Your interactive guide to living abroad as recommended by local mums | Last updated 8 months ago


Raising a Multilingual Child - Member Top Tips

Raising a multilingual child can be stressful, especially if you are the first in your family to do so.

We have put together a list of top tips from our members in France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

1. Keep consistent (even when your child answers in another language)
2. Team effort with partner (everyone needs to support this)
3. Read books/watch TV in another language
4. Have play dates with children who speak another language
5. Wait until your child can read/write well in one language before teaching them in another.

Personal Comments:

Kayte Locke (Spain): I'd say (with hindsight); don't stress when they are refusing to engage or speak another language, encourage as many activities and friendships that will promote the language gain and take it at the speed of your child. If they are shy don't push them, if you arrange "lessons" make sure they are fun and involve playing. My son has taken years to speak (we have been here four years) but it is now coming suddenly and with a really good accent, he just wasn't confident to take to it straight away. He wasn't prepared to speak until he felt confident. Also be a good role model. Engage in learning and show your kids you are willing and that it is important to integrate. If you are living in an expat environment with children in International school also expect it will take longer. We were so unrealistic on arrival here!

Linda Duffy Melin (Spain): Our son is 26 months 3 languages and in past few months we see the vocabulary in all 3 improve daily id say its down to not stressing nor trying to push any language they will all come in their own time

Sarah Clark (Spain): Personally I don't think it's necessary to wait with the reading in English when they go to Spanish school because Spanish reading is relatively easy compared to English with its exceptions and weird stuff! Perhaps I'm over opinionated but I hate it when I meet people who have not "taught" their child their own language, in my opinion they are doing them a disservice and depriving them of a real gift that costs nothing and doesn't inconvenience life at all if you just go about it naturally. It is a marvellous feeling to see your child switching from one language to another without having to think about it!

Go Granada (Spain): Each to their own on this issue, but I do tend to agree that it can be advantageous to the child to crack on with English as soon as possible. Spelling and pronunciation are so tricky compared to phonetic Spanish.

Paula Houlker (Spain): I didn't stress. My first (18 now) just chose to speak whatever language he felt like speaking when he felt like speaking them. Now his 3 languages (English, Spanish and Catalan) are spoken with perfect accents. I sent him back to the UK to spend summers maybe that helped. My 2nd who is 3, is doing exactly the same. We don't put any pressure, don't put tele in any particular langauge, we just do what is natural to us as a family.

Richard Alan Barden (Spain): ANYTHING written by Jim Cummins - good; or if your child goes to a multilingual nursery ask the lead teacher/Head of School/Unit. They should welcome your interest.

Scheenagh Harrington (Spain): Don't make a big deal out of mistakes in either language - even if the teachers do Blackhen Education: Let them read anything in their mother tongue to help them maintain it; comics, adverts, magazines, newspapers & books

Helen Green (France): Follow their lead too - my eldest wanted to learn to read English early (4/5) so we did it together using a British phonics system. It really helped when she came to learn French and she now reads well in both. My second daughter however is not as interested and prefers to learn things in her own way and her own time! She'll probably learn to read in French first then English later. And I haven't pushed it at all. They, like all children, are different to each other. Trust your instincts when it comes to your own children

Andrea Ewart (France): We have four languages in our family and we managed to teach them two naturally. We speak English at home and French is at school and with the French family. Like Helen, we followed their cues. The house is filled with books in three languages and they watch TV in one or the other depending on where we are. It was essential that they were in a very good school to work on the basics and somehow the eldest figured out reading in three languages by the age of six. They acquired the third language within one year by immersion, so I recommend lengthy visits home more than anything. We have one language to go.

Marie-Alice Deville-Garrick (France): Young children are like sponges for knowledge and so I think simultaneous learning is best. Our 3 and 4.5 years-old boys were naturally bilingual (French and English) from birth. When school offered Spanish lessons, I enrolled them but thinking they would find it just too much. How wrong was I! They love it, have learned a lot in a very short time and even regularly congratulate each other with a "Muy bien!". My only advice would be to pay attention to the main grammatical differences between languages. We didn't mind too much at first that our boys might say "bleue voiture" rather than "voiture bleue", using the English structure in French or that they would make mistakes when choosing wether a word is feminine or masculine in French. But now we have to work on these...

Patricia Belmiro Caruso (France): DO NOT FORCE THEM! I have learned the hard way

Fiona Stephens (France): We never told our children that there were 2 languages, there is just the way Mummy speaks and the way Nonna speaks, and we just said that Nonna can't understand how Mummy speaks and Mummy doesn't understand how Nonna speaks. So far we haven't had any issue of them refusing to speak one language or the other, as we just tell them we don't understand what they are saying (and play dumb!)

Grace Ting (Italy): 10 years ago my Canadian friend who lived in my town told me that her sons refused to speak and learn English while at school and at home, she told me they were fine with English until they started primary school, they thought they were odd because they speak English , since then they refused to speak and there was no way to change their mind. I am lucky because my boys' teachers and friends keep praising them for their bilingual ability , so they feel good they are bilingual

Sarah Foss Cappelletti (Italy): Waiting until your child cam read and write well is waiting too long. Start when they're young, even as babies, for fluency. Tara Chia: We speak English at home. My italian husband speaks English to the kids too even though I would have preferred that he sticks to italian with the kids. However, my older kid 6yo has no problems switching from English to italian with ease. She speaks Italian like a native so I am really happy. Besides English, I speak mandarin too like

Grace Ting (Italy). I don't speak much Mandarin to my kids. My kid goes to a twice weekly chinese class to learn to read and write in chinese. I try to expose my kids to all three languages as early as possible.

