Have you been bringing up your children with multiple languages at the same time since childhood? What is your result? This means your family has the foreign environment to often communicate each others, not just let your children go to school to learn foreign language but don't use at home. Usually this case will happen if

  • Parents/GrandParents/Relatives know foreign languages and would like to teach children
  • Family is living in foreign country

According to news from internet, there are some places on the world like Singapore, India etc people usually have been using some languages at the same times since childhood. So this is possible to do, right? And how many languages can be taught maximum at the same times for children, maybe 3-4 languagues?

  • 1
    We are raising our kid in two (3?) language and have friends that do it to. Each parent speak it's own native language to the kid. It will take a bit longer for the child to learn, this mean that parents need to talk more than the average (which ends up a good thing).
    – the_lotus
    May 20, 2015 at 16:54

4 Answers 4


My husband speaks German with our children. He allows them to respond in a mix of German and English. (We live in the U.S.) I speak Spanish with my children. I used to make them respond to me in Spanish, but when my older one went to college, that started to slip with him. (It was a miracle to get him to return calls at all....) However, sometimes he does still talk to me in Spanish, especially if he's in a public place, talking on his cell phone, and would like a bit of privacy.

My younger son started to slip about two years ago when he had some school trauma related to his Tourette Syndrome. But he can still answer in Spanish when I insist, or if the thought he is thinking just happens to have some concepts he learned entirely in a Spanish-speaking context.

I read a Smithsonian article that said that English is a predatory language. I think that's true. My two children used to talk a mixture of 80% Spanish and 20% German that I called "Germish" with each other. But lately it's been 90% English. Sigh.

My first child mixed like crazy until around age 3 he started to sort things out. My second child hardly mixed at all.

When my older son was age 1 to 5, we were living in France, and he learned English at part-time family day care, and begin speaking French when he was 3. We moved to the U.S. when he was turning 5, and that was the end of French!

Based on this experience, I think that it would probably be possible for a child to understand well with more than four. But things get complicated. There are logistics to figure out, and there is stress for everyone involved. We kept a log book that went back and forth to day care with child #1, with his growing vocabulary, so the poor woman would stand a chance at understanding his mishmash!

We did it so that each parent would feel a close connection to the children. The ability to communicate with monolingual relatives is certainly a plus! (We sent child#1 to English-speaking day care because English is the common language my husband and I share.)

We do feel happy with the approach we took, i.e. it was worth the trouble! My husband says he has an easier time sharing his sense of humor with the children when he talks to them in his native language.

Edit to answer @CreationEdge question.

I didn't have that issue of the Smithsonian magazine handy so I checked the web. Here's a quote:

"Having achieved global domination, the English language ... is now used more by second language users (over one billion) than first( about 380 million).... English [is] a "predatory" language according to Catalan author and translator Teresa Solana.... According to sociologist Ruben Rumbaut, North America has proven for centuries to be a language graveyard where immigrant families' native language is almost always lost by the third generation." From Language of the Heart, Van der Berg

It might be easier to understand if we look at this example: in Mexico, there are still rural pockets where an indigenous language is still the primary language, but the number of speakers of these languages is shrinking as Spanish takes over. Yes, in that context, Spanish is a predatory language!

  • 5
    What on Earth is a predatory language? Does it hunt other languages for dinner?
    – user11394
    May 20, 2015 at 23:46
  • The story of your family was so interesting. So, how to defend other languages from "predatory language" if children have to use "predatory language" in school and society? Everyday we keep communicating with them by un-predatory languages, right? May 23, 2015 at 12:50
  • @CreationEdge Clearly, predatory languages eat up languages spoken around it! Actually, the expression is awesome now that I try to explain it: the "prey"-language gets swallowed up, part of it vanishes, part is incorporated into the predator. English has taken words from SO many other languages, when you think about it.
    – Layna
    Aug 3, 2017 at 12:25
  • I've always wanted to ask someone who does the one parent-one language routine. In what language do the parents speak to each other, especially in the presence of the child? If it's one of the 2 languages, does the child learn that one better? If its another, 3rd language, how much of it does the child learn? In the latter case, does the child feel left out because the parents are speaking in their "private" language?
    – learner101
    Aug 4, 2017 at 8:44

I have limited experience, but I also remember reading about some research on this. The most frequent situation is that father and mother have different native languages and use these to communicate with the children. This works very well. The children learn both languages properly. An interesting phenomenon is that the children tend to get angry if the wrong parent uses the wrong language. I believe this is in part because children value high-quality linguistic input.

