Say, you can speak English well or fluently but you are not a near native English speaker. You may occasionally (but not so often) struggle to express your idea in English. But you are good enough to look up words in dictionaries and are able to correct your mistakes. Your accent is good although you sometimes don't remember how to pronounce some words until you look them up in dictionaries.

You and your wife are native speakers of a main language other than English such as Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese Japanese or Spanish, etc.

You only speak English (fluent but not near native) to your children for about 24 hours per week.

For the rest of the time, your children speak the main language with your wife or their grandparents or friends

Your children may or may not attend an English school.

Is anyone in the same situation?

Can the children be fluent in both languages when they grow up?

  • Where do you live in a country with English language or with other language??
    – IrbidMath
    Mar 7, 2020 at 21:31
  • @AmerYR, in other language
    – Tom
    Mar 8, 2020 at 0:51
  • If your child children go to an English-speaking school and have consistent exposure to English for many hours a week at that school, then you probably don't even need to speak English with your children yourself. This factor makes a big difference in the answer. But younger kids can also forget a language easily if they lose the exposure to it, such as stopping to attend said English school. (From our own experience, but with a non-English language)
    – Erwin
    Mar 8, 2020 at 23:19
  • This sounds like One Parent, One Language - have you seen any of our questions on that topic? It’s a fairy common one.
    – Joe
    Mar 9, 2020 at 11:05

3 Answers 3


Basically Yes

Proud father of 3 and they all speak two languages fluently. in fact 2 of them speak, read and write 3 (English, French and German).

Both parents are mother tongue in the same language but have a good command of the second language.

We mainly spoke our mother tongue as they grew up and they had pre and primary school for what is now their primary language.

We did, however, make an effort in the second language as well. To the extent that the 3rd child when learing to count 1 to 10 did not realise that the different names for the numbers came from two different languages for quite a while :)

We noted that they can be slower at picking up some vocabulary compared to kids who only have one language, reading as well can be slower - don’t panic they are assimilating twice as much and they will more than catch up in time.

The 3rd child expressed concern because she could read in the language taught at school but not in the other... So we got a book in the other language ( a Harry Potter one) and we read that together - I read one sentence, she the next. Ok, pronunciation needed work at the start but the read-to-speech capability was there. She was so pleased :)

2 have sufficient command of the parents mother tongue that they have corrected the teachers (who have then found out that the kids are correct :) ) some teachers take that well, others less so. But if the teacher does not have sufficient command of the language they are meant to be teaching then they need to improve.

Kids learn languages so easily when they are under 10 years old - and I have seen this with my colleagues and their kids as well as with my own. they now converse with each other in what is their primary language and will change in the middle of a phrase without any hesitation if they talk to either parent... and they have been known to correct my pronunciation in my second language - always popular :)


I grew up speaking German during the day, and we all switched to English when my dad got home from work. My father had a reasonable level of German and my mother had a reasonable level of English, but neither would have been familiar with specialised things like names of plants or birds in the other language, so there was a lot of translating going on in the general conversation. We read bedtime stories and sang songs in both languages. Yes, it works.

(My big sister aged 4 is on record as telling me, aged 3, that I couldn't talk proper English, I couldn't even talk proper German, I just talked nonsense. And I have a letter from my mother to her parents in which she expressed anxiety that I would ever master either language. But I did.)

This is of course a different scenario from the one where both parents are native speakers of X, but live in a country whose majority language is Y. But small children can certainly master more than one language, and in my view they benefit greatly from doing so.


Can you? I guess. Should you? I really don't think so.

When you're communicating with a child, you're not just teaching them a language. You are building your relationship to that child. That relationship will be the foundation for everything else you may want to help your child grow into, which may be more than just a polyglot.

You should speak to your child in the language you're strongest. Anything else will inhibit your access to putting nuanced words on feelings, and to quick and natural reactions to whatever situations may present.

Giving your child a few years of competitive edge in learning a new language is a small gain if you forfeit the chance of being a person your child feels comfortable to reach out to when in distress, for instance, or to turn to with difficult feelings.

They can easily learn a new language at 10 or even at 20, if they decide that's what they want. It'll be harder for them to decide to rebuild a relationship with a parent.

I strongly advise against this.

  • 1
    learn a new language at 10 or even at 20, that is too late to master a language
    – Tom
    Mar 9, 2020 at 3:24
  • @Tom: to the extent that that is true, I would say it's equally late to master a new relationship. I don't see that this invalidates my point. The recommendation I'm making is the same that speech therapists are making, at least where I'm from.
    – dxh
    Mar 9, 2020 at 5:18
  • 2
    @Tom I would hesitate to make such a general statement. More difficult? Probably. Too late? I respectfully disagree.
    – Stephie
    Mar 9, 2020 at 13:30
  • Whenever you feel you cannot express something as well as you would like in one language, you just fall back to another one. There is no reason that I can see that this should impact your relationship with your child, and I don' see a good argument in your answer that it should.
    – hkBst
    Mar 30, 2020 at 11:31
  • @hkBst: what about when you don't "feel that you cannot express something as well as you would like" but it's still true?
    – dxh
    Mar 30, 2020 at 11:37

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