We are planning to use One Parent, One Language to raise our child bilingually. Parent A uses German with Child, Parent B uses English with Child. Communication between Parent A and Parent B is in English.

One question we cannot find the answer to is: which language to use in a three-way conversations between Parent A, Parent B and Child?

Does anyone have any insights on this from experience? In our household both Parents can understand both languages.

  • Hi and welcome to Parenting.SE! How old is the child (or when do you want to use this approach)? – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Sep 3 '19 at 12:24

I will try to answer your questions based on my family's reality. I speak Language A, dad speaks Language B, we speak English to each other, and live in a country that has Language C as main language. If you lost the count, that's exposure to 4 languages for our now 3 y.o. daughter. (Note: language C is not a actively used in the house, though she occasionally uses it when playing and speaking to herself. She's been acquiring it from daycare).

We were very consistent with the One-Person-One-Language approach, and her competence in A and B is comparable. We would carry out a three way conversation with each parent sticking to their language, and then English when mum and dad had something to say to each other. Up to this age, as we are not yet discussing the creation of the universe or similar, our conversations around the table have been turning out great. Everyone could participate in one way or another. However, her competence in my language has now exceeded her father's understanding of my language, so often dad can no longer keep up. Communication around the table might thus change.

How? We can already see it. English is taking over, and the change is triggered by our 3 y.o. Although we haven't used it directed at her, she picked up English "from the air". Peppa Pig might have played a role. Oftentimes in the past few months she started to initiate conversation in English, mostly when both parents are present. I guess she just figured it out: "That's our family's language". Your child will do the same at one point.

The bottom line is: just stick to your own languages. When parent A asks something in German, parent B replies in English. Though it might feel a bit unnatural in the beginning, it'll pass by the time your child is old enough to actually participate in conversations. Also, stay flexible. The fun of raising bi-/multilingual kids is immense.

EDIT: what is the majority language of the country you are living in? If it is English, then maybe you could consider having German as your family language (for three-way conversations), to ensure more input. Or the other way around.


Don’t worry.

My 3 (2m 1f) are bilingual English French and do well in German. The two boys are out of school into apprenticeships and the girl is in secondary school, so had lots of years of this...

When they were small, they would accelerate in one or the other languages at will - no rhyme or reason.

After they started school when they were playing they would talk in French then, mid sentence, change to English to talk to us and then back to French between them like nothing had happened.

We were teaching our daughter to count and she was happily counting from 1 to 10 in either French or English. When someone asked her to count in French - she was confused as she had thought that the numbers had two names each, no idea that it was to do with two languages ...

Reading took a hit for a while compared to her classmates, but she caught up... basically they are sorting twice the vocab compared to a kid learning one language. Once it gets sorted, and don’t get worried - you need patience, it all turns out fine.

Last year she said she was worried as she had never read out loud from an English book, (fine in French). I said don’t worry let’s do it and gave her a Harry Potter book. So lots of errors but she was amazed she could read English and has improved since then.

Go with the plan in your first paragraph, but if you, or your partner, strays into the other language don’t worry.

EDIT: if you join a conversation, then join it in the language it was started in, however, if you swap to the other language because it flows better or for any other reason, then do it - the kids will understand anyway and this does help with associating words across the languages.

We found that whenever they ask for a word or explanation of a word in one language to give the word in the other as well and similar words as well. Just go for it.

Watching tv with subtitles (VO etc) is also good fun - discussing what and how much was skipped by the text - amazing how much you can read and hear and process the difference at the same time.

Just wait for when they pick you up on pronunciation or vocab in your second language :) been there had that.. :) It’s a fantastic sign that you did it right.

Oh, if you are living in Germany, just wait when the first one comes home from school having corrected the English teacher... Last time this happened the teacher decided not to meet me, but took that question out of the exam - number 1 son had pointed out her error in detail...

  • Hi, welcome to the site, thanks for the answer. I'm not sure you answered the question, though - OP asked what do you do when the German-parent and English-parent are talking to each other and the child at the same time; which language to use? Are you suggesting to each speak their separate language (so the conversation itself is in two languages, A speaking German, B speaking English, Child speaking both/whichever they choose? – Joe Sep 1 '19 at 4:26
  • @Joe thought I did “Go with the plan in your first paragrah, but if you, or your partner, strays into the othe language din’t worry”... seems clear enough, don’t you think it is clear? How did you deal with that situation? Did you deal with 2, 3 or more languages? – Solar Mike Sep 1 '19 at 5:26
  • They are saying, this is our plan, but what happens when all three of us are talking at the same time. If that’s your answer, then you may want to make it clear that’s what you mean. – Joe Sep 1 '19 at 5:27
  • @Joe still not sure why you cannot read that and understand. – Solar Mike Sep 1 '19 at 5:29
  • Your edit solved my issues - very clear. Thanks! – Joe Sep 1 '19 at 11:16

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