How can I increase the minority language exposure for a toddler?

How can I increase the minority language for a toddler-

On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I give 5 tips to a family that is looking for ways to provide additional exposure to Portuguese for their son.  One option they are strongly considering is switching to speaking Portuguese at certain times of the day.  I give her some feedback on that idea and provide a few more strategies.

The Transcript

Hey there and welcome to another Question and Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast!

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Alright let’s turn to this weeks’ question which came in from a reader at Multilingual
The QuestionHi, I am Brazilian and my husband is German. We live in Germany and raise our almost 2 years old son bilingual. We do OPOL with our son and our common language is mostly German. My husband speaks Portuguese but not so well. At the moment my son attends a German daycare in the mornings and I spend the afternoons with him. He understands both languages and speak less Portuguese than German.

In April (after our holidays in Brazil) that will change, and our son will start also in the afternoons in the daycare, being thus much less exposed to Portuguese. I do not think mL@H is for my family, but I am thinking that if it could be a good idea to start to speak Portuguese in some specific family occasions like during the meals. Thank you, Elisa

The answerHi Elisa,

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

I commend you on thinking ahead and realizing that the shift in your son’s school situation will have an impact on the exposure he receives in his German and Portuguese.  You are clearly being very intentional about his language journey and you are proactive mindset will be a helpful asset for your family.

From reading your situation I have a few thoughts to share with you!

The first thing that caught my eye is that you will be in Brazil right before your son’s transition. 

I would dedicate some time during your holiday to look for resources in Portuguese that either you or your husband could use with your son.   Books are always helpful but make sure you get books that you can use with your son now but also some that you can use a little later as he grows older.   Especially if you are not abel to travel to Brazil often, I want you to be able to really capitalize on this opportunity.

A real bonus would be if you can get your hands on some audio books! That way you are not the only source of Portuguese in your home.  Your son can hear stories and other native speakers besides just you!

You can also make your own audio books.  Ask as many family members and friends to record themselves reading a book in Portuguese.  This can be a really special way to bond with family overseas and make them feel less far away than they really are. 

You could say today we are going to be reading a book from grandma and then play the story.  I bet your son will love that.

So now let’s see what you can do once you are back home and your son starts spending more time in the German speaking daycare.

Whenever families are considering a switch to their language policy, I always recommend that you switch to something where all parties are feeling comfortable.  That includes your kids as well.

You acknowledge that a full switch to a Minority Language At Home model is likely not a good fit for you guys.  Being honest with yourself and your partner is important so now we know we can cross that off the list, we can explore other opportunities.

It does sound like you are more open to a Language Time policy where you dedicate specific times of your day or family gatherings to just speaking Portuguese! This strategy can be very beneficial to some families and I am going to venture to say here that this is a good strategy for yours.

Designating specific times of the day or the week to speak as a family in a language can be a very fruitful exercise if you do so and you plan it out.  Here are five tips I would encourage you to consider to get the most out of this policy and out of this shift that you are making with your family.

Tip # 1: Communicate the boundaries.  Make sure that your son is aware of when you will be speaking Portuguese as a family.  Your son is only 2 so he should be fairly flexible with the policy change.  Take advantage of the fact that he is young so you can set the right set of expectations for him.  The more he understands when to speak Portuguese specifically to your husband, the more you will get him to participate!

Tip # 2: Be consistent. Once you have set those boundaries, stick to the plan. The last thing you want to do is confuse your child by changing things up on him all the time.  You can be flexible at the beginning until you find an approach that works, but after you do, try hard to hold yourselves accountable to the plan. Work with your husband on this one.

Tip # 3: Find optimal times. In your email you suggest shifting to speaking Portuguese during meal times.  This may be a great time since you are all together and it is something that you are going to be doing daily.  It may also be a difficult time of the day.  How does your son do with food?  Is he a picky eater? Are you having to argue with him about eating? Or is he tired around dinner time because it is almost time for bed? 

You want to set yourself up for success so you want to make sure those interactions are when he is well rested and you can focus on being intentional about what Portuguese vocabulary you want to infuse into his every day.  I often find that meals can be distracting.  The conversations at the table when our kids are little are often shallow because we are focused on so many things. 

As they get older, mealtimes can be a great time but when they are little, I don’t know, that’s not particularly my favorite time to infuse language. You can do it in small ways but if that is the only time that you are going to do it, you may not be so happy with the results.

Tip #4: Leverage playtime. Playing with your child is one of the best things you can do for their overall development.  Language is really no exception.  If you can dedicate anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes of uninterrupted time a day playing in Portuguese, you are likely to have some great results.

I can share two great podcast episodes from previous interviews that could provide some useful insights as to how to get the most out of play time with your children.  So check out Episode 17 with Susanne Dopke & Episode 89 with Nicola Lathey. They both talk about the power of play and they both incorporate some strategies that I think you will really enjoy.  So I will go ahead and include those in the show notes page.

Tip #5: Keep working at it.  Parenting in general is full of changes.  Some of those are easier than others.  For some families, switching their language strategy can be a difficult time.  However, it is something you can do.  So I want you to keep working at it.  You are doing it for the right reasons, you want to infuse more Portuguese.  Know that it may not be very simple but you can get there.

You may find that you need to tweak your approach a few times until you find something that feels right for everyone involved!  The main thing to remember is that this is a marathon and not a sprint.  I can’t say that enough when we talk about the language journey.

Keep an open communication with your husband and eventually you will all find your rhythm and you will be glad that you planned this and you thought ahead.

Alright Elisa, I hope you find these five tips helpful.  I know that the extra exposure to Portuguese will be helpful to your son! 

Best of luck on your journey! Keep us posted on how it goes.

You can find  a transcript of today’s episode at

The Guide

Now before we wrap up, I do have a freebie that I want to share with you.  It’s a quick guide to help you establish a language success strategy.  That sounds interesting, right? Well in the guide, I share with you three steps that you need to take to set both yourself and your children up for success on the language journey.

I am doing this because we often find it so overwhelming to raise bilingual children when at the very core it’s very simple.  We need to just identify a few things that are working and that your children are enjoying and then you just need to rinse and repeat! Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat! It’s that simple.

So many of you write in with questions and you are overwhelmed and you are frustrated.  Often times what I do is just identify a few things that I know will work and challenge you to try them over and over.  We don’t need to overcomplicate things. 

If you want the quick guide you can get it for free at


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