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Raising Bilingual Kids

Chontelle B.
English Teacher and Mom of Bilingual Children
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Join Chontelle Bonfiglio, mom of two bilingual boys, for a Q&A all about raising bilingual children. Chontelle's children speak English and Italian and are learning Spanish. Ask Chontelle about how to introduce another language to your children, what speech looks like in a bilingual two year old and more!

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Trilingual children learning to read


Hi, my son is 5 and is fluent in French, Turkish and English. I only speak to him in French while my husband speaks Turkish and he learned English at preschool. My concern at this point is about teaching him how to read. He started showing great interest and can now sound out individual letters to make up words. I try my best to teach him both french and English alphabet/pronunciation through phonics. However, I'm worried about what will happen once he enters kindergarten in the fall. How can I support him in learning to read/write in both French and Turkish languages? Should I look into additional classes that will focus on each language specifically? I just would like him to be able to become fully proficient in all the languages he speaks. Thanks for any advice!


Hi Laetita,

This question is not uncommon, many multilingual families have the same issue. Since you mentioned you want him to become proficient in all languages written and spoken, then yes you will have to either teach him yourself, or seek outside resources.

For now though, as he is still young, reading should be enough. You are doing great using phonics. In my opinion this is the best way to teach young children to read, by sounding out the words. This will give him a good base so that he can learn in any language.

You will find that some letters will sound the same, and some will be different, and he may mix them up a little initially, but he will eventually learn to differentiate those, just as he does when talking. Some words cannot be sounded out (sight words) so he will have to learn those. A great way is playing games such as word bingo so that he gets used to recognising them.

Make sure you have simple books available in all languages to feed his interests. Books that have larger words on the pages. You could alternate each night with bedtime stories, one evening in French, the next in Turkish, so he gets a good balance.

One thing I always advise is to keep reading aloud to him, even when he is able to read himself. You will be able to read longer books with a broader range of vocabulary and it is important that he hears as many different words as possible.

In regards to writing, you can incorporate it into activities that you do at home together, for example writing birthday cards, or letters to family or friends. Eventually you could try to find some activity books in each language.

While your son is young, try to keep things fun and interesting as much as possible. Don't make it a chore. You should find that once he learns English at school, those skills can be transferred over to the other languages. If you find later on as he gets older, that he is behind in one of the languages, you can then concentrate on that language a little more.

Hope that helps :)
Here is an article that goes into a little more detail:



Thank you so much for taking the time
to address my questions. Everything you
mentioned we are already doing but we'll
try to do more. Thanks for the link to your
post as well as it has great reminders about
what matters most when teaching children
to read. I will definitely look into beginning
Reader books in French and Turkish to add
to our collection! Thanks again, I really
appreciate all your advice!



What language should we use for the first words?



My husband and I are French. Our little one is 17 months and she is going to a bilingual daycare (English / Chinese). (We will stay in USA 2 more years and then come back in France or move in another country, we don't know yet)

She can say a few words: maman, papa, bye-bye and "voir voir" (au revoir), no, wouaf wouaf (dog), bébé and baby, cake, bateau (boat in French)... She can understand when we speak French and she seams to understand English and Chinese too.

The problem is we don't know if at home we have to teach her words in French or English (we don't speak Chinese).
Any tips?
Thank you!


Hi Gwen,

I think you have two main options in your case:

1. As you and your husband are French, and there is the possibility that you will move back to France, then French should be your first priority. As your daughter is being exposed to English and Chinese at daycare, then French could be your "home language", where you all speak French together. This way there is the clear expectation that she speaks French at home, and English and Chinese at daycare.
If you intend on moving around a lot, the common language in most countries will most likely be English. If you will send your daughter to international schools, she will always learn English at school, (and perhaps another language depending on where you are). So English should be taken care of without your help.

2. The other option, if you are comfortable enough, is OPOL - One Person One Language, where one of you speaks only French with your daughter, and the other speaks only English. This will ensure that she gets good exposure to both languages wherever you are. However it will only work, if whoever is speaking English, is comfortable speaking the language, and fluent enough to keep it up.
I think though, if you intend to send your daughter to an English speaking school right through, that option number one is a better choice in your situation.

The main thing is staying consistent, with whichever language you choose to speak to your daughter. This will help her understand from the start and avoid her becoming confused.

