Tips from a mother of trilingual children in Australia

One of our readers of Dutch Australian has some great tips to share about raising bi/trilingual children.  Though Dutch is not one of these languages, the tips she gives are applicable as well, and her websites and facebook page (scroll to bottom) are a great resource for those raising bilingual Dutch/English speaking children.  Are you raising bi/trilingual children?  Feel free to share resources in a comment.  Renee


I am the mother of two gorgeous trilingual children. Tiago is 5 and Elisa is nearly 4. Since the day they were born I spoke French to them and my husband Spanish. We are lucky that my husband and I are fluent in each other’s language so we never need to switch to English. This is one of our golden rules: no English at home. My children learn English at the childcare and at school. So far so good. They have never been confused with the languages and both spoke early.

I wanted to share a few tips that we apply every day:

Do not compare your children with your friends’

Each child will develop his various skills at different rates. Some children will speak early, some are better with their gross/fine motor skills.

Be honest with yourself and manage your expectations.

It will save you headaches. I want my children to be fully proficient in their three languages (speaking, reading, writing). I am aware that the resources (time, books/CDs…, effort) required will depend on what my objective is. If you are happy with a passive bilingual. This is fine and it is your choice. If you want more proficiency, you have to be prepared to overcome hurdles and produce more effort.

Strategies do not last forever.

We currently use One Person One Language (OPOL). This works for us at the moment. However, we might have to change in the future as our situation changes. My children might ask me to speak English when we are outside or with their friends. You can try strategies out for a little while and if they do not work, find another one.

Minority language always used when addressing the children.

It does not matter where we are we always speak to our children in our minority languages.
I am aware that some people might find it challenging because they do not want to pass for a rude person.
I usually give the heads up if I am having a conversation and it is usually well received.

We play a lot.

Play-based activities are a wonderful way to provide exposure to children. It can be attending a language playgroup, it can be at the playground, it can be at home with all sort of games.

We read every day in our minority languages.

We read several books a day. This is part of the bedtime routine but we read throughout the day too. Books are accessible and now that my children are old enough to tell stories, we encourage them to ‘read’ to us.

We like to make up stories.

Let their imagination flow. The sillier, the more fun, the better. We have many books in Spanish and French at home but we still go to our local library to borrow books every three weeks. It also gives them more exposure to different authors and stories. Remember that there is no English at home so we always translate into our languages. Sometimes if you are too tired using bilingual books can make the task easy.

We try to give them as much exposure as possible.

I organize playdates, we regularly catch up with friends who speak either of our languages. We skype with our parents at least once a week. I am not too fond of screen time but I must admit I work from home and sometimes I need some quiet time. If they ask for it, I will play shows in French or in Spanish either on Netflix or You tube.

Finally, be persistent, consistent and disciplined but most of all make it fun!

My children were my inspiration. I could not find books that I liked in Spanish and in French in Australia, so I decided to create Le toboggan. It is an online bookshop specialised in language books for children and young adults. We carry gorgeous books and other resources in a variety of languages including Dutch.
We are always happy to look into specific requests, just let us know if you are after anything special.

We promote multiculturalism and bilingualism through our various activities, such as our language workshops (French and Spanish), visits to playgroups, community health nurses to speak about myths/truths and strategies to raise bilingual children, I run language story times at the local library, our facebook page is full of great articles and blog posts on bilingual children. I also volunteer with the NFP Bilingual Families Perth to assist parents with finding resources and language groups in Perth, I have created monthly Spanish meet ups, …

You will find more information on our activities on our website and on our page

Doei voor nu!

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