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1. Living in the USA
2. English speaking community and extended family
3. Baby girl coming in February
4. Language system: Trying to figure that one out

I speak native English, and non-native Spanish and Portuguese. My baby’s father lives in Brazil and I’m unsure right now how often we will be able to visit him and his extended family in Brazil in the future. I would say that now that I’m no longer living in Brazil, I am more comfortable in Spanish than Portuguese. I would like my daughter to speak all three languages, however. I believe that English and Spanish are very important languages in the US and that Portuguese would be important for heritage/paternal family relations. However, since I’m single I’m not sure about the best way to pull this off. I live with my grandmother who is an English speaker. I was thinking of the plan below:

Plan A (Birth to 4 years old):

Spanish with babysitter        Weekdays          7:30 am – 3:30 pm


English w/ Grandma            Evenings/Weekends                      


English w/ Me                      Spontaneously

Spanish w/Me                      Spontaneously

Portuguese w/ Me               Evenings/Weekends


The only problem is that I’m not that comfortable in Portuguese right now. Spanish would be much more natural for me, especially since I am surrounded with it more here. However, I don’t know how else to get the Portuguese exposure. I’m dedicated to doing what’s best, however.


Please let me know if you all think this is a good plan or if you have some different ideas.



Erik K

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Your plan might work just fine.

As an added measure, I recommend finding both English speaking and Spanish-only speaking kids for your daughter to separately play with. That way, she will be highly motivated to learn both languages.

The good news with Portuguese is that, because you will be speaking to a baby, you may use simple words at first (“baby talk”!). So you and the child can improve in Portuguese together. I hope you will be studying this language intensively.

One possible change to your plan: attempt to speak Portuguese to the baby all the time. This will be good practice for both of you.

Also, you can search the web for Brazilian or Portuguese expatriate communities near you. Or post messages on websites, asking to meet parents of Portuguese speaking children. Eventually you may get a response.

Hopefully the father will be willing to speak to the child over the phone when she is old enough.


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Hi Jennifer,

Wauw, your plan to teach your daughter three languages at the same time seem like quite a puzzle – and I’m not sure it’s the best way. It seems to me, you are spreading yourself a bit thin if you plan to speak English, Spanish and Portuguese and my fear is your daughter will get more confused with this system.

I suggest you stick to English – it’s your native language and you need to be 100% comfortable with communicating with your child – especially when you are a single parent. Which of the two other languages is most important to you? Portuguese would be a special gift to your daughter – a chance to be able to communicate with her father and family in Brazil. Can’t you hire a Portugues babysitter instead? So many hours a day should make her bilingual very easily within a few years. You say you are surrounded by Spanish where you live – I suggest you forget the Spanish for now, let her be solid in English and Portuguese (her two heritage languages) and add Spanish later by letting her do Spanish playgroups or after school activities. Adding languages to already bilingual children is much easier than teaching mono-lingual children.

I have raised two tri-lingual children, BUT I had solid exposure from THREE different sources (Mum: Danish, Dad: English, Surroundings: Spanish), and even then it’s not always easy. I would never have intended it be the only source of more than one laguage myself. My oldest (12 y.o.) is now learning French at school at picks it up very easily – and soon we’ll be moving abroard again and the whole family will have to learn yet another languge.

Hats off to you that you take it on you to teach your daughter her fathers language when he’s not arround to do it 🙂 She’ll appreciate that later! Good luck!

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If she’s going to be with a Spanish Speaking Baby Sitter than I suggest you leave Spanish, in the beginning to the baby sitter and start brushing up on your Portuguese so you can speak it to her.

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hi there. i read your post & am in the process of doing the same with my 10 month old. mornings are in french (i’m an advanced beginner), afternoons in spanish (i’m pretty fluent) & english (my native tongue) is ‘here & there’. my husband speaks spanish & english with her too. her extended family are native spanish speakers. my concern is mostly feeling inadequate in french (just as you do with portuguese). but i study ALL the time & make use of several resources. i’ve also joined a french-speaking playgroup. that awkward stage of ‘not feeling right’ speaking to her in french? it pretty much disappeared after 1-2 months. i just kept thinking how she’ll benefit from it all. i know she may not be as fluent in french as in spanish & english but overall she’ll do just fine (given consistent input) & that’s all i’m after.

any how, i just wrote to give you encouragement & to say ‘go for it!’. although she’s still mostly babbling, my daughter’s said her first words in all 3 languages. this has soooooooo given me encouragement to continue my plans of raising her trilingually. also, going to french playgroup activities makes me feel like i know more than i give myself credit for. the same is probably the case with you & portuguese. if your baby’s small your language proficiency can grow with her/him. portuguese & spanish are in the same language family so your knowledge in spanish may help you acquire more portuguese. look on & see if there’s a portuguese playgroup in your area. record a native speaker reading aloud some books for your baby to listen to. get a brazilian college student to simply hang out with your baby regularly. the list of ideas are endless but ultimately, i say ‘try it’; you’ve got nothing to lose!


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I just wanted to update you on what I ended up doing with my daughter who is now 16 months old. I speak to her only in Portuguese . . . no English or Spanish as originally planned. My Peruvian babysitter and my relatives speak to my daughter in English. My babysitter only speaks English to her own small children and the other children she watches, so I wasn’t quite able to get her to talk to her in Spanish (Just the occasional little phrase).

Once I made the scary decision to only speak Portuguese to her, I adapted quite well. I’m not worried about her English, she hears English all the time. And my Portuguese has grown with her. funny is that before she was born, my Spanish was much stronger than my Portuguese. But now, Spanish has taken a backseat as I’ve focused on improving my Portuguese for her and I’d say that my Portuguese is much more automatic than my Spanish. I watch mostly Brazilian television and I get tutored once a month as well. And we will be spending our summer in Brazil, so we will both benefit from that. I am a little sad that I could not work in Spanish. However, I feel that she will learn that eventually . . . it wouldn’t be too hard for her. And I think that she will value knowing her father’s language. 

Thanks to those of you who responded! 


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