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Lu Biggs

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Hi there

I’m mum to a 5-week-old baby living in the UK and am keen to start introducing a second language at an early age.

I studied German at school and lived in Switzerland for 6 months which has given me a “conversational” level of German although I’m out of practice. I then went on to study Arabic at University for 3 years, but again am out of practice having not used it regularly for 5 years.

I’m trying to decide which language to introduce to my little one… my husband is completely monolingual so we would use the OPOL approach. I’m just concerned that my knwoedge of grammar and vocabularly in both languages is impaired form lack of practice and that I would be doing my son a disservice by trying to introduce a language I’m not completely fluent in, as I won’t correct errors.

I can get my hands on plenty of bilingual material like books and posters, but my only opportunity for total immersion would be a mothers and babies group that meets twice a month – would that be sufficient? There is also the oportunity to travel to the German speaking parts of Europe but I worry it’s not enough… I do not have the means to employ a nanny or au pair.

What are your thoughts? Nobody in my family or among my friends speaks a second language so I’m feeling pretty isolated as to how I should proceed…




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Sorry this is so late in coming, I hope you or someone reads this and gets some good advice…

Anyway, I suggest you pick a language you begin seriously reviewing both languages, start small. Try going through a series of children’s workbook in both languages to remaster the basics and when you are confident and ready than pick one language and get a phrasebook in that language, Arabic OR German and begin speaking it to and around your baby immediately.

After a few months, try introducing basic words to baby in the second langauge. So if you speak German to your baby, after a few months when you are feeling confident in your own abilities, make baby some nice flashcards/play tiles and start to play a hide and seek/ show mommy where type game teaching the baby some arabic words.

It wont harm your baby none to learn German to only a beginner level and share that bond with you during their early years.

You can focus on just saying regular phrases to baby constantly while improving/learning German online at home. Find a friend online who can chat with you in German and help you with conversational skills and that sort of thing. As baby gets older and you get more and more comfy in German with him, start pushing Arabic phrases, not just words with him. Your son will catch on and even if he leaves it off later, so what? You will have layed a foundation in your sons mind for language acquisition later on and shared a few years with him in a “special language” also, if you have more kids, he could play a huge role in helping to get all your kids to be partially competent in German and Arabic.

Any opportunity you can get for full immersion, take it. But if you cant, oh well, its up to you what you teach your son what you want him to know. No one else will have a bigger influence on him in these early years than his primary care giver. AKA You!!! (I assume you are since you cant afford nannies etc.)

Tons of parents learn a language just to teach it to their kids, even if the intent is only to ease those first few years. (Like Baby Signing) So I dont think that letting him learn and forget is going to do him any real harm.

My dad speaks Arabic and my mom Spanish. Both of them learned as adults and I’ve never forgiven them for not teaching me those second languages as a child. I took Arabic lessons throughout my childhood and tried to teach myself Spanish starting at 11 or 12 but nothing would compare with having spoken and being spoken to in Arabic and Spanish. Both my parents are intermediate speakers of these languages and could’ve learned more of their second language casually as we kids grew up, but they didnt. Even though I tried convincing them to do this when I WAS FIVE YEARS OLD!!!

I love language and have always wanted to communicate with more people!!! PLEASE just go with your gut and pursue a second langauge with your son, even if you just use 100 phrases over and over again with him in his first few years…
Erik K

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I’ll bet in the UK, especially if you are in a big city, you can find native speakers of both German and Arabic. You could either seek them online or maybe ask around in person if they have their own ethnic neighborhoods. Find parents and ask for play-dates with kids who don’t yet speak English, if that is possible. This might not work; the kids might all insist on speaking English. But it is worth a try.

That mothers and babies group that meets twice a month will be fine in combination with you speaking the languages.

You could speak Arabic at home and German outside the home, to distinguish the two foreign languages.


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