I speak Italian while my partner speaks Korean and we speak English between us. The community language is French. We were thinking to raise a tri-lingual child (0-years old now) with a 'One Person One Language' - 'Minority Language at Home' mixed approach.

In practice, to the child I would speak only Italian while my partern only Korean while keeping going to speak English between us. Do you think that the child will be able to pick up Italian like as a speak-with-father language, Korean as a speak-with-mother language and English as a speak-with-family language?

Also note that the nanny will probably speak mostly Italian to him.

Do you think that it would be more effective if I would speak English, my partner Korean and the nanny Italian?


3 Answers 3


I have no personal experience in being raised in a multilingual home, but I had some exposure to more than one language since I was a little boy. My mother taught me lyrics from french songs as early as when I was 5 and my parents also bought me an english course with cartoons and exercises (all english, no subtitles or anything) when I was around 7 or 8, and I loved it despite not understanding anything at first.

The result: I'm extremely at ease with learning languages (and I dominate english even if it's not my native one). In fact, most of my best grades were in foreign language classes. Also in fact, I love languages, and I'm currently learning German and Japanese on my own (I'll learn Greek and Russian one of these days).

I would say you shouldn't be that worried about it. The kid will probably pick up the languages at home as time goes by since birth, and then the language of his friends which will probably be the same as the one at school, and will likely be able to speak them all, or at least learn them easily. My take would be that you should speak whatever comes naturally, regardless of the child being around or not.

Don't underestimate children's ability and willingness to learn, really (too many people do that these days).

Consider this document: http://www.learninglandscapes.ca/images/documents/ll-no13/byers-heinlein.pdf


Your child will probably have a much harder time picking up English if it is only spoken between you and your wife and never directed at the child. So I would definitely go for you speaking English to your child, your nanny speaking Italian to the child, and your partner speaking Korean with your child.

You should try to balance the hours for each language as much as possible, both the hours your child is spoken to in a certain language and the hours the child speaks in a certain language (once it starts speaking).

We speak Dutch and French at home with our children with a bit of English sometimes and we live in a German-speaking environment. My children are 3 and 5 years old and are both fluent in 3 languages. My eldest also understands and speaks quite a bit of English.


Do you think that it would be more effective if I would speak English, my partner Korean and the nanny Italian?

My recommendation is to speak to the child in the (most) native language of the parent-speaker when approaching OPOL (also see my motivation here). Secondly make sure the child is sufficiently exposed to the language. Annika Bourgogne recommends a minimum 25 hours per week of human interaction/dialogue in each language the child is learning (this is in her book "Be Bilingual", I am quoting the minimum hours by heart). I would take these two criteria in mind when deciding to speak English to your child: do you speak English fluently and would you expose the child sufficient in English? If not, I would recommend you benefit from the Italian speaking nanny and have her reinforce Italian. Together you would make sure the child is sufficiently exposed.

The basis of my recommendation:

Our family situation is somewhat similar: when our first child was born we stuck to OPOL, which both were minority languages. Together my wife and I speak English, which the majority language where we live. At 2.5 years our nanny joined who speaks English with our children. At the time our son was already fluent in both our languages, and within 2 weeks or so after the nanny joined he also started using English. It was quite clear that he had learned English passively from listening to his parents. He did not speak it fluently at the beginning but now a few years later he does as it is the majority language where we live thus he is well exposed.

When our second child was born our family was tri-lingual and our first born continued to manage this well. Our second born had to deal with three languages from the start and managed. At 3 years our second child has a very strong preference to speak the majority language (English), but does understand all three languages well.

Which also comes to my last recommendation: when you are dealing with so many languages (I counted 4 in your situation) you are likely to see a big variance in results among children. Some children will make it look like a breeze (like our first born) and others will struggle (like our second born), make sure you are prepared for the last category and have plenty of exposure to the languages that will be most important to the child. For example, our children have formal education in both the minority languages in addition to their usual education in the majority language. I do wonder how important French will be to your child, as in your question you don't indicate how and when you will expose the child to French.

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