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Frank V.

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Hello Forum members, 

I am father of a tri-lingual 7 year old daughter and am posting this in the hope that some of you may be able to share advice.
My daughter is in a Chinese-English immersion school in San Francisco, and we’ve been following the “one parent, one language” approach since her birth in which mom speaks only Mandarin with her, dad speaks only German with her and in  family settings (e.g. dinner) we use English. 
My daughter has responded well to this approach and is able to speak, write and read Mandarin and Enlist and speak and understand mid-level German. So far, I have focused her attention German on understanding and speaking but not pushed for reading or writing as I fear it might distract from Mandarin and English skills.
Due to school, homework and friends immersion, her English and Mandarin have made great progress. But earlier this year she started switching to English instead of German. I believe this is because she feels more fluid expression is possible in English while her German capabilities are lagging behind.I continue to speak only German with her.
I am now looking for any advice on what I can do to ensure that she continues to build a solid foundation for German. 
I am concerned that she is giving up on expressing herself in German as her capabilities are falling behind her English and Chinese skills. I don’t have the ambition for her to write or read much German, unless this is something that’s critical.
I have considered, sending her to a 2-week German immersion summer camp in 2019 but worry that by then she may have fallen behind so much that she will not even try her German.
Many thanks for any ideas,


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I am no expert, but I have three children who are becoming trilingual with their knowledge of the weakest language improving every day. I think the key might be in creating a perceived need for the language. Your child obviously knows that she can get by perfectly well without knowing how to speak German and will then take the easy way out and not speak it. What I would do in this situation is to increase her exposure to German, for example by introducing more German-speaking people in your life. I think the two week immersion is a great idea, but not enough to keep her skills from deteriorating.

My husband and I both have as a rule that we will not respond to our children until they speak our language with us. Sometimes this means helping them formulate a proper sentence and then repeating it back to us. I know other families with possibly more stubborn children where this has not worked though, so it may not be possible for everyone.

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Is there any chance she could attend a weekly German school? I think it’s usually for a few hours on Saturday mornings (ours is — not sure how standardized the approach is) through the school year. I googled and see there is (at least) one in San Francisco. Ours also has a large lending library of books and other media that makes it well worth the very reasonable tuition price.

We’re raising our 5yo boys with German and English, doing OPOL. The boys understood German perfectly, but almost never spoke it back to my wife — until they started German school last fall. It was literally an overnight difference. I think they finally realized that it wasn’t just their mom’s quirky way of talking — total strangers (now friends) also knew it, and they could do art and get snacks and celebrate holidays in German.

Another thought: I’ve read that polyglots often use different languages in different contexts. Is there an activity or hobby y’all could do together primarily in German? That might give her a new context to flex her German muscles, and she’s bound to love the one-on-one time with you.

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