood, but English is the language with which I built my identity and my life. I think in English and it is definitely my main language. In a way, it would feel funny to speak to the child only in Finnish, when this is not the language I experience myself in. However, the grandparents and other family members speak Finnish so the child needs to be able to communicate with them.

The issue gets even more complicated by the fact that we live in China. Therefore the environment is all Chinese-speaking and most possibly future nannies will speak Chinese. How do we fit this into the equation?

Any help would be very much appreciated. I would also love to hear from anyone with similar situations and experiences.



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I highly recommend the book:
Raising Multilingual Children
by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa

She adreses lots of cases similar to yours. We are raising a trilingual family and we don’t have a family language, we use each our own language with the kids, and so far so good, you can see my replay in the trilingual question.
Congratulations on the baby and good luck!


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we are in a similar situation. my wife is finnish, i am german, we don’t speak each other’s language but english to each other and live in the netherlands (both of us speak ok dutch, but it#s certainly not fluent enough).

our first child is due in november, so we should problably get going on the subject. any reports of experiences or more book recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

we are wondering in particular about:

1.) do we need a family language (we think so, but reading some of the posts here made us think).

2.) are there any other areas where the multilingual child needs support beyond language education (e.g an especially quiet environment or strong routines during the days)

3.) to what extent can it become a problem that we speak good, but not immaculate english

we are looking forward to your responses!

hanne and jorg

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Hi, we have a similar situation. I speak German and my husband speaks English to our daughter. He doesnt speak a word of German but I only speak German to my daughters also when he is around. If we sit at the table for dinner, I speak German to the girls and English to him, he speaks English. My daughers answer and speak to me in German to him in English. Now the oldest one will go to a French School, no one of us is fluent in French. This  worries me a lot and I hope that German will still be spoken by my children.

Any experiences with this?

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I have a similar situation.. Some advice will be good until I can get my hands on that book!

Person: Language to baby (languages spoken)


Mother: Japanese (thai, some english)

Father: English -non native (spanish-native, english, german, french)

Family language: English

Country: Thailand

My parents take care of my baby 2 times per week: Spanish

I want my baby to study in a Japanese school as it takes lots of time to learn to write, he currently have very little interaction in thai, but I reckon most kids he will play with will be thai, international community will use english (or international school if for any reason the japanese one is not available), my family will talk to him in spanish only (lots of interaction though)

Shall I speak to my baby in Spanish or keep going with English?

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hi itzco and all,

I would also recommend the books
Growing Up with Three Languages by Xiao-lei Wang
The Bilingual Edge by
Kendall King and Alison Mackey

Does your wife speak to the baby in Japanese? If so, then that will prepare the baby for eventual Japanese school. So you should go ahead and speak Spanish to your child. There is a magnetic pull towards English, so it will come eventually, and like you say, that is the language spoken by the international community. Even if you end up sending your child to English school instead of Japanese school, they will have experience with non-native English speakers and will be ready to help, especially at the kindergarten level.

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