Which language to use at home with baby?

Partner and I are expecting our first in a couple of months! We are both products of bilingual educations and know for a fact how much this helped us to advance our careers so we definitely want to be able to pass it on. Both of us know plenty of ABCs and new immigrants but we are talking about true native bilingualism.

He is native bilingual (born in the States, moved to TW for local grade school + international school 7-12th grade, then back to the States thereafter). I grew up speaking Mandarin and learning English from local schools. Now after almost a decade in the States, new friends and colleagues won’t realize I’m not a native speaker without me specifically telling them so, but I remember vividly how much I struggled reading Virginia Woolf back in college.

Right now the plan is after parental leave, the little one will spend days (~6-8h/day on weekdays) at a childcare center provided by my employer. In-laws (limited English proficiency) will also help out substantially given that both of us work 60h+ weeks. We are hoping to move back to TW before our eldest turns 6 so we can send them to local elementary schools. And we do hope to have kiddo #2 and maybe #3 not too far in the future, preferably before the move.

If it’s just the two of us at home, we usually jump back and forth between the two languages, a lot of the times even within a sentence. We do realize how confusing that must be for a tiny brain and almost any advice for bilingual households says it’s best for each caregiver to stick to one language, preferably their mother tongue. The idea of using the non-school language at home seemed nice for a while, then we realized how massively disorienting that might be for a kid if you just wake up one day and mom and dad decide to speak another language to you. And a second/third kid in the future might complicate things further.

That narrows it down to three options

  • Options one: Mandarin from one parent and english from the other. I could see how this works well for families with, say, American dad and Taiwanese mom, or vice versa. But isn’t it a bit artificial for two parents with very similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds to arbitrarily decide to speak different languages? Would kids favor one parent over the other because of it?
  • Option two: Mandarin as the home language and English as the school language (as least until age 6). One big problem we see with this route is that it might be difficult/cost-prohibitive to find an actual English speaking daycare (not those with one foreign-looking teacher and 20min “English corner” every day) if we have younger ones in the future.
  • Option three: Mandarin from grandparents + elementary school, English from parents + childcare center. This seems like the best option for us so far.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. I do realize that it might be pregnancy anxiety talking and might not even be an issue at the end of the day. After all, I learned English from a middle school teacher who insisted breakfast should sound like break-first and I turned out fine.



Just communicate in whichever language you find natural. It isn’t “confusing” for a tiny brain - it’s the normal situation in most of the world. You may find baby starts speaking a little later than monolingual kids, but he/she will understand you both just fine.

Kids usually default to the most useful language in public life as they get older, so a bit of extra emphasis on English is fine.

Your English is better than most native speakers, btw, considering you learned it at school.


Our kids are bilingual. They have perfect Chinese and English.

I don’t think you need to worry while they’re young. It’s when they hit teenage years you’ll have problems. They will choose one language as their dominant language.

My wife left Taiwan in her teens. She has perfect Mandarin and English, yet her younger brother has excellent Mandarin but terrible English. He had more Chinese friends during his teens. My wife branched out and made English speaking friends.

My father was bilingual when he was a child. He lost his first language skills after living in an English speaking country from age 10. He could understand some of his native language but couldn’t reply.

A Russian friend said his son lost his Russian language skills in his teenage years. He would talk Russian with him, but he would reply in English.

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What language is spoken in the country you’re currently residing?

I use German with my kids. My wife uses Mandarin.
Me and my wife talk in English.

English will be learned in school anyway. But kids (2 & 4) started picking up some English words from us.


We’re in the US right now, but the plan is to go back to TW in ~5 years

Infants are smarter than you think. They won’t be confused. They are sponges to information from communication.

My mom spoke korean to me and my dad spoke Chinese. I was fully bilingual from an early age with no issues.


You may find this thread useful:

I’m from a non-English speaking country, and my wife is Taiwanese. We have three kids, ages 4yo, 2yo and 6m. My wife can also speak my mother language, so we all try to keep our conversations in my mother language when I’m at home.
Kids are picking up quite well, but they tend to prefer to speak in Mandarin when they started to go to kindergarten.

Addressing your options:

No and no. It will only be artificial if you don’t feel natural speaking the language. And kids may find easier speaking in one language vs the other, but that doesn’t mean they will favor one parent over another. Just don’t cave in if they insist in not using the language they are supposed to when talking to one parent.

Even if they go to a full English school (which can be expensive) not all staff will be native speakers. It can or not be an issue, depends on how much you mind about accents.

I think that’s the best option. Cheaper and get all your bases covered.

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Oh teenage years… that’s so far away in the future but at the same time such a solid point. Thank you for bringing this up

Now I think of it, I do know multiple sibling pairs with varying degrees of language skills. I always just assumed the older sibling would be the one better at mother tongues because they had to use it with the parents when they were the only kid at home. Never thought about the social aspects of teenage years

But I guess when they’re at that age, it’ll have to be up to them. I would never want to be the “[insert language] at home only or else you’re in trouble” parent. Simply want to provide the tools (like muscle memories of certain sounds unique to the language, is that a thing?) they might find useful if they ever want to pick either up again

I would speak Chinese only at home and send the child to an English speaking kindy. But, I can see other options working too.

The key to multilingualism is consistency. And what matters in the early years is that each parent consistently speaks only one language when talking to the child. Infant brains are language geniuses and will quickly construct the grammar rules.

So, if living in the US definitely speak mandarin to the child, alternatively, if it is natural for one parent, he/she can speak English (but kindergarden/school will naturally provide this in any case).

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In the true spirit of Forumosa I would say start with ‘babylonian’. :wink:



English at home and English outside? What’s your reasoning?

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The left brain is responsible for the English language while the right Chinese tones.

Possessing a bilingual brain is a powerful life skill that you can pass to your children and their future.

From a pedagogical point of view it’s best for each parent to focus on just one language from birth to 11/12yo then after the child masters the foundation of both languages the two parents can speak both languages anytime without mixed code.

From age one onwards to the end of primary school, when choosing audiovisual entertainment/learning programs such as movies, tv, songs, etc try to include and balance the two languages. For example, one English movie and one Chinese movie, etc. Don’t focus on one language only or tilt focus on one only.


I’m an ABC and my wife is local Taiwanese. We speak Mandarin together as our home/family language. My wife keeps telling me to speak to our 1 y.o. in English, thinking that if I don’t he’ll not be able to speak English at all. It’s hard for me to do so, considering it most natural for me to speak in Mandarin in a family context. The struggle is real.

One thing we do is with baby/children’s media/content, they are in English. One reason is that the media quality is just much better, but the other reason is this:

When my immigrant mother raised my older sister and I in America, my mother only spoke to my sister in Mandarin. When my sister was old enough to go to pre-school, my mother was worried that my sister wouldn’t be able to speak English at all. My mother warned the pre-school teachers about my sister not speaking English and said that she would pull my sister out of school if necessary. After the first day of class, when my mother picked up my sister, the pre-school teacher told my mother, “Are you sure she doesn’t speak English? She speaks English perfectly fine with us and the classmates!” As it turned out, my sister (who is quite smart, to be honest) was soaking up English watching PBS at home.

I’m not able to provide any really good advice here, since I am beginning my parenting journey, but I hope my sister’s experience helps encourage readers about raising bi-lingual kids.


Because it’s far more useful.

Is it far more useful than being naturally bilingual?

Rhetorical question.

EDIT: I can’t away from this. Is speaking English more useful than being naturally bilingual in languages so different as Chinese and English? I mean properly bilingual like my daughter, not bullshit bilingual people who have studied the language.


Even bullshit bilingual is superior imo.


A bilingual brain is definitely superior!

I am one example.