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We are expecting our first child in a month and are giving a lot of thought on which languages to speak to him.
I am a native Russian and French speaker, my husband is a native English speaker and we live in Germany. I speak all four languages, my husband speaks English and understands a bit of Russian and French. My husband will speak English to the baby and we speak English to each other so English seems like the most natural family language for us. However we would both like our child to learn French and Russian to a native level, which only I can teach him. German is not so important, we expect that he will pick it up in kindergarten at some point. The question is whether it is really a good idea to have one parent teaching the child two different languages and using a third when the father is around? This is obviously contrary to the OPOL idea and the ML@H doesn´t work for us. We have given a lot of thought to the different systems suggested in the forum but haven´t come accross any that feel right for us. So I was wondering whether anyone has any experiences with being the sole parent teaching the child two languages other than the family language that are not those of the country they are living in?



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My husband and I have the same situation as you and are trying to agree on what to do before the baby arrives. He feels strongly that the one parent one Language rule should be followed but I can’t choose between my two native languages. I imagine the child will keep the languages straight eventually, and have thought about alternating languages that I would speak each day. I wish there were more resources and advice for 4 lingual babies. I suppose the next generation will have lots of examples wedont have yet.

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I have a similar situation with my husband speaking English, myself being native German and French. We live in the U.S., so the language spoken everywhere around us is English.

I opted for only speaking French with my children, and English when Dad is around. My reasoning is that my parents can help me with French, especially my mom, and that in time, I’d have more access to French programs/schools (we live in rural US at the moment with NOBODY speaking any French or German). My kids will have to learn German from my friends’ kids when we travel to Germany.

My little girl is 3 and already she hardly ever responds in French, although she understands everything I say. Her vocabulary is developing so much faster in English. I read to her in French and sing songs, and have her listen to French CD’s, but still… The one thing that helped was that over the summer, I spent 2 weeks in Seattle and had her in a French preschool. For about a month after that, she would answer in French about half the time.

If I was speaking German as well, I think it would make it even harder, having no support from other German speakers. I figure as long as she gets her brain set up with 2 languages, it will be easy for her to pick up more as she gets older. Interestingly enough, she can sing the German songs with a perfectly native pronunciation, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t understand a word she’s singing!

My little guy is only 10 months old, so I can’t report about him yet

Let me know what you guys decide to do and how it’s working!


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My wife is a native English and Bulgarian speaker and fluent in Greek with good command of Russian and French. I am a native Greek speaker with very good command of ancient Greek and Latin (I know… I know…. those are not really languages since practically nobody speaks them). I can also express myself fairly well (I hope) in English and French plus I can cope with languages with origins in Latin. We live in Cyprus and the community language is Greek. We are raising a multilingual child, she is 7 now and she is fluent in English (speaking/reading/writing much above average for her age), Greek (speaking/reading/writing also above average for her age) and Bulgarian (speaking fluently and some reading for the moment) with the prospect of introducing her to French next year and most probably Russian after she becomes familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet in Bulgarian.

We followed the method of introducing one language each year not only in relation to speaking a language, but also in relation to reading and writing it as well. Thus we spoke only Greek to her until she was 18 months old (Greek is still our family language) At this age mom started to talk/sing/read to her in Bulgarian. By the age of two and six months she would understand Bulgarian but she would reply in Greek. Then a trip to Bulgaria did the trick. She suddenly began to speak Bulgarian with her cousins and by the time we were back to Cyprus her Bulgarian was as good as her Greek. Then at the age of three we opted for an English language nursery, a bit of frustration for the first couple of months but thanks to the excellent teachers and mom’s help at home, by the end of the school year she was almost fluent in English as well.

We followed the same system when it came to reading and writing: one language (and a different alphabet in our case) each year. She still attends an English school in Cyprus but since she is a Cypriot she has one hour of Greek literacy everyday plus all the exposure she gets to Greek at home, with Greek speaking friends and dad’s help with her Greek homework. Next summer will focus on reading and writing in Bulgarian with another trip to Bulgaria. Then we ‘ll see how things turn up and we ll make our decisions. Definitely she will be introduced to French at school and we are considering various methods to get her more exposure to this language. We know that she won’t be a native French or Russian speaker since none of us can speak fluently the language but at least we can give her the chance to develop her language skills. We hope that the fact that she already speaks three languages will help her to learn other as well (or so they say) and grandma is also a fluent Russian speaker.

Although I am definitely not an expert – just a parent working hard on the issue – I would advice anyone to consider introducing  languages one by one and be sure that children get enough exposure to each language with native speakers.

The only real problem we faced since she started reading and writing is that she has to work much harder than monolingual children. As she grows up and moves away from learning through play to a more structured way of learning, this can become a huge load for her to carry and we found that the answer to this is plenty of free time and unstructured play. I honestly believe this is more important than learning many languages.

Last but not least is the fact that we Greek – Cypriots speak a distinct Greek dialect which in many aspects is very different from standard Greek. This is an additional difficulty since we speak the dialect at home but at school she learns standard Greek. Of course this is an issue that all Greek Cypriot children have to deal with, but for our daughter is almost like learning one additional language.



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Adon, regarding teaching a child a language the parents don’t speak, I would agree with you on introducing one language at a time, but if it’s the native language of the parent(s) there is no reason why the child shouldn’t learn two or more languages simultaneously. The good news, is parents don’t have to be language teachers or linguists to teach their child their native tongue. All you have to do is speak the language. Of course songs, games, books, etc. are great support, but the point is, if you speak a child with a child they will learn the language.
I think many people focus too much on one method, such as “one parent, one language” and don’t realize that children learn languages in many different circumstances and to various extents.

My daughter is learning German, Russian, Spanish and English.

We live in Austria where she learns German (in kindergarten and before kindergarten in the daycare). She speaks German with her best friend and pretty much anyone else besides us parents. She makes typical mistakes that all children make when learning German. She will be 6 in march.

Her mother is a Russian speaker from Ukraine and speaks to her exclusively in Russian and she speaks Russian fluently (I cannot judge her grammar, etc.). She has also spent a couple months a year in Ukraine with her Russian speaking grandparents. The kids she plays with, however, speak mostly Ukrainian, but I don’t expect her to learn much more than a few words.

I am from California. I grew up with limited exposure to Spanish, but learned it later in college courses and then living in Mexico and by speaking with the local Spanish speakers here in Austria.

My method since my daughter was born has followed the ‘time and place’ model. I speak exclusively Spanish at home (except for when I read books in English or German) and as soon as we walk out the door I start speaking English. My daughter is so used to it, she looks at me funny and calls me on it when I speak the wrong language in the wrong place. 

I think one important point is that children will not automatically speak the “weaker” language or languages,  but this does not mean they are not “bilingual”, etc.

I think the decisive factor is whether the child feels the “necessity” to speak a language. Passive language knowledge becomes active as soon as it is required. For example, when my sister came to visit last Christmas, my daughter began speaking English within about one hour of her arrival. I had never heard her speak full sentences in English before that.

I try to spend time with my English speaking friends who have children. Their children, who were born in England, Australia, etc. speak English, but I’ve noticed my daughter speaks German with them. There was only one exception at a birthday party where there was a non-German speaking girl. I hope to do the same in the future with Spanish speaking kids to increase her exposure to the language.

From my experience working with immigrant children (as an English language teacher) and with my daughter I have found that children prefer to speak the “stronger” language. The stronger language could be the foreign language up until kindergarten if the child is mainly exposed to this language (grandparents and other relatives) but most often the “stronger” language is the language of the country, especially if one parent speaks the local language.

My daughter speaks to me in Russian because she knows that I understand. That is, I understand my daughter’s simple Russian. (I took two semesters and since she was born I have been exposed to the language more and more.) She got used to responding to me in Russian.

As a side note, her mother and I speak to each other in English, but we have been separated for three years, so my daughter rarely hears us speaking English. 

So, in conclusion, my plan is to further expose my daughter to situations where she will have to speak English and Spanish in order to “force” her to speak. I plan on visiting my family for a month in California and in the future I plan on spending time in Spain or other Spanish speaking countries to immerse her. Regarding grammar, reading and comprehension, I will have to consider different options for her later education.


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Thanks Ramsey for that comment. I’ve been looking for support for speaking both my native languages to my 13-month-old son. We live in England and my partner speaks exclusively German with him, reading all books in German and even translating English books into German as he reads. My mother tongues are English and Hebrew and until his first birthday I spoke only Hebrew with him, the idea being that he should have a non-European language (even if not a very useful one) so that future language acquisition becomes easier. I have no Hebrew speaking family here so he has to wait for family visits for any support. The problem is that I have always preferred English and my parents are both native English speakers so as a child in Israel we had ML@H with Hebrew outside home, so speaking Hebrew at home to my son felt strange, and translating books from English was awkward too. My partner and I speak English to each other, although my German is quite good, and he understands a little Hebrew. When our son turned 1 I started reading him my favourite English books in English and immediately felt more relaxed. The problem is I now find myself mixing the languages outrageously, in exactly the way I felt I wasn’t supposed to. Outside I now speak mainly English, but at home I speak Hebrew or English with no kind of rule. This is the way I have always spoken with my siblings, who were also brought up bilingual, and none of us had any trouble separating the languages outside (though we each prefer different languages). I just hope it won’t confuse my son? One last thing is we live with two adult friends in a shared house – one speaks English, but we’ve encouraged the other to speak only her mother tongue with our son – a minority language from China… On consideration, I’m hopeful all this won’t do him any damage – so many kids in India grow up with 5-6 languages spoken by multilingual parents and peers? 

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I’m happy that I found this thread. We’re in a bit of a language bind and would really appreciate some advice. We’re moving to a new country and need a new language system. 

My native language is Swedish. Besides that (and English) I also speak Farsi and Greek, which I learned at home (I grew up with OPOL: Greek with my mother and Farsi with my father). My wife is a native English speaker and she also learned Farsi at home. She also speaks Swedish although not at a native level. 

We have a daughter who recently turned two (and a new born boy). We currently live in Sweden and so far we have been following OPOL, where I’ve been speaking Farsi, my wife English and we have been relying on our daughter’s kindergarten for Swedish. Me and my wife mostly speak English between each other. Our daughter now speaks mostly English but she is starting to make sentences in Farsi as well. She seems to understand Swedish but she doesn’t speak it much. 

In a couple of months we’ll move to the US, where we expect to stay for a couple of years. My wife will be home with kids for the first year and then start work. If we would stick with our current OPOL system our kids would not be exposed to Swedish, which for me is very important (at some point I will have to switch to Swedish because my Farsi vocabulary will be inadequate once they are older). At the same time, we don’t want to give up Farsi and throw away two years of exposure. Also, its the language that we use the most during family gatherings. 

Some alternatives seem to be:
1) ML@H: At home my wife switches to Farsi, I switch to Swedish and we speak in English to each other.  We speak English when we’re out.
2) My wife continues with English, and I speak both Farsi and Swedish. One option here would be Ramsey’s system, with switches when we’re outside. Another idea is to use different languages on different days. I have no experience with this and I’m worried that it might lead to an unstructured mix. 
3) Find a Swedish or Farsi immersion programme and continue with OPOL. 

Any advice? Does anyone have experience with different languages on different days?


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