Which language should I speak to my bilingual baby?

Which language should I speak to my bilingual baby-

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The Question

I am trying to find out what method to use with our future kids, I’m Hungarian native, my husband is Italian and we live in Italy. I speak Italian like a native and I also speak English and Spanish fluently, I work with languages.

The problem is that I find it hard to speak Hungarian in family. My husband speaks some but I’m just not able to speak to him in Hungarian, we have always used Italian between us. Now that we are trying to have a baby I was thinking, what if I won’t speak Hungarian to him or her right after birth? I could introduce the language later with songs, fairy tales and games. I used to teach Italian to 3 and 4 year-old foreign kids like this and by the end of the school year they were fluent.

My husband agrees with me, but I was wondering if this could work or should I force myself to speak to our child in Hungarian. Also, I’d be happy if our kids could benefit from the fact that we speak so many languages in family and that we are international. My sister-in-law is Spanish and they already have a son. So our Italian-Hungarian child is going to have an Italian-Spanish cousin.

We would be grateful for some advice.

Thank you very much in advance!


The answer


Thank you for submitting your question to the Multilingual Parenting Family Coaching Team.

That’s wonderful that you speak so many language and what a great advantage when it comes to raising multilingual children. 

What you are describing in your question is not uncommon.  Many people, typically adults, feel very strange changing the language they speak to a given person after they have grown accustomed to speaking another language. 

You do not necessarily have to change the language you use to communicate to your husband once your little ones are born.  You can still continue to speak to them in Italian!  Many families speak different languages to different family members.  It sounds so strange when you are first starting out but I promise you, it can certainly be done.  In my home, I speak Spanish to my children and English to my husband. 

To answer your question, introducing your children to Hungarian at a later age could work.  Your children could become fluent if you introduce it later on in life as long as you provide them with the right amount of exposure and they feel the need to communicate in Hungarian. You can certainly start at age 3 and 4 since as you mentioned in your question you have experience with that age group. 

Yet I would suggest that you do in fact commit to speaking Hungarian to your babies from birth!

You will likely find that it is much easier to start right from the beginning if you can make that happen.

The beauty of starting from birth is that you can start the transition as a family slowly and work your way to more involved linguistic exchanges as your children grow.  Life with a new baby will bring many changes and language can be one of them!

Research has shown that the earliest form of language learning begins in utero when the fetus can start to recognize the sound of his mother’s voice.  A mother’s voice can have a calming effect on the fetus as early as seven month into a pregnancy and a baby’s heart rate slows down with just the sound of mama’s voice.  As a fellow mom, that just makes my heart melt!

After birth, infants technically start their language journey around four months of age as they begin to engage in babbling. Those that are exposed to more than one language from birth can start distinguishing speech from an astonishing young age.

In fact, research has shown that after only six months, they can tell the difference between languages. For languages that tend to have similar intonation, tone, stress and rhythm it may take a little longer. Yet even then, most children can start detecting the difference just a few months later.

I share this with you to encourage you to give it a shot from the early stages.  Many parents feel that baby talk comes easier in one language versus the other.  Even those that are native speakers of a language but have been around a community language for years, feel a little strange in the early days. However, most of the ones that commit to sticking to it for the first few months eventually make the full transition and few if any end up regretting it.

You can always try it for a bit and if it does not feel natural within your family dynamics, make the switch back to Italian.

Best of luck Anna with the arrival of your future children!  It sounds like despite which path you choose, languages are going to be a big part of their life! I hope you all enjoy the ride together.

May you have fun travels on your language journey. Hope to see you again on the Avenue!


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Comments 1

  1. Eli Penela

    I am using the from birth approach that you describe in this post, and I think it is going well so far. Both my husband and I only speak in Spanish to my 16-month-old son since the time he was born. We speak in Enlgish to each other. My son is understanding so much in Spanish and I am very happy about that. However, sometimes I wonder about English and whether we should be making a more planfuk effort for how he’s going to learn that language, which is obviously important for him to learn. Both my husband and I sort of learned through osmosis from just being in an English-speaking community (did not hear the language at home with our parents), so we were kind of planning on doing the same with our son.

    Sometimes I have second thoughts as to how well that will work and if that is the best plan to get him started on the right foot when he begins kindergarten. Would love to hear your thoughts on whether it is important to think carefully about how to introduce the second language, when that language is English and you live in an English-speaking community.

    Just to give you a sense of his community language exposure – We live in South Florida where he would be attending school in English, and at his daycare center, teachers speak both English and Spanish (he goes 3 hours per day). Socially, we have some family/friends who we speak with in English (a little more than half), and others in Spanish.

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