047: How to raise a bilingual child

Do you have to start teaching a second language from birth?  Does it help to get a nanny who speaks a second language?  Is there any way your child will retain the language you speak even though you’re currently in a country where another language is dominant?  Does learning a second language lead to any developmental advantages beyond just the benefits of learning the language?

Several listeners have actually written to me requesting an episode on this topic, and one has been particularly insistent (you know who you are!), so I was very glad to finally find an expert!

Dr. Erica Hoff leads the Language Development Lab at Florida Atlantic University and studies language development and bilingualism in children.  She gives us the lowdown on the best ways to raise a bilingual child (and doesn’t mince words on how difficult it is) – and also answers my burning question: I’m not planning to teach my daughter a second language at the moment, so am I a terrible parent?



Bridges, K., & Hoff, E. (2014). Older sibling influences on the language environment and language development of toddlers in bilingual homes. Applied Psycholinguistics 35, 225-241.

Core, C., Hoff, E., Rumiche, R., & Señor, M. (2013) Total and conceptual vocabulary in Spanish-English bilinguals from 22 to 30 months: Implications for assessment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 56, 1637-1649.

Hammer, C.S., Hoff, E., Uchikoshi, Y., Gillanders, C., Castro, D.C., & Sandilos, L.E. (2014). The language and literacy development of young dual language learners: A critical review. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 29, 715-733.

Hoff, E., Rumiche, R., Burridge, A., Ribot, K.M., & Welsh, S.N. (2014). Expressive vocabulary development in children from bilingual and monolingual homes: A longitudinal study from two to four years. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 29, 433-444.

Hoff, E. & Core, C. (2013) Input and language development in bilingually developing children. Seminars in Speech and Language, 34, 215-226.

McCabe, A., Tamis-LeMonda, C., Bornstein, M. H., Cates, C. B., Golinkoff, R., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Hoff, E., Kuchirko, Y., Melzi, G., Mendelsohn, A., Paez, M., Song, L. Wishard Guerra, A. (2013) Multilingual children: Beyond myths and towards best practices. SRCD Social Policy Report. vol 27, No. 4. Retrieved from: https://www.fcd-us.org/multilingual-children-beyond-myths-and-toward-best-practices/

Menjivar, J., & Akhtar, N. (2017). Language experience and preschoolers’ foreign word learning. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 20(3), 642-648.

Ramirez, N.F., & Kuhl, P. (2017). Bilingual baby: Foreign language intervention in Madrid’s infant education centers. Mind, Brain, and Education (online first). DOI: 10.1111/mbe.12144

Ribot, K.M., & Hoff, E. (2014). “Como estas?” “I’m good.” Conversational code-switching is related to profiles of expressive and receptive proficiency in Spanish-English bilingual toddlers. International Journal of Behavioral Development 38(4), 333-341.



Subscribe to receive updates on new blog posts and podcast episodes!

You have Successfully Subscribed!


  1. Henrike on September 18, 2017 at 12:21 AM

    I only stumbled upon your blog a short while ago and love it. This episode is very interesting to me as I am a German raising my two children in Australia. I would have loved some insight into warning signs that the bilingual language development is not going well. For example my daughter is 3 now, should she be switching back and forth most of the time or is it ok that she mixes her sentences. Are there resources for parents that want to track language milestones for their bilingual children?
    Thank you for all the insight you are giving me!

    • Jen Lumanlan on September 25, 2017 at 3:24 AM

      Hi Henrike – I’m glad you found this episode useful. In general, you will know that bilingual language development is not going well if your child resists speaking one of their languages. This typically tends to happen when they start school; whatever language is used among friends becomes the ‘cool’ language and the other is resisted. This is why so many Latino/a children in America understand Spanish fluently but don’t speak it – because they had to speak English in school and they wanted to speak it with their peers. To combat this, parents need to make speaking the second language (a) cool; (b) necessary; or (c) both. If you spoke poor English (which you clearly don’t), they would have to retain German to speak with you. If they happened to get shipped off to their German (non-English speaking?) grandparents for the holidays, this would probably help as well. If there’s a German ex-pat community with kids, you could try and get involved in that group. From what I’ve read it’s fine if your daughter mixes her sentences – even adults fluent in more than one language do this when they’re with a person who understands both languages. Good luck!

Leave a Comment