Children with two native languages are slower in their language acquisition, but generally not less competent in either language in the end.

If you throw in a maid or grandparent speaking a third language, three (or perhaps even more) native languages are possible as well. But the important point here is that it's only really effective if it happens in natural communication situations.

For instance, at the age of four my daughter attended a nursery in England for a year. Nobody there spoke her native language (German), and after a year she was fully fluent in English, almost on a native level suitable for her age. But I am sure that attending an English-speaking nursery in Germany would not have had the same effect because there would have been too much German around. The same idea applies to a single person close to a child. If this person can communicate only in one language, then the child will pick up this language rather quickly. If the person is bilingual and just trying to teach a new language to the child, this is unlikely to do much.

  • I generally agree (+1), but here's an exception: A friend of mine raised his first child with Esperanto until Kindergarten, while his wife only spoke her native Serbo-Croatian with the child. In Kindergarten, the child learned German (within weeks) and then used mostly that. The second child spoke Esperanto with the father, Serbo-Croatian with the mother, and German with the sibling. Both children speak and write all the languages, plus English and some French, both learned in school.
    – sbi
    May 25, 2015 at 8:38
  • I'm a bit puzzled how you consider this an exception. Maybe I overstated something without noticing?
    – user13408
    May 25, 2015 at 10:23
  • Except for those kids, I know nobody for whom Esperanto is a first language. It certainly wasn't for my friend, yet he did this.
    – sbi
    May 25, 2015 at 14:47
  • Oh, I only now realized that I must have read your "But the important point here is that it's only really effective if it happens in natural communication situations." as the common advice to not to try to teach your children a language that's not native to you. I apologize for the confusion I caused by that.
    – sbi
    May 25, 2015 at 14:50
  • That's funny, I thought I wrote a comment about "the children tend to get angry if the wrong parent uses the wrong language," but now I don't see it. Oh well. I was going to say that at my house everyone finds it charming for the mother (me) or the father to make that extra effort to say something in the other's language. And generally there's at least one amusing mistake that can be laughed gently at. The child's reaction is "my German/Spanish is soo much better than yours!" in other words, it's a fun ego booster for the child. May 31, 2015 at 4:04

My husband and I are raising our children as multilinguals. I speak my native language Swedish with them, he speaks his native language English with them, and we live in Finland where they learn Finnish from baby sitters, friends, and the environment. I addition to this, they also take Spanish lessons via Skype. At this moment they speak Swedish and English equally well. My husband and I speak English with each other and with most of the guests that come to our home and the children go to a Swedish-speaking school. They also attend classes in English as a native language at their school (if at least four students in the city have requested native education in a certain language, the school will attempt to find a teacher for this language). The children will usually speak Swedish with each other, but will occasionally switch to English. Both my husband and I care very much about our language and will not allow the children to speak anything other than our native language with us. They have occasionally tried, but know that it will not work and will switch to the language that the parent speaks.

Our children have the advantage of living in a multilingual society where knowing multiple languages is not frowned upon, but more or less expected. Thus they have no reason to want to hide their language skills from their friends. This may be a problem in certain parts of more unilingual societies such as the United States. The attitude in the environment of the child towards speaking multiple languages is something that is most important and may be overlooked. In a place where multilingualism is frowned upon (especially by the children's class- and playmates) one possible solution would be to attempt to surround your family with bi- or multilingual friends and aquintances. If being bilingual is the norm in the immediate environment, the children will feel left out if they do NOT speak multiple languages and will be more motivated to learn. If the goal in simply to have the children learn any foreign language and not a specific one, one solution could be to attempt to find a language that will be seen as a high-status language in the immediate environment of the child, so that peer pressure will not interfere with the language learning process.

Children will also frequently do as you do and not as you say, so if your children observe you trying to learn a foreign language they will be more likely to want to do it themselves. My children, for example, got inspired to start learing Spanish when they saw me taking italki lessons in Spanish via Skype.


Yes, it is absolutely possible for children to learn to speak in few different languages. I have seen 5 year children learning 3 different languages effortlessly. We live in English speaking country now. I talk to my daughter in my mother tongue so my parents can speak to their grand daughter and vice versa. My daughter is fluent in speaking in 2 languages.

She is 6 year old now and as soon as she comes home from School she communicates in English but after few deliberate attempts from me and my wife she starts to speak in our mother tongue.

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