Thursday, 2 December 2010

Multi-linguism: Which language should I speak to my child?

What to do as a parent, if you have a different mother language than your partner? Which language should you speak to your children? Yours? Or the one spoken at the country where you live? Or just English?

A good friend of mine is Indonesian, her husband is Swedish, they speak English to each other and they live in The Netherlands. Meaning their son goes to the kindergarden where he is spoken to in Dutch. What to do? She collected the following tips for parents facing biliguism or multiliguism at home. Thanks a lot for the tips; they are great!

In summary:
• If you want the child to be multilingual, each parent should speak on their own language to the child. The child will learn and understand each language, but (depending on the child) at some point in their life, they will choose which one will be their main language, typically the language that gives him the most advantage. E.g. if you live in the Netherlands, most likely he will have Dutch as his main language. This all depends on the child, and if he likes language or not and how much he is exposed to the language.

• Until 6 years old, children acquire language, after 6 they learn (there is a difference!). So start as early as possible, after 6 years old, it’s more difficult to learn a new language.

• The child only learns the language you use to address him. So if you speak English to your partner, but never to your child, he doesn’t really learn English. Or if you play a CD with a music that you don’t sing together with him, he won’t learn. Interestingly (and I really notice this), the kid learns not through the words, but your tone, the context, facial expression and body language.

• Consistency is key. For example,if you speak in Russian, speak always in Russian, try to avoid mixing using other languages or English. This is because the child will learn that you also understand other languages and he could refuse to speak Russian to you.

• Multi-lingual is good but don’t inforce, since too much languages could burden/stress the child. So focus with the language which most relevant for him.

And for more information, you can check the following website,

If you are a parent in a multilingual environment; does this information help you? Which situations are you facing in your daily life when raising your child? Let us know by leaving a comment!

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