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Speaking to your child in your second language
Thread poster: carrasqueira

English to Portuguese
Aug 9, 2005

I am Brazilian and my husband is Swiss. We met in the USA, therefore our language is English. We have tried many times to change to Portuguese or German, but so far it was not possible. We live now in Switzerland and have a baby. She is 10 months old. I speak Portuguese to her, and so, does the nanny who takes care of her twice a week. My mother in law takes also care of her twice a week and speaks to her in Swiss German. My husband was speaking Swiss German to her too, but he thinks he should change and start to speak English to her, as he thinks that living in Switzerland she will be able to learn Swiss German and German with his family, with her friends and in the school. At first, I didn't like the idea as I always thought that is more natural to speak the mother tongue. But he has tried for one week now, and I have noticed that she is more "talkative" she does not speak yet but speak her own language a lot more. I am not sure if it is because of her development (it is my first child) of if this change has somehow some influence on her. As well, I always thought that it is going to be weird to speak to my husband in English, and she will not be able to participate (understand what we are talking about) if English is not part of her language skills and as I work in a international company, I am part of an international society in Switzerland which the language is English and of course it would be really good if she can communicate with all of the people and the kids from this international environment. But I want the best for her, and I am not sure if too many languages will be or not good for her. And as it is his second language will have some influence on their father/daugther relationship. What are your thoughts ? Do you know any book or research which could show me the pros and cons ?

Many thanks


Francesca Baroni  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:59
Member (2004)
English to Italian
+ ...
A child can learn 3 languages at the same time Aug 9, 2005


I am Italian, my husband is Austrian and our Son speaks perfectly Italian (with Parma accent) and Vorarlberg-German. Now (he is nearly 5 years old)he starts to speak "Hochdeutsch" too, when he meets German children.

Last year we had two Spanish friends at our place and he learnt a lot of sentences/words in Spanish.

The only important thing is that you don't mix the three languages (mum: Portoguese, dad: German, all together: English)

Good luck


Local time: 19:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
multilingual babies Aug 9, 2005

COming from a large multilingual family, where everybody tries to learn everything this is what we've learned.

some babies are more adept to languages than others. We have some in the family that seemingly can not learn another language even if mama spoke to them in the native tongue (but they are excellent at mathematics?? no one knows why.

some babies can learn 3 or more at a time. They learn and speak fluently even now years and years later. (these same could never be statisticians)

some have a preference. We have one who refuses, absolutely refuses to speak Spanish. Yet she likes German,, why??? We can not say, perhaps the sound appeals. Yet the other likes and speaks Spanish but very limited German.

In conclusion, babies can learn almost anything. But if she seems flustered pick one to speak at home. she will learn the language of the country she lives in easily in school or with playmates. She will thank you in the future. Congratulation on your new baby.

My Swiss experience Aug 9, 2005


I am a native English speaker. My Swiss husband and I have an 18 year old son. When I was pregnant we spoke with an expert on bilingualism, who suggested that we each speak our native language with the boy. My husband and I speak High German with each other, he speaks Luzern-Deutsch with the boy, who answers in Bern-Deutsch, and I speak English with our son. It worked. Our son in now ready to start his last year of Gymnasium. It is so automatic, that we no longer think about it. Part of the logic behind this is, not only are we more spontaneous in our native langauges, but more competent. I think my boy enjoyed having a "private langauge" with his dad as he grew up.

Good luck and keep talking - no matter what language.


[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2005-08-09 20:10]


@caduceus (X)
United States
Local time: 17:59
English to German
+ ...
The key is to start early Aug 9, 2005

The point here is that you want (and should) give your child the gift of learning multiple languages naturally and early in her life.

My husband is American, I am German, and our 4-year-old son speaks English to my husband and everyone else here in the US, and German to me and my family overseas. We really didn't choose it this way, our son kind of decided on that himself(Daddy>English, Mommy>German). When he was really little I actually spoke a mix of English and German to him, but as he grew older, it turned out to be one parent per language.

