Note: I am going to use 3rd person plural pronouns (e.g. "they", "their") when referring to my child as I think gender is not important here.


My wife and I are using the One-parent-one-language (English & Hungarian) approach to raising our child bilingual (since their birth) in a country where my wife's language (English) is the official language. I am the only one who speaks Hungarian in our environment (house and community), besides the occasional video-call to my parents. As our child did not start speaking until after we started wondering whether their non-speech has any other causes besides the two languages being used, to encourage their speech, I did not "demand" Hungarian to be spoken to me (essentially interpreting the child's English words as if they were spoken in Hungarian). Our child is now 2-and-a-half years old. I am spending about 30% of my child's awake time with them (more on weekends, less on weekdays).

This approach was effective enough that our child understands both languages, but when speaking, they prefer English (which is to be expected, given the above). They do use Hungarian words sporadically in their sentences (mostly ones they do not seem to know the English equivalent of, and mostly nouns).

My wife is fully supportive of our approach and goals so far, although she does not know Hungarian (due to busy schedule this isn't going to change anytime soon).

We are not planning to move any time soon, although a short (e.g. one- or two-week long) trip about once a year to Hungary (to visit my parents and other relatives) is planned.

My mother is currently scheduled to help us out for two months (my wife's usually part-time work schedule will increase during this time), arriving in a week's time.


I would like to encourage our child to start speaking (more) in Hungarian to me (and to my parents).

What I have tried:

Speaking and reading a lot of Hungarian, and playing/singing Hungarian folk and child songs to our child. I am planning to start playing some (read-aloud) children's stories in Hungarian as well to introduce a variety of voices speaking the language.

My attempts to suddenly "enforce" the use of Hungarian (wanting to hear them ask for their wants in Hungarian and/or "not understanding" non-Hungarian) was met with active resistance on my child's part to the point where they would rather chose to abandon their wants instead of speaking the words in Hungarian, even when all they would have had to do was to repeat the (Hungarian) words I intoned to them back to me. As this ended in a lot of frustration (on both ends) and in even less exposure to Hungarian, I gave up on the idea in a few day's time (further reinforced by comments to other questions on bilingual child raising on this site). (*)

(*) The above behavior on our child's part might not be (solely) related to speaking in Hungarian as they today exhibited the same behavior (refusal and giving up on the object of "want") when my wife wanted them to start saying "please" and "I would like" instead of "I want".

I tried to look for other Hungarian-speaking people in my community, but I was so far unable to find a community that would regularly organize meetings where we could go to for more exposure to Hungarian (I have heard of other Hungarians being in the area, but it appears there is no "organized" community to speak of).

Sometimes when I genuinely did not understand what our child was saying, I told them (in Hungarian) that I did not understand, and sometimes they repeated their request in Hungarian. I have not yet tried to actively "exploit" this as an attempt to get them to speak in Hungarian.


What options/methods do I have to encourage our child to start/try to actively use their knowledge of Hungarian? The result does not have to be in the short-term (although that would be preferred).

How can Grandma's upcoming visit support the above options/methods? Besides the obvious benefits (she is going to be with her grandchild almost 24/7 while visiting, so exposure to Hungarian will be increased), how can we transition these benefits to after her departure?

  • What do you and your wife speak to each other ?
    – Joe
    May 20, 2018 at 11:04
  • @Joe We speak English.
    – Attila
    May 20, 2018 at 15:43
  • Why not seek out a hungarian speaking cousin or similar age relative and let them talk on skype? They might engage more with hungarian if its at kid-level, I know a swiss family, mother speaks french, dad speaks german, kids answer each in their own language. It is possible to do what you want. Oct 21, 2019 at 10:38
  • @bigbadmouse Thank you for the suggestion, we are already talking with grandparents over Skype. The child is almost 4 years old now, and is speaking quite fluently. The challenge at this point is more about feeding new words into their vocabulary.
    – Attila
    Oct 28, 2019 at 15:51
  • reading books together in that target language is helpful? Oct 29, 2019 at 9:56

5 Answers 5


You seem to be doing as much as you can right now and it all seems pretty correct. I've discussed raising bilingual children quite thoroughly with a friend who is a speech therapist and what you're doing matches what she's told me. I can make one additional suggestion, though, based on her advice.

As far as I understand, languages can be associated with people, situations or places. When raising bilingual children, it's ideal to maintain consistency in at least one of these areas. This is why "one parent one language" is recommended. However, this isn't always practical, especially since your wife doesn't know Hungarian, so you must speak to her in English. (This weakens the daddy = Hungarian association).

However, you can also associate language with a situation or a place. For example, your child will probably learn to associate your parents place with Hungarian (if they haven't already). "Grandma's house = Hungarian". Or even situations. "Bath time = Hungarian time".

So I'd suggest choosing a consistent time with your child that you create as "Hungarian time". Bathtime or breakfast time or whenever suits you. Ideally no English is spoken at all because you want the association to be as strong as possible. During this time you magically forget you understand any English and suddenly only understand Hungarian.

The trick is to be consistent as possible and create a strong association between a situation, a place, or a person with the language. This will happen anyway when your mom comes to stay, but you can definitely get ahead beforehand.

