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Monday, July 29th, 2013

Should I Improve My Own Language Skills to Teach My Daughter?

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Dear Dr Gupta


I have a four-month-old baby who I would dearly love to grow up bilingual, as I never had the opportunity myself. I have spent a lot of time learning languages through classes, travelling and living overseas but have never had a true opportunity to become fluent in any one of them, and am pretty out of practice with all of them now too.  However with a bit of effort I could hold basic conversations in a couple of those languages still.


I am wondering if it is worth picking one of these languages and teaching my daughter words and phrases alongside her native English or would this just be confusing? I’d also be concerned about teaching her the wrong thing.


Your thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks and kind regards,







Most people who grow up bilingual do so because they are in a place or a family where it is natural to grow up bilingual. There is no harm in sharing a few words and phrases in some of the languages that you know with your daughter, or in teaching her some songs. Small children enjoy playing games with words. This won’t confuse her.


It won’t make her ‘fully’ bilingual, however. What it might do is to teach her that there are other ways of speaking—an important thing to learn. As she gets older you can also help her to listen to anyone that you hear around you speaking other languages and talk about it. This sort of thing will encourage her to be open to other cultures and languages and will teach her something about language.


I think we should do our best to share all our areas of knowledge with our children, and teaching her a bit about languages can be part of playfulness and fun. It would probably be interesting for you.


My own mother spoke very little French, but I remember her teaching me some basic greetings and phrases in French which I enjoyed. I think that’s the context in which you should think of what you do, rather than anything too ambitious.


Have fun with your little girl!


Dr. Gupta

© 2013, Anthea Fraser Gupta. All rights reserved.

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Anthea Fraser Gupta is a sociolinguist with an interest in how children learn to talk. She was born into a monolingual environment in Middlesbrough, England, but enjoyed learning about languages from an early age. She gained a B.A. in English Linguistic Studies and Archaeology at the University of Newcastle, then went on to do an M.A. in Linguistics. She left Newcastle in 1975 to work in Singapore, where she encountered a society in which multilingualism is usual and expected. In Singapore nearly all children come to nursery school already able to speak 2 or 3 languages. While lecturing in the linguistics of English at the National University of Singapore, she did a doctoral degree at the University of York, looking at the language acquisition over two years of four Singaporean children who were growing up with four languages. In Singapore, she also married a man from a multilingual family from India. She returned to England in 1996 to the School of English at the University of Leeds, where she taught courses on both English language and bilingualism until her retirement in 2010. Anthea has had experience in a range of multilingual and multicultural societies and families. She has published books and articles on English, especially the language use of children in Singapore, and has also produced a novel for children set in Singapore. She is deeply interested in child development and believes that the most important thing in raising a child is to provide love and stimulation, regardless of what language or languages are learned.

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