Hope that helps :)



Thank you so much for your message and advices Chontelle!


Our Q&A is now over.


Thank you, Chontelle! Chontelle will answer all of the questions asked today. Bilingual Kidspot is filled with wonderful information about raising bilingual and multilingual children. Check it out to learn more:


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Toddler Learning French


We have had our daughter in a weekly parent/child French class for about a year and a half. The structure is great in that they do songs, circle time, and an art activity. I do not speak French or any other languages (just a little Spanish in school that I don't really remember) so I am wondering how to keep the learning going throughout the week. I have looked into bilingual books but since I don't know how to pronounce the French words it hasn't really worked for us. I think I need something where I can see and hear the translations. Do you have any recommendations for these types of resources or any other advice? Thanks!


Hi Paula,

How old is your daughter? Are you able to enrol her in another session? While once a week is a great start, she will need more exposure if you want her to become fluent.

If not, I would advise finding a French native babysitter or playmate, to come "play" with your daughter a few hours/days per week. We do this with Spanish with our children and it works really well! We don't speak Spanish ourselves, so we have a Spanish girl come a few days per week for a couple of hours at a time. She plays, sings, reads, and pretty much just talks the whole time she is here only in Spanish. It's great, our kids love it.

Since you said you cannot read books, try some audio books, so that you can read along together. Take a look at this link, search French audio book: They may also sell them in your local international bookshop too. You can then learn along with your daughter :)

We recently tried out the Whistlefritz programs in Spanish, however they come also in French. They are language learning dvd's. My kid's really like them, something like this could be a good idea, take a look here:

Hope this helps, if you have any other questions don't hesitate to ask!



Where do I start? Too late perhaps?


Hi Chantelle,

Firstly, thank you for your help.
I speak Hindi and my American husband doesn't. I've been struggling to find hindi resources to teach our 3 year old. There's almost nothing online. The problem is that English is my first language, although I speak Hindi, the first words that come out of my mouth are in English. Also, I think in English and translate in my mind to Hindi. So, it's not a natural process. However, I want my kids to learn my native language. It's very important to me. Should I schedule some time daily? How do I go about this? Any resources would be super helpful!


Hi Nina,

If you are not comfortable speaking Hindi full time, then I would suggest using the Time or Place approach. So as you mentioned, you could set aside a time each day to speak Hindi with your kids. It should be at least an hour or more if possible.

Try to make it a fun and special time together. A great idea is introducing a puppet who only speaks Hindi such as a doll or teddy, so you can tell your children that you "need to speak Hindi together" otherwise he won't understand you. Read books and play games together. Basically just talk as much as possible and encourage your kids to repeat what you say, and answer back. Sing songs a LOT! Words and phrases are so much easier to remember when put with a melody, so teach your kids as many Hindi songs as possible.

Is there anyone else you know who speaks Hindi? Friends or family members? If so try to spend time with them when possible only speaking the language. Have you tried looking for playgroups or mothers groups in your area that you can join for extra exposure?

Check out this website for books. They have a fantastic range of books in Hindi and Bilingual. They also have building blocks too which can be great fun!



What does normal bilingual development look like in a toddler?


Hi Chontelle,
We are raising our daughter as bilingual. I do my best to only speak to her in Russian, and my American husband can only speak to her in English. She is 14 months. So far it seems like she can understand and follow instructions in both languages, but she only has three words at this age. Mama, Dada, and Aya (her name).
My question is when can we expect to hear her speak more? I read that bilingual toddlers tend to speak a bit later than others.
Also, I would love to know if we are going about this the right way (by my speaking only my language and my husband his). Of course, when we are together, I have to communicate with him in English, so she witnesses that as well.
Any dos or donts that I should know about?
Thanks so much for your expert advice!


Hi Maria,

This is a common question many parents of bilingual kids ask. The answer is not simple unfortunately as all children develop their language abilities differently. Even siblings may develop differently. Some children will speak earlier, some will speak later. It has nothing to do with being raised bilingually. Bilingualism itself does not cause delays.
Here is a great article to explain it more in detail.

I think you are doing a great job. It is normal for families in your situation to use the OPOL method (One Person-One Language). You should just make sure that you are consistent in speaking Russian with your daughter as she grows. Even if you speak with your husband in English, and she see's it, it is fine, as long as when you speak directly with your daughter, you speak only in Russian. With Russian being the minority language, you need to speak with her as much as possible, especially while she is young.

Good luck, I would love to hear your progress :)



Great advice! Thank you so much. I am glad to hear that we are on the right track :)

Older children


My husband is German and I am American. I have two older children from a previous relationship who are 7 and 10. We also have a 3 year old and a 4 month old. My husband would really like all the children to be able to speak German especially the younger two. I speak very little German but can understand a good bit. How hard will it be for the older children to pick up the second language? We speak mostly English at home with the occasional German when my husbands family is visiting. My husband does try to speak only German with the baby and sometimes with our toddler. We have recently started using some language learning games on the iPad so that is helping with the toddler while the older ones are at school.


Nanny speaking both English and Spanish


Hello! My husband and I only speak in English to our children. We asked our full-time nanny to only speak in Spanish to our kids, but I find that she speaks to them in both English and Spanish. We keep trying to remind her to speak in Spanish to the kids, but I'm not sure why she still mixes the two languages.

How important is it that she speaks only in Spanish to the kids (instead of mixing some English with the Spanish)? Thanks


Hi Becky,

How old are your children are and when did your nanny start?

I would to encourage her to speak Spanish with your children, since she is the only Spanish exposure they get. That way they you provide them with the clear expectation that with you they speak English, and with the nanny they speak Spanish.

Perhaps she thinks the kids don't understand her in Spanish, and this could be the reason she switches to English. In any case, they will learn much quicker if she sticks to only speaking Spanish with them.



My kids are 14 months and 3.5 years old. My nanny has been with them both full-time since they were born.

I have told her over and over that we only want her speaking Spanish. I think it might be partly because she thinks the don't understand (maybe also because we don't understand if we are around). I will remind her again. Thank you!


Children absorb more than we think. If she has been with them since birth, I am sure they have a sound knowledge of the language. If she sticks to speaking Spanish with them, they should be able to grow up fluent speakers. Good luck!


Thank you!


Switching languages


Hi! My husband is German and I am American. We both speak both German and English. Recently we've moved from Germany to the USA and are concerned about helping our 5-month-old daughter learn German. (I also dont want to lose my German abilities!) We speak German when we are alone but when we are with family here we switch to English. How confusing is this for our child? Should one of us ALWAYS speak one language and the other ALWAYS speak the other language?

Is it okay to speak only German at home and then with family we switch to English? I'd rather not speak German when we are together with family because I feel like it's rude (family only
Speaks English).

Thank you!


Hi Katie,

I think what you are doing is great!! Keep speaking German at home together as a family. And also when you or your husband are alone with your daughter.
Instead, when you are out with friends or in the community speak English.
This will give your daughter a great balance of exposure to both languages, and also keep your German up.

The other approach you mentioned is OPOL - One Person One Language. It could also be effective. However given that you both can speak German, which is the minority language, I think what you are doing will be much more effective in the long run. The more you speak German together, the better.



3 languages


Hello Chontelle,

We're very grateful that our daughter is being exposed to at least 3 languages at this point (she's 8 months old). She gets Spanish from her nanny and grandparents, portuguese from her dad and other grandparents and english from friends and relatives around. It's clear that her dad speaks only in portuguese to her (unless others are around, then he adjusts to english or spanish). But I'm still not sure which language I should speak to her. I'm fluent and comfortable in all 3. At this point I've been mixing quite a bit, but I've read you should choose 1 and stick to it. What are your thoughts? Is it ok for me to mix and go back and forth regardless of having others around? Would love your input, thank you!


Hi Claudia,

Great question! The main thing with languages, is creating the need to use them. Usually it is best to be consistent and choose a language so there is less confusion, and one language isn't left out. However since it seems your there is a clear separation of the languages, it could be ok code switching.

I think it really depends on which language is more important to you, and which is the the language you can express yourself the most in.
When you are alone with your daughter which language feels more natural to speak?

If all three languages are the same, you could either choose the language which you think has the least exposure and speak that one. OR choose contexts to speak them in.

For example when you are with your husband as a family, speak Portuguese together. When you are with your parents, speaks Spanish together, and when you are out in the community you speak English together. As long as there is some consistency, and your daughter is getting enough exposure to all languages. Does that make sense?