Mom’s experience: teaching my kids 4 languages

by Alenka

Thanks to Teresa for sharing her personal method for teaching her 3 year old son 4 different languages!

My son knows 4 languages and is almost 3.5 years old. He tests at a 5-year+ level in English and Spanish, he is at his age-level with ASL (American Sign Language), and I estimate he is at a two-year-old level with Mandarin Chinese. I understand that the most important years with languages is 0-3 and then 3-6. So I have made languages a priority for us.

I wanted to share some of what I have done and experienced with you. I am from South Texas in the US where Spanish and English are used
interchangeably. The lands were originally only Spanish-speaking and changed officially in the 1920′s to English. When my son was born, I wanted to make sure that he was ambi-lingual. Because you are asking when to introduce languages, I assume you are from the US because
many, if not most, other countries, or regions within, teach 2 or more languages to children naturally and simultaneously.

My recommendation is pick a language and then pick the level of competency first before you start.


Before starting this venture, you need to know your target languages and why. Presumably the national languages of your home country and/or homeland if you are living abroad is one of them. If there is a language that your relatives will speak to your child, then that should also be a language. I would strongly suggest that you start with those languages that you can expose your child to with native speakers. All the videos and cd’s won’t teach your child a foreign language. HUMAN INTERACTION is necessary! I definitely would not teach a foreign language to a child if you have no roots, connections, or urgency with the language.

I started signing with my child early on. When I was pregnant, I stumbled across a Baby Signing book at the library and it made sense to me. Signing is said to teach advanced communication skills, allow a child to express needs, and reduce tantrums or discipline troubles. Some groups are even claiming that their kids test above others all through school to college and on SATs.

I also spoke to him in Spanish almost exclusively his first 2 years, mostly because all the sayings and songs that I knew were in Spanish. However, because I now live in the DC area, many communications that he heard were also in English. The first language that he could “speak” was sign language.

Keep in mind that all this time, my in-laws were sending me very strong signals that I was handicapping my son by not first teaching him English. A director at a Spanish mother/child program told me that my child would not speak with words because we signed together and that I should stop signing. Then I was having advice from others telling me that I should be very strict about where and when I spoke a language, such as in the house versus outside, on certain days, only one person speaking one language, etc, which is now the popular approach. Supposedly, iF I didn’t follow these strict artificial rules, then my child would likely be confused. Fortunately for me, I had done my research and had experiences of learning two languages simultaneously.

My language approach to teaching is this: teach or use the language that is the most FUN, FUN, FUN at that moment or that is most
appropriate at that moment. I switch between languages all the time. If we are in an English public environment like a public park or store, I speak Spanish because my son will immediately know that I am speaking to him even if I am far away. If I am in a Spanish public environment, I also usually speak Spanish. If I am socially with an English-only speaker, then I use English. I use Mandarin when I am serious, and he is avoiding my signs, Spanish or English. He knows that if I am telling him something in Mandarin, he is pretty close to a time-out. At home I switch languages and I often/sometimes introduce a different language and say, “Let’s speak …. now.” My son discriminates between people and speaks the language he thinks they will best understand.

My sense is that if your child has a cognitive language problem, it will be that way whether you teach them one language or many languages
simultaneously. I don’t believe that speaking languages interchangeably causes cognitive language problems. And if you do suspect your child has a problem, get them help immediately, don’t wait or take chances, get them tested.

I was raised in an environment where people speak English and Spanish interchangeably. Sometimes every other word in a sentence is changed. Why, because some words are much better than others in expressing meaning and emotion. I use the most concise word regardless of its language, assuming the listener is also multi-lingual. For every language you learn, you really pick up two languages!–:the combo of
that new language and your old language.

When we are eating, I do insist that we sign because I don’t want my child choking. Also, I don’t want to stop eating to speak to my
child. We sign even if we are in restaurants. Meals are so much more pleasant and quicker. Eating can be very boring and signing makes it
fun. When it is early morning and my son is waking, he signs and I sign. I also try to sign when I notice it is within an hour of bedtime, or when I want him to simmer down or be quiet vocally. Signing has a way of just totally changing tempo and mood.

My default oral language with my child is Spanish. I really don’t think I need to speak English to him at all because we live in the US and he will absorb it naturally. Also, US schools can teach English but are absolutely HORRIBLE at teaching other languages to young children (with some immersion program exceptions). So if you know a non-English language fluently or semi-fluently, and it has some relevance, please use that language almost exclusively with your child!! What a gift you are giving them, and at the perfect time!

I chose Mandarin after extensive research on the PRESTIGE languages of the world (use, commerce, etc) and those that will open the most doors to your child when he is ready to graduate from high school, college, or grad school. There are many universities and other United Nations-type groups that rank the languages. I first considered French only because there is a ton of teaching materials and teachers, but after I did the research it appears that French is quickly mattering much much less on the international scale and has already fallen off the top ten Prestige languages of many experts.

The other languages I liked were Russian and Arabic. At that time, the US Government was saying that it really needed US citizens that
spoke Mandarin and Arabic for security reasons. So I looked at Mandarin. It was on everyone’s top 10. And it looks that by the time my son hits high school, many public schools will be offering it.

Next, since I spoke no Mandarin, I needed to find out if there were humans who did. I found out that in our area, many parents hire nannies that speak Mandarin or other dialects of Chinese, specifically to teach their child the language. One of the libraries in our neighboring county was offering Chinese story hours. I tried that and from there I got connected into what was being offered to toddlers and infants. Chinese has been taught in Chinese Schools across the US since the late 1800′s. The various Chinese communities thought that the language and culture was so important that it created weekend schools. One was operating close by to me and I never knew it!

Then I came across all the research on music. All children are born with perfect or absolute pitch, but will loose it as a young child if it is not nurtured. Surprisingly, those people who speak a tonal language are the most likely to retain their perfect pitch and have a very strong advantage in learning and enjoying music. That pretty much nailed down that Chinese was perfect for us. All of a sudden, it was an urgent language for us. By knowing Mandarin, my child will have an advantage in college admissions and scholarships, an advantage in the workplace, and an advantage in music, or so I believe.


If I remember correctly, there are different levels of competency.
They are in level of ease:
Listening (usually cds or tv)
Listening with Understanding (Human interaction begