Multilingualism in my family: Elodie's story

23 Mar 2017

Image by Eric Adresen on Flickr

This month's instalment of multilingualism in my family introduces Elodie and her trilingual family. She is raising one (soon two) child in Munich, Germany. Her story about the changing seasons in her boy's language use tells us to persevere.


1. Name


2. In what country do you currently live?


3. How many children have you got and how old are they?

1 boy S. who is 3,5 years old and a baby due end of March.

4. Who speaks what to whom (in the home)?

Mum to child(ren): French
Dad to child(ren): English
Dad to Mum: English
Mum to Dad: mostly English but sometimes French
S. to Mum: French
S. to Dad: English
When we are all together and S. starts the conversation, it seems that he speaks French first, then adjusts depending on who answers.

S. had always been using the 3 languages when speaking single words, not always in the target language, even if he’d knew very early on (maybe 18 months) that there was Mum’s language, Dad’s language and Nursery’s language (he could pick up the right book for the right person). However, when he started putting 2 words and more together, it increasingly became German only. We kept answering in our own languages and suggesting what would be the equivalent in our languages, without pushing it. Shortly before his 3rd birthday, we visited friends (Mum French, Dad German, 2 daughters 4 ½ and almost 2 at the time of our visit) and we’d previously asked if the eldest daughter could speak French with Sam. She did and stuck to it, and that even when S. was speaking to her in German. I thought it was an impressive linguistic performance from her! Back from our weekend, I picked up S. from nursery, he spoke 2-3 words of German to me, then switched to French! Just like that! I was so impressed (and surprised^^). And it has never changed since! One month later, he suddenly started to speak English to his Dad, as if he’d realised “If I can speak French to Mum, I can speak English to Dad”.

5. What language do your children hear outside home?

German at nursery, with our/his friends
Now English and German in Kindergarten
English and German with my husband’s family
French with my family

6. If you had to put a percentage on the languages your child(ren) hear what would they be?

English: 40%
German: 30%
French: 30%

7. Did you set out to follow a particular method to raise your child(ren) multilingually? Why? Why not?

We use OPOL with our 2 minority languages.
Until S. was 14 months, we used to speak German as a couple, but we realised that German was getting too much room in our lives, with S. starting a German-speaking nursery. So we kicked it out from home and we’ve started doing OPOL combined with ml@H. It was difficult for us at first, as German had been our language for 10 years. We had a piggy bank where we’d put a coin every time one of us caught the other one speaking German at home


8. What works with your current family language set up? Why?

Mum and Dad are both trilingual and never aimed to hide it from our son. It’s our lifestyle, we are proud of it. We never tried to not understand our son and spoke overtly German with our friends, with people on the streets/in the shops etc, in front of our son.


9. What doesn’t work? Why?

Me speaking only French at home, i.e. with my husband, he gets tired of it so I switched to English often, that’s why I wouldn’t say we have English as a family language.

10. What would you do differently if you could or would have to do it again?

Start OPOL combined with ml@H from the beginning.

Read about other families here.
Are you a multilingual family? Would you like to share your story? Contact me.

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