My wife and I speak English together because I don't understand her language and she doesn't speak mine, although we are both fluent in English.

We're having our first baby son soon and we were wondering is there any way we can teach 3 languages?

English will be the main house language first reason you already know it. Second reason because we're moving to an English speaking country.

I want to teach him my language so he can communicate with my parents and my wife wants to teach him her language so he can communicate with hers, is there any way around this? How can we start and what's the easiest way to do that?

  • 6
    If you're moving to an English-speaking location, don't worry about speaking English to the baby; there's no way they won't get it automatically. More important is to for them to learn your and your partner's languages, which won't be learned unless you both use them. It's perfectly possible, indeed quite common, for a kid to learn a daddy language and a mommy language, and other languages as needed, simultaneously -- as long as everybody accepts the situation as normal. Kids can always tell mommy from daddy, and this is just another characteristic, as far as they can tell.
    – jlawler
    Sep 29, 2015 at 20:54
  • 1
    Objection. A baby won't learn the "language of the location" unless exposed to it on a regular basis. Depending on the circumstances, that might not really happen until kindergarten, or worse, elementary school. I have seen too many migrant's children having a really hard time understanding the most basic things the teacher said because their parents could not, or could not be bothered, to teach them the "language of the location". And I shudder to think what could happen to a kid that age that cannot understand, nor make itself be understood, by the people on the street.
    – DevSolar
    Oct 22, 2015 at 14:02

3 Answers 3


The usual advice is to use the one-person-one-language rule. You speak exclusively your mother tongue to your child, your wife does the same. You have to act like you don't understand English or your child will catch on and switch to what ever their strongest language is, probably English, if you are in an English community.

Rely on the community to teach English, camps, daycare, babysitters, etc. If the community doesn't teach English (i.e. you aren't in an English speaking community), then decide on a protocol that you are comfortable with for when to use which-- for example, using English outside the house and your respective mother tongues at home, or what ever you can do consistently.

We don't know what it takes to get kids to be fluent in multiple languages, we do know what consistently fails: speaking English with your wife, to your children, and in the community, while throwing in an occasional flavor word from the minority language (i.e. the non-community one). Your question was brief, but you have the seed of the outline of language extinction in your plan. I grew up in the US, in the last 3 generations of my family upward of 12 languages died (weren't passed on to the next generation). Fighting language extinction takes, sometimes, the determination of an eccentric.


7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child http://www.amazon.com/7-Steps-Raising-Bilingual-Child/dp/0814400469/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1444857104&sr=8-1&keywords=raise+child+bilingual

Raising a Bilingual Child http://www.amazon.com/Raising-Bilingual-Child-Living-Language/dp/1400023343/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1444857104&sr=8-3&keywords=raise+child+bilingual


It would be sort of hard for a child in that context to not grow up as a primary English speaker, so the question is how to also develop abilities in the parental languages, esp. when the parents don't speak the other's language. Direct instruction is completely useless: children pick up languages from the fact of it being spoken (and used at them). It's pretty common for children to learn both parental languages (even if each parent speaks only one language), it the language is spoken in the country of residence. So for example, a child could learn Hausa and Yoruba growing up in Nigeria -- but it is much more difficult if they are growing up in the US. Apart from you frequently speaking to your child in, say, Turkmen, one needs some element of social / language reinforcement, in the form of visits to the local Turkmen immigrant community where the language is frequently used. A monolingual grandparent is extremely useful in that respect.


MatthewMartin's answer should work fairly well.

My girlfriend grew up in a similar situation. She spoke french with her mother and mother's family, italian with her father and his family, attended a french school and lived in an english community. She actually became most fluent in English (written, spoken, and heard), fluent in french, and could understand italian very well and speak it with some hesitation.

I would suggest bringing in books in both yours and your wife's languages in order to assist with learning reading and writing.

No matter how fluent your child become in each language, exposure to the languages from a young age will only make it easier for them to expand their learning later in life, should they so choose. Anything you can do will be helpful.

You must log in to answer this question.