Andrea Camerota (Italy): When we moved to Italy 12 years ago, our twins at 3 started nursery only knowing English, the school & us agreed that in school grounds they only speak Italian and home & with us is English. They speak both with our an accent, can read & write both as good, they have also learnt conversational Spanish & some Japanese.

Richelle Marin (Italy): Learning Italian was a third language for my children when we moved here. They were born in New Zealand (oldest) and Australia (youngest) but my husband is French, so he always spoke to them in French. We waited until they were older to teach them to write in French.

Connie Washington (Italy): In my experience as an first grade teacher it is easier for children to start reading with italian as it is 100% phonetic based - what you see is what you say. English is more difficult to learn because it is not all phonetic based. Having said that, once they learn to read in any language theyvare so curious and eager that they'll start reading in the other. English just needs a bit more support.

Sarah Louise Carter (Italy): You must start from the day they are born! if mother is English, she should only speak English to the baby. When they start nursery school, they will start to prefer italian so they must already have a load of English by then

Connie Washington (Italy): My daughter started reading in German (also highly phonetic based), she transferred those skills to Italian and one day she picked up a book in English and started reading it! What she wasn't able to work out phonetically she used her knowledge of the language to figure out. Tiffany Lew: My daughter (now 5.10) learned to read in both languages at the same time. However, she has no language preference, therefore her school (bilingual montessori) taught her both (though they told me they tend to teach the stronger language first).

Harriet Pahl (Italy): 1. Start with the language the child is not surrounded by, eg. English if living in Italy. I was out most of the time after the first year but always spoke to her in English, while she heard Italian at crèche and with her father. 2. let the child associate the different languages with different people eg parents or places (Italian at school, English at home). 3 Simple repetitive videos eg.Spot, Postman Pat, for when you can't be around to enforce English. Kids like to hear/see them again and again and pick up the language like a shot. 4. Audio CDs in the car. 5.Bedtime stories in English - your own ideas, especially based on the child's life, going on to books later. My daughter is now 24 and has been completely bilingual since the age of about 6, though her writing skills in English developed more slowly as the Italian school took over. Rachael Foschini: We started from day one. I speak English, daddy Italian and he knows in family who speaks English or italian. When it is necessary ie shopping he is happy when I speak Italian but does not like it when I speak Italian to him!! He is now at a bilingual school but he is the only English mother tongue but happily speaks Italian to friends.

Trina Casoni (Italy): Take them home often!!

Valentina Pilozzi (Florida): We live since August 2012 in Orlando Florida but we are Italian... Our daughter was 15 months old and not at 3,5y she is bilingual. We speak both languages at home and she is able to switch from one to the other language without problem. We have to move back Italy in January and we are very worried that she will lose this new language

Veronika (Spain): Patience. Lots of patience. When children are still in the language learning process they need lots of support and security because the feeling that nobody understands me can make them behave badly or even aggressively. To us reading books in different languages helped a lot. I have always made learning fun and he really enjoys learning new words, colours, numbers etc. We have a tradition that every birthday, Christmas he gets books as a gift. It is never too early to introduce your child to books.

Jane Mitchell (Spain): Be confident in your choices and if your children aren't accepting of your language for whatever reason, persevere. But at the same time be as natural as possible and your children won't know that what they are doing is really extraordinary.

Carrie Frais (Spain): Don’t stress too much about it. Ifyour children are of average intelligence, they will assimilate the language, but at their own pace. I have known friends whose children were teenagers when they came to Catalunya and within a year they were more or less up to speed in their classes. It is because we are seeing their situation from our own perspective and imagine things to be much more challenging than I think they really are.

Wendy Blakeman (France) I would say that if you have 2 languages in the family then use them from birth without any hesitation. I know a family who only spoke French at home when the father was English, subsequently their two children could not speak anything but a few words of English - not a problem when they were living in France but now they have moved to the UK and the children are really struggling- it will come but it will always be a 'second' language to them rather than a natural language and we think that is a real shame. If your children are very young then definitely expose them to the local language as soon as possible so it's not odd / strange or unusual for them when they start school, if it's seen as normal to hear other languages they will pick it up easily. I know a number of families who have brought their children to France at a much older age - it may be hard at first but as soon as they make friends you will be amazed at how quickly they will pick it up - friends are the key, play dates, sleep overs, fun activities; extra lessons may help but it's not the same as playing / hanging out with friends - I would say its the parents responsibility to invite as many 'new friends' over as much as possible !

Laura Wood (Italy):  Patience is the key and also not forcing the child to speak to you in one language over another.  Even if they are not speaking to you in the other language purely by speaking to them in that language means they have the opportunity to learn and understand.  Give them access to the language outside of you as the main speaker.  Be it songs, TV, story tapes or other people if possible.  Play games in the other language but above all show them that so many different languages are spoken around the world and how special it is to hear other languages and to speak other languages.