  • 1
    This is an interesting suggestion, I have not come across mention of association with situation/place, but it makes sense. I will try this, thank you.
    – Attila
    May 23, 2018 at 5:28

I am from India. And we never really give any emphasis on kids being bilingual. This is not our ignorance. But it is natural to us. Myself and almost all my friends speak at least 3 languages. I am pretty sure my parents never cared or gave a second thought about me/my brother learning 3 languages. It came naturally to us.

I am telling you this is to understand that with kids, we don't have to try too hard. They are quick learners. All you have got to do is provide as much exposure as possible to both the languages you desire you kiddo to learn and relax. It will take it's time but your kid will learn

  • Hi and welcome to Parenting.SE! The question is not about how to make a child learn a second language, but how to make them speak it ("How to encourage speech of minority language for bilingual child?"). Can you please update your post to answer the question and also make clear how your approach ("All you have got to do is provide as much exposure as possible to both the languages you desire you kiddo to learn and relax.") differs from what the OP already tried/tries (see the section "What I have tried:"). Jul 11, 2018 at 13:51
  • One other note; it reads to me that you're suggesting that the OP not worry about the issue. While that's a valid concern, on Parenting we try to answer the question as it's asked, rather than suggesting the question itself is wrong, unless there is a factual error in the question.
    – Joe
    Jul 11, 2018 at 14:17
  • @Joe, I like this attitude. However, on the main site Stackoverflow, lots of questions of "how to do this" get the answer "you should not do this".
    – jf328
    Jul 12, 2018 at 9:50
  • @jf328 Each community has its own standards in this regard (and many others).
    – Joe
    Jul 12, 2018 at 12:09
  • 1
    Thank you for your answer, but I believe your situation is different since, as you described, almost all your friends speak 3 languages -- I wrote in the question that I am the only one speaking Hungarian in our community (thus it is easy/natural for my child to use English (and not Hungarian), as that is the language spoken by virtually everyone around).
    – Attila
    Jul 15, 2018 at 3:47

From a few years' hindsight this is the route I have taken and it seems to have worked for us:

  • I only speak Hungarian to my child (with occasional English translation when required)
  • Grandma visited yearly for ~2 months periods each time and has spoken only Hungarian (as she knows very little English)
  • frequent tele-talk with grandparents in Hungarian
  • reading a lot of Hungarian story books (send to us by grandparents)
  • 1
    What might work is something I heard about. Two boys met, they both had resisted speaking their second language, turned out to be the same and from then on they spoke it together, as a secret language. So if you can find your child a friend with the same language, that might strengthen their want to speak the second language.
    – Willeke
    Aug 23, 2020 at 11:25
  • Thanks for the update. I read this question years ago and am now raising my own hopefully bilingual baby (neither language is Hungarian, despite what my username might suggest - unfortunately my Hungarian is terrible). We were planning a similar approach and it's encouraging to hear that this has worked for you. I've read that it's recommended that the child be exposed to the minority language at least 30% of the time. Do you a sense of how much, percentage-wise, your child was exposed to Hungarian on an average day?
    – Juhasz
    Aug 26, 2020 at 22:53
  • @Juhasz If I'd tally it up, the time spent together would probably be right around the 30% mark, on average. Biggest help was to let my child tele-talk with Grandparents while playing (and I could do other things around the house in the meantime as well).
    – Attila
    Sep 25, 2020 at 20:33

Hopefully one of our bilingual household members answers - but until then here’s my thought.

The successful bilingual households I know of are ones where both parents speak the language to each other. Kids learn from hearing more than from saying for quite a while, and if she doesn’t hear Hungarian from anyone but you she won’t learn as well.

If your wife speaks Hungarian and is willing, consider speaking Hungarian exclusively at times. When your mother is over then this will help similarly - if you speak to her in Hungarian it will help your daughter.

On a different note, if she does not speak Hungarian, she might consider learning it along with her. It might be a nice bonding experience.

  • It is unlikely that my wife will learn Hungarian in the near future, but thank you for your suggestion.
    – Attila
    May 23, 2018 at 5:23

I am in a similar situation: I speak to my child in Russian, while the language of the other parent and the country is French, and the other parent does not understand Russian. The child is nearing 3 years and speaks excellent French, while using Russian words only occasionally. They do understand me very well and can explain (or sometimes literally translate) what I said in French.

From what I have read on the subject, there are several things worth mentioning.

  • There's more to it than "one parent - one language". First of all, because one cannot conceivably always speak to the child in the language that the other parent does not understand, since many family situations involve all three members. More importantly, a child associates languages to specific people, situations, subjects, etc. Thus, in addition to the language spoken by each parent, there's the language spoken among the parents, the language spoken to guests, the language spoken at the nursery, in a street, etc. In my case it means the dominance of French - in fact, my child might even not perceive Russian as an equivalent means of communication, since they have rarely seen it used as such between adults.
  • There is no perfect bilingualism - in specific situations one language always dominates over the other: e.g., one may be more at ease speaking in Russian about chess and in French about architecture. In other words, one should not speak of knowing a language, but rather of degrees of knowing. Being able to understand a language passively is a lot more than not knowing it at all. Indeed, learning a foreign language from scratch as an adult to the level of passive mastery takes years (and many who try never get that far). On the other hand, learning to speak in the situation where it becomes necessay is rather quick, when the passive knowledge is already there. Such passive knowledge may also facilitate learning other languages.

To summarize: my approach is to continue fostering the minority language without insisting on it.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .