I am a Greek, born, living and working in France, married to an Albanian woman, working all day in English.

I have a 2,5 year old daughter, who lived from:

  • September 2014 to April 2015 and
  • February 2014 to April 2014

in Albania (11 months, approx. 36% of her lifespan), where people only talked albanian to her.

I speak only French with my child, BUT I only speak Greek with my wife, because she refuses to speak French with me, because she is insecure in French. Yet, my wife speaks Albanian to my child.

These facts lead to the circumstance, that the language development of my child seems a bit delayed, because she doesn't yet make three word sentences.

Though I am a little worried about her language development, I want to know, if there is a problem if I also start speaking English to her on a regular basis, since I heard that children are capable growing up learning different languages.

Is there something like a burnout/depression danger in children? Since I can see it in her eyes that she wants to communicate but is not able to and I can see it bothering her a lot.

Should I cut my communication with my daughter down to only French? Should I cut it down to speaking Greek with her, since this is the language I speak with her mother every day? Or should I just continue mixing everything up? Or can I even start speaking English with her?

I don't want her to struggle to the point of extreme frustration, but if this means that in the end, her language development will catch up to normal kids, I am inclined to let her struggle a bit. So are there any longterm deficits for her, if I introduce English?

Please advice.


  • 3
    I don't really have an answer to your question, but I just wanted to say that I envy the linguistic diversity that your child is exposed to! I have read that children exposed to multiple languages can exhibit delayed language development, but they will catch up and (my opinion) will be better for it in the long run. Jun 25, 2015 at 19:45
  • That made my head spin, it almost needs a diagram! One thing I was told is that if you don't speak a language well then speaking to child in it can teach them bad habits. So if your wife's lack of confidence in French is justified it probably makes sense for her to stick with Albanian. Mar 6, 2020 at 21:39

2 Answers 2


Since I can see it in her eyes that she wants to communicate but is not able to and I can see it bothering her a lot.

One of the Amerind languages was reputed to be so hard that native children weren't fluently competent until about age 8. It is possible that if a child needs to speak 4 languages, it will take longer before they reach competency in all of them (or the first).

I did baby sign with my toddler until he started talking. Wrapping your tongue around the words is hard. As soon as he started talking, he stopped signing. (He's learning English primarily and a little Tagalog and Russian)

It's all about exposure. The languages where you don't get enough exposure will degrade to receptive ability alone. Personally I think that still counts as resource because if someone needs to upgrade their skill from receptive to fluent in adulthood, it will be easier than if they knew none of the language at all.

Also, this is more than 2 languages-- if you can come up with "system" for when to speak each language, that helps. For example, language X outside of the house, language Y when reading and watching TV, language Z in mixed company. I don't think the mixing is a problem, in the Philippines, language mixing is an obligatory part of the language. I think the issue is that if you don't have a system for switching, you can easily end up in the same language all the time.

The ability to acquire the next language just by hearing it degrades continually from age 0 to 18 or so. The old rule of thumb was age 4, now the answer is more complicated-- kids can move to a new language community and be accent free up to about age 6 or 12.

The practical upper limit for learning languages by growing up surrounded by them is about 6 for communities where the entire community is multilingual. ref: http://www.amazon.com/Babel-No-More-Extraordinary-Language/dp/1451628269

What could possibly go wrong? This seems to be the underlying question in these sort of questions (and the answers)

People who for social and cultural reasons are palpably afraid of the implications of speaking more than one language around kids-- they don't have a leg to stand on. So far, I've only read about children who have unstable lives where they keep moving one one monolingual community to another and dropping the old language and not quite learning the next-- those kids can end up fluent in no particular language. To really confuse children (my parents won't stop talking about my toddler being confused), you need colossal poverty, chaos and so on.

Also, make sure you kids understand you best language or you understand fluently their best language. There are cases of parents who end up unable to speak to their children in any language because they tried to hard to make sure their kids spoke the community language alone and the parent never had time to learn the community language.

My opinion is that it is a parent's job to teach their kids the languages necessary to fit in with the world they will grow up in. If you kid will be working the international bureaucracies, international sales and so on like it sounds like you do, they you should feel obliged to teach them as many languages as they might need to know. To pull off 4 languages, or even three, you may need to put some thought into fitting enough exposure into the daily schedule to give the child enough input to gain fluency.

  • Thank you Matthew, I decided to systemize my daughers language development with the following adjustments, based on your input: 1. At home I am going to speak Greek to her, since this is the language I speak with my wife. 2. French is going to be used only outside for the moment, since the exposure will come naturally through TV and kindergarden and school later on. 3. English exposure will be increased by me, through scheduling reading sessions in English. 4. Albanian will most likely decline, since I don't know Albanian. Thank you, Hope for your input on these adjustments. Jun 26, 2015 at 14:43

I'm a kid from parents living abroad. Anecdotally, I myself forgot my parents language. My nephew moved to another country 10 years ago at age of 8 and now cannot speak his native language.

Your daughter will speak French PERIOD, since it's what she will listen at daycare, school and friends.

Letting her be exposed to other languages at early age is not that good because:

  1. If you don't keep speaking with her every day she will forget it.

  2. She can develop some diction issues and will need a phonoaudiologist help as she grows up

I suggest you and you wife to speak in French ONLY at home.
In time as your daughter grows she will speak French better than you both and she will even help your wife to get more confident on French.

Of course as she grows up and achieves fluency in French and demonstrates interest, you can teach her another language.

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