My husband and I are native speakers of 2 different Languages. Lets say mine is A and his is B. We both can speak and understand the other language - with varying fluencies. He speaks my native language (A) better than I speak his, so we speak "A" at home. It's become the dominant language for us now. So our child will definitely first learn A, and probably learn it the best. His parents though, speak only his native language - B, and we'd want our child to be able to communicate with them comfortably when we/they visit. So that's the story of A and B.

Now, we have just recently moved to Italy with our 4 month old. Once we get her into a day care and play groups, she'll naturally pick up Italian. That's already 3 languages. But we may not always be in Italy, and when we move to an English speaking country, we don't want her to be at a disadvantage. Especially if we move once she's a little older, and unable to learn a new language as easily as a toddler would. So we'd like to try and teach her English too, at which we are both quite proficient.

Is it too much of a burden on her to teach her English this early too? If not, how do we go about incorporating both English and our secondary language B into her everyday life? (I'm not asking specifically about language A and Italian, because I figure those will happen naturally)

  • I'm not a linguist, but I wonder if the languages in question belonging to the same language family or having similar structuring would make any difference. Since we don't have any information about languages A and B, may be you could give us these details. – learner101 Mar 6 at 13:02
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    So English is not the native language of either of you, and it wouldn't be used in daily life while you're still in Italy. How would she learn it at all? – Remco Mar 6 at 13:23
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    I like both of the answers you have here: basically yes, it will be harder for your daughter to keep the languages she’s learning distinct if you hit her with 4 at once. But she should learn the first three easily enough, getting them consistently from three different sources. Then learning another additional language later will be easier. I would recommend starting English when she’s still young though (5-7 years old maybe) so she can learn the pronunciation before her phonetic architecture sets up. – MAA Mar 9 at 22:29
  • You should teach as many languages as you can. It's easier when you're younger. Kids are smarter than you at that age when it comes to language comprehension. They can pick up the language without you even trying to teach it to them. – LateralTerminal Mar 15 at 16:23

Most of the parenting resources say that it's easier for babies to learn different languages if each person who interacts with them stick to one particular language. I found this true from my experience (Daughter speaks 3 native languages fluently apart from English from school/friends). So I'd suggest you talk to her in A and your husband in B. Don't worry about English and Italian at this stage. She will, as you say, pick up Italian from daycare.

For English, it's great if you can have someone who speaks to her in English on a regular basis. If not, it's better to wait till she can understand and respond to you in A and B so that she won't get confused with either of you speaking a new language. You can then incorporate a few English words in your conversation or show her some TV shows/movies (according to her age) which can help her understand and speak a few words. Kids pick up languages and accents faster than grown ups so you need not worry about how she will adjust if you shift to an English speaking country.

While I don't have personal experience to share, there is scientific evidence that bilingual babies learn additional languages faster.

I would therefore advise that you each teach the baby your native language, which is the standard recommendation. The fact that she'll probably pick up a third language at school is a bonus, not a worry. And if she needs to learn English later in life, it sounds like she'll already have a head-start on other kids, even without learning it explicitly now.

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