I do agree that your native language should be your first choice, simply for the reason that this is the language you grew up with. But then, there are plenty of bilingual/multilingual people out there, who grew up completely immersed in two or more languages and cultures. So, in those cases, who's the judge to determine which is the most native language.

And since we don't know how well your husband speaks English, how he acquired his language skills, and where and how long he was able to use them, we cannot really tell you whether this is a good decision or not. I just don't think it could really hurt her development dramatically. Of course, you don't want to teach her mistakes that may be hard to correct later on. But then again, it all depends on your husband's English skills.

Most importantly however, keep your child immersed in foreign languages and cultures from an early age on, especially since both of you and other family members have this skill. By all means, pass it on!


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:59
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Husband should speak his native language Aug 10, 2005

...otherwise communication with the child will not be at its best. The English kanguage children pick up automatically, even abroad. No need to teach her English if their is no native available.


Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
English to German
+ ...
You don't like mathematics? (Slightly Off Topic) Aug 10, 2005

mystymy wrote:
...We have some in the family that seemingly can not learn another language even if mama spoke to them in the native tongue (but they are excellent at mathematics??...
some babies can learn 3 or more at a time. They learn and speak fluently even now years and years later. (these same could never be statisticians)

I am afraid this is a prejudice. I (for example) speak English, French and German and can read Portuguese and Latin. Nevertheless, I got the best marks during 4 semesters of mathematics for mechanical engineers, I spent 10 years focussing on applied statistics and I am using several programming languages (I am not sure to which one of the two domains they belong).
...In conclusion, babies can learn almost anything...

The diversity you observed is amazing - but I think you should go even further and extend your conclusion to allow for people like me..icon_smile.gif


Marcela MF
Local time: 01:59
English to Romanian
+ ...
items, books, language teaching methods - "Bilingual Children " Aug 10, 2005

carrasqueira wrote:

Do you know any book or research which could show me the pros and cons ?

Hello carrasqueira,

I am interested in this subject because I am Romanian and my husband is Italian, we want "Bilingual Children " and I look for different items, books, language teaching methods.
A few interesting items for you:,16418,16418

Good luck


Kathinka van de Griendt  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:59
German to English
+ ...
Another example Aug 10, 2005

Ok, here's another example: my first-born sons spoke to mother in German, to father in English, to grand-mother in Dutch and to Nanny in Zulu. When we moved to Germany and I had another child, we made the mistake of father AND mother talking German. The child didn't say a single word until he was four years old. Just as we were getting really worried about possible retardation, he let rip and chatted to his parents in German, but to his brothers in English. All three boys now converse in English. Unfortunately, Zulu somehow got lost along the way. Pity!
Regards to all,


Rosa Maria Duenas Rios (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:59
Children are more intelligent than we think... Aug 10, 2005

Heinrich Pesch wrote:

...otherwise communication with the child will not be at its best. The English kanguage children pick up automatically, even abroad. No need to teach her English if their is no native available.

I agree with Heinrich; I have also seen that children realize when their parents are not speaking to them in their mother tongue, and they seem not to be as receptive as when the parents speak their mother tongue to them.


juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:59
English to Hungarian
+ ...
...go ahead Aug 16, 2005

..and let her learn English from her father. As you speak English as a common language between you, he must be proficient in the language. If your daughter started to learn English in school, she wouldn't necessarily get a native teacher.

As you say, she will pick up Swiss German, no matter what, and Grandma will speak it to her in the family.

The most important things are:

- start as early as possible, in other words don't delay it a minute longer now.

- consistency: you always speak to her in Portuguese
and your husband in English.

That is the most and best you can do, and the rate of her learning is not going to depend on how many languages she is learning at the same time, but by her own temperament.


Lee Penya
Local time: 18:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
Child usually answers parents' 2nd language in their 1st language Feb 21, 2006

My wife and I are both native English speakers living in the US. We have a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. Before they were born, my wife and I decided that we'd like them to be bilingual (English-Spanish) although neither of us is a native Spanish speaker and neither of us has lived in a Spanish-speaking country long enough to speak Spanish like a native. Since I speak Spanish reasonably well, I've been speaking it to both children (probably 99% of the time) since they were born (and their mother almost always speaks to them in English).

