I know two languages: My 'mother tongue' and English. I used to speak my mother tongue until I moved to an English-speaking country at the age of 8. Consequently, my mother tongue is at the level of a typical 8 year old i.e. I'm not very articulate, and I'm unable to express myself clearly and concisely in my mother tongue. When I'm speaking my mother tongue, I find that I use the grammar of my mother tongue, but English verbs and nouns.

Anyway, I have been speaking my mother tongue at home with my parents, and English with my friends, so my baby (fetus) has been exposed to both languages in equal amounts. Which language should I use to communicate with her once she is born? I'm comfortable with 'baby talk' in both languages, but what about when she is older? My mother tongue feels more 'natural', however, my vocabulary is limited, while my grammar is perfect. With English, my vocabulary is wider, but I still do tend to make grammatical mistakes occasionally. Even if I use my mother tongue, it will be interspersed with many English words, because I'm simply not fluent enough. With English, I can clearly communicate without mixing languages - My vocabulary is at the level of a native speaker.

In addition, I will be homeschooling her, teaching her to read and write. I do not know how to read or write in my mother tongue - I don't even know how to read or write the alphabet. With English, I can obviously read and write.

What do you recommend? I want her to grow up speaking both languages fluently - a true bilingual - unlike me, I feel like I only know one and a half languages, not two languages, if that makes sense.

*The reason that I'm illiterate in my mother tongue is because I went to a 'foreign or English school' in my home country. I've been speaking, reading and writing English since I was 5 years old.

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    Please keep comments civil and on-topic. Tangential discussions can be taken to Parenting Chat or Parenting Meta.
    – Acire
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 11:17
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    Is there another parent, and which language would he/she prefer? Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 17:12
  • That might depend on whether or not you want your kid to be bilingual and possibly where you live. Maybe I skipped over the part where you say what your mother tongue is, but perhaps you live in Siberia and your mother tongue is Sioux. You are probably better off just going with English.
    – Kai Qing
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 21:08
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    my 2 cents: I really think I lost something when my mother did not teach me Friulan together with Italian. English is taught everywhere, even in non-English speaking countries. Not so for your mother tongue. I'd be sure to teach everything I know to my sons even if it's not that good. Then they may decide to learn more.
    – Bakuriu
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 10:07
  • Children are able to learn multiple mother languages up to the age of 7 I've heard. After that any languages learnt will be second languages. Expose your child to both. When they are older they might reject the non-English language but at least they had the choice. It will not harm them at all to learn part of a language they never use but if they want to learn it in later life it will be harder if they have no basics to add to.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 12:46

9 Answers 9


Your child will learn the language from you, so if you are only somewhat capable in a language, your child will also become only somewhat capable. Since your are living in an English speaking country, I would suggest you teach her English as a mother tongue as she will not be able to become fluent in your own mother tongue without an outside tutor. And such a tutor would probably not be able to speak with her enough to teach it as a mother tongue. That would be better to do once the child is fluent in English.

For reference, where I live children learn 3 or more languages and teaching the second and third one begins at around 12 years of age. Children who actually use these languages will become fluent in them (I'm not a native English speaker, but it doesn't really show) but if you don't use them, they will fade away (I am no longer able to maintain a conversation in the two other languages I was taught)

So if you want a true bilingual, encourage your parents to speak with the child in their native tongue even after being tutored, so she will keep knowledge. (Assuming the child is interested)

Finally, it goes without saying that you cannot teach something you don't know. So if you want to teach your child to read and write in your native tongue, you'll need to learn it yourself or ask someone else to teach them. I would suggest learning it yourself so you can practice it with the child.

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    "Your child will learn the language from you, so if you are only somewhat capable in a language, your child will also become only somewhat capable." I somewhat disagree. When I stayed in Japan, the family I was with was composed of a mother and father who spoke about 200 words of English, and a son fluent in the language enough to enjoy the works of Shakespeare. There are more ways for kids to learn languages than through parents and teachers.
    – Cat
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 4:15
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    @Eric, it is somewhat dependent on the language. English is easy to learn online because it's completely dominant on the internet and it's one of the most widely used languages in the world. Ukrainian, for example, wouldn't be as easy. I'm currently learning Russian. I've found it quite surprising how sparse the internet is with quality material on learning Russian.
    – Tyler
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 6:20
  • @Tyler I tend to agree, but we should be careful of overgeneralizing. Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, and English are all pretty easy to pick up in online or purchased media.
    – Cat
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 6:33
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    I also disagree. If you want to keep your baby closed at home then he/she will only learn the language from the parents. But if they go out they'll be exposed to the language(s) of the country they live in and small children's brains are like sponges. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 8:13
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    @Eric: if the child is left to their own devices at some age they will learn languages based on what people speak where they socialize (online or offline), but there is no reason to assume it will the language their parents want them to be fluent in.
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 8:23

I agree with Erik's answer but I'd like to add a few things.

Since you seem to speak your mother tongue with your parents, they are probably fluent in it? Have them speak your mother tongue with your child, only translating into English if the child doesn't seem to understand. I know a few people who's grown up learning a second language by speaking it with their grandparents. You could also chip in and help the child learn basic words by using the "grandma/grandpa says it like this"-method. "It's a car, but grandma says [insert word here]".

Additionally if any courses are offered in the language near you, the child could learn the reading/writing part there, or maybe the child could learn that from the grandparents as well?

  • I always say everything in both languages! "Mother tongue" and then english. That way the kid can understand both languages natively. Also +1 for taking language classes. You will learn too!
    – user61034
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 15:31

There is no reason why you would not speak to your baby your native language. Your baby is bright and learns languages without knowing it, as babies do not think about this thing:) My little one repeats English (we live in Ireland), he repeats Slovak (myself) and also spanish (daddy). No issues, he actively watches programmes in all three languages and again he has not issues with that. You are the mother, you can watch with him and answer his questions. The same for this daddy and I must only say that with his 20 months, he is 3 lingual:)


Personally I have grown up bilingually and on top of that went to an English school and having read in the past through research regarding bilingualism in children I think it's fair to say that it's a huge advantage in many different ways: not only does it open up more paths later on in life, but purely from a cognitive point of view it helps a lot as well. To just quote the wikipedia article on the topic:

Being bilingual has been linked to a number of cognitive benefits. Research has studied how a bilingual individual's L1 first language (L1) and second language (L2) interact, and has shown that both languages have an influence on the function of one another, and also on cognitive function outside of language. Research on the cognitive advantages to linguistic development, perception, and attentional and inhibitory control has shown that bilinguals can benefit from significant cognitive advantages over monolingual peers in various settings.

So if you're capable to teach the kid your mother tongue whilst he also learns English as his primary language that will be great, but your concern that he won't learn your mother tongue correctly is definitely valid. There are ways however that can help a lot with that:

  • Get him/her to spend time with your grandparents
  • Get him/her to watch television in your mother tongue (and once he's old enough possibly subtitled in English)
  • Spend holidays in your home country

Additionally it's not like you're limited to one language whilst communicating to your kid. After summer holidays we would often communicate primarily in my mothers tongue for two months or so, whilst the rest of the time it was primarily the local tongue (70-80% local tongue, 30-20% mother tongue I would estimate).

The very rare danger of this is that a child will have trouble to differentiate between languages, I have seen this in the primary school department of my old international school, however this is normally caused by children moving a lot between countries. The reason I explicitly mention this is because you pointed out your use of English nouns in your mother tongue, greatly increasing the likelihood that he will mix things up like that as well without realizing he's doing this. As far as you're able to you should really try to do that as minimally as possible in the early stages of learning the language. Once one reaches the point where a clear differentiation is made between the languages it's perfectly fine (though of course speaking the language correctly will teach him more of it, but it's not going to cause active harm to his ability to learn and speak the language correctly later).


A child can learn to speak two languages natively. If you are able to give the child a chance of learning both languages natively, that could be an advantage later.

So if your mother tongue would be useful for your child to learn, then I would say you speak your mother tongue to the child. Since you are living in an English speaking country, you can expect most other people to be speaking English to your child. Because of that you can expect your child to learn English as a native tongue even without you speaking it to your child yourself.

But if you do so, you should also follow through on it. And that means you will need to get somebody else to be teaching your mother tongue to your child once it is time to learn to read and write.

Whether homeschooling is a good idea depends on factors which you did not include in your question.

I can't tell from your question how well integrated you are in the society where you are currently living. Foreigners never getting fully integrated in the society in which they live often happens, either by choice or by lack of ability to fully adapt to local language and customs.

If there is a risk that your child may end up as an outsider to society, you would do your child a favor by preventing that. You should allow your child to not just speak English natively but also to be a native. You do that best by letting your child interact with other natives, and going to a regular school is a large part of that.

Another reason homeschooling might not be a good idea is, that by your own admission, you don't know your mother tongue well enough to take care of the teaching all on your own.

It is not entirely clear from your question, whether your knowledge of English grammar is good enough to be teaching the language. Of course everybody makes grammatical mistakes occasionally, even natives. Since you mention it in your question, it is clear that you don't consider your own mastering of the English grammar to be as good as the natives. But at the same time you are clearly mastering it well enough to write a well formulated question in which I didn't spot any grammatical mistakes.

But of course taking an interest in your child's education is a good trait as a parent. To the extent you are able to teach your own child you should do so. Just remember that the child also need to interact with other children and other adults to learn to be a part of society. And remember that nobody knows everything. You should identify those subjects in which your own knowledge is at a level where it is better to let somebody else teach it to your child.

  • I don't see where the OP says they don't know English well enough to teach in it ("vocabulary is at the level of a native speaker"), and also as a foreigner seems to be a stretch. Can you clarify those points?
    – Acire
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 12:20
  • @Erica The question says "I still do tend to make grammatical mistakes occasionally". That statement could be read different ways, I did see that as admitting to not know the language well enough to be teaching it, but it might be that's not how it was meant. The foreigner part may have been worded a bit too strongly on my part. It was intended as a warning, mostly because it wasn't clear from the question how well integrated this person is in society.
    – kasperd
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 12:35
  • @Erica Sounds better now?
    – kasperd
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 13:10
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    Absolutely speak as many languages as you know. Small children pick up languages innately, adults not so much. I really wish I'd been around more languages as a small child...
    – neminem
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 16:16

Same boat. I can talk, read and speak in my mother tongue but my vocabulary is limited. What I can recommend is to see this as an opportunity to relearn your mother tongue. See this as an opportunity to bond with your child.

What I did was I looked for books, movies and music in my mother tongue. Going though of them together was fun because it was one of rare scenarios where both parent and child are on equal footing. We'd laugh together over our mistakes and teach each other.


Use whichever feels comfortable. You don't need to overthink this.

I'm a mom raising my toddler in a bilingual home with my husband, and I also used to agonise over which language and her being bilingual and how to balance both languages, but you really don't need to think too hard about it.

Just use whichever language you feel like on the day. For an infant (younger than one year old) the goal is really to establish a bond with your child and get into routine of having a new baby in the house. You have enough to worry about without thinking about balancing the languages too. Some days you may feel like English, other days your mother tongue. There's time for language learning later, you really don't need to worry about the details now. The only real advice is to not switch languages mid-sentence or code switch too much.

I used to speak to her in both English and Afrikaans, to give her the sense of the way the languages feel, how they sound, and the rhythm of them. Now that my daughter is older and getting more time with her papa, she gets enough Afrikaans from him and I speak mostly English.

Even if you do homeschool, you can learn with your daughter. Your vocabulary will improve with hers. She can talk to your parents. Nonetheless, you don't know what's going to happen in the future. School is years away. And you can figure those things out and make those decisions later, now is not the time to worry about those things.

One thing we do now with my two-year-old which works great (especially in lockdown at home), is we ask the grandparents on both sides of the family to record videos of them reading to our daughter in their native languages, or to read to her over skype. The videos are great because we can re-play them at other times and she just loves to see her grandparents. This also gets her additional exposure to the languages, and our parents speak much more properly than we do.


My guess: you are from India!

It is always better to integrate the child into the local society. If you think she would someday return to your motherland, then bring her up in your mother tongue. Else, bring her up in English. Am also a residing away from the language area i was born in; my children faced quite some tough times while growing up, what with four (!) languages spoken in their vicinity. They still managed. I brought them up in my mother tongue, because someday they would be going back.


I think many people have responded some have recommended to speak in english only but research shows that there is no disadvantage to expose your child and teach them two languages compared to monolingual native speakers. Here is source highly recommend for bilingual parents:


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    The OP is concerned about proficiency in their native language, hence the hesitation. Can you address that issue? Also, it would be helpful to include some key points from your link in case the link 'breaks'/etc. That's policy on all SE sites. Thanks! Commented May 21, 2019 at 11:13

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