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I've seen a few question regarding language, but none that fight my current situation. I live in Ukraine and my wife has a 2 year old child that almost exclusively heard Russian so far. I, on the other hand, am a French native, and speak English fluently. I speak with my wife in English exclusively.

I want to teach her daughter both English and French, while my wife and the environment will teach the child Russian and Ukrainian. I'm just wondering how to go about teaching 2 languages myself, given that I'll be the only foreign stimuli in the child's life (aside from TV/Youtube). Would a 1 week/1 language schedule work? Is it already too late to teach the child 2 languages at once? Won't that delay language development?

On a side note, she heard me speaking to the child exclusively in English for about 4 months, and it seems that the child understands me for most simple dialogues/"commands". But, her child started speaking some bits of Russian, it's unintelligible for the most part, but we kind of understand what's being said.

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In my experience, the languages children will speak is a direct consequence of their environment and the languages they need there and the resulting different amounts of time dedicated to acquiring and developing each language.

In your case that means Ukrainian will be the child's first and most well-developed language. If the mother speaks Russian to her exclusively she will understand Russian and start to speak it, but when she starts going to kindergarten/school, Ukrainian will take over and she will stop speaking in Russian unless pressured/challenged and probably start having difficulty speaking Russian. The same thing will happen with the language you teach her. But if you do not understand Ukrainian (or are very consistent in acting that way) the child may feel a need to keep speaking your language.

It is definitely not too late, but you should not expect the child to develop a similar level of French (or English) as when you would all be living in an environment where that is the/a main language.

But that is not to say that your efforts will be for naught. When the child gets a little older and knows how to read it may attempt (with your help) to start reading in French (or English), may enjoy cartoons in those languages, etc. This gives you new ways to increase the exposure of these languages lest the child forgets what it learned.

In summary, with continuous effort on your part the child will develop French (or English) and be able to keep developing it as a secondary language to whatever level depending only on total time spent in an appropriate environment.

Finally, my answer to your question whether to teach both French and English. The total share of time you have available (which as a parent is only going to diminish in the immediate future) will determine the outcome. Now given that your conversation with your wife is in English, teaching the child French will be the more challenging than English. Thus if you choose to try both you may find that naturally English comes to shadow French. You may find that even if you (try to) speak exclusively French to the child that you lapse to English when all of you are talking (or Ukrainian for your wife and her daughter and English for you).

Oh yeah, you asked about delay: Language development will not be delayed but will be more spread out, so may seem (only slightly) delayed when viewed from a mono-lingual perspective. In the end it is a benefit to the child, according to the research.

Either way, you lose nothing by trying...

  • Thank you for your answer. I would point out that where I live, Ukrainian is taught in schools, but every one here speaks Russian (East Ukraine) so Ukrainian will be more of a secondary language. I'll try to expose the child to as many books and media in English at least. Thanks for your advice. – jlarnaud Dec 3 '18 at 12:25

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