Granted, it's not always easy or "natural" to talk to them in Spanish, and it's becoming more challenging as they get older (I find that describing or defining new concepts, especially abstract ones, in a foreign language can be difficult!). Nevertheless, both children understand both languages very well.

The main "problem" we've encountered is that our children usually answer me in English even though they understand my Spanish. This makes sense since my wife and I speak English to each other and since most of the rest of our community speaks English.

Since our son is older and can speak much more than his sister can at this point, I'll focus on him. It's not that our son cannot communicate in Spanish. For example, he loves to meet new Spanish speakers and talk to them in Spanish initially (then it seems his vocabulary and sentence-forming ability deteriorate), he leads prayers in Spanish, can talk on the phone to relatives in Spanish (though he tends to follow a set script), he is starting to read children's books in Spanish, and every native Spanish speaker we meet is impressed by how well he speaks Spanish.

Given that, we would hate to simply abandon the Spanish. Has anyone else encountered this situation? Any advice on getting my kids to speak more Spanish? I've heard that some parents will not talk to their children unless the children address their parents in the language the relevant parent uses with them. Does this work, or does it just make kids resent the language (or even the parent) in question?

[Edited at 2006-02-22 03:42]


Yvette Neisser Moreno  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
in a similar situation Feb 22, 2006

Thanks for raising this issue. Although my family's language background is a little different--my husband is native in Spanish and I am native in English--I'm now dealing with similar issues with my son, who recently turned 4 and is very articulate. Like you, we live in the US, and my husband and I have spoken to our son only in Spanish--at home, at least--since he was a baby, even though it's not my native language. He is basically fully bilingual, but our community of friends and family is almost entirely English-speaking, as my husband's family lives in Mexico and we haven't been there in years. He also goes to full-day preschool 3 times/week where only English is spoken, and he now is showing both a preference for and a greater vocabulary/ease with English. At this point, we still insist that he speak to us in Spanish, which he has not resisted. However, I, like you, as a non-native speaker and as his primary caretaker, am finding it increasingly difficult to explain or define things for him in Spanish that he already understands in English.

Part of the problem, for us, is that our local libraries do not carry children's videos in Spanish, and I have found that my son picks up a lot of expressions and vocabulary from the videos he watches (in English). (Not that he watches TV all day, but even one or two short videos a day seem to make a big impact on his language development). We read to him in both Spanish and English, and I do think the reading in Spanish helps a lot in developing vocabulary (both his and mine!). However, he has tons of English books in the house as well that he really likes--he often receives them as gifts--and I haven't the heart to refuse to read him one of his favorite books. But I have been thinking about perhaps instituting some rule about this, such as we can only read a book in English after reading one in Spanish. One Latino family that I know has always had a rule that they only read to their children in Spanish, and this seems to have helped their children (the oldest now a teenager) to maintain a love of the language, as well as perhaps a more sophisticated vocabulary.

I'd be very interested to hear others' advice/experiences in this area.



Stephanie Mitchel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:59
French to English
I, too, would like to hear more. Feb 25, 2006

My husband and I are both native English speakers and live in the US. But I lived in France for years and would very much like to teach my 8-month-old son French. I'm not on a fast-track baby-genius kick here, I just think he'd get something out of it, and Lord knows the US educational system isn't going to help with foreign languages until he's already quite a bit older.

However, a few problems come up: I speak English with my husband, and French only with clients and a few French friends; I get lazy and revert to English; and the French can feel artificial, especially baby talk.

I've been advised to get videos (Baby Einstein, etc.) in French; but he's too young to be watching videos. He has a few toys that use French songs or voices, which he loves, and a few books I read to him, but that's about it. Am I fighting a losing battle?

Looking forward to your thoughts, experiences and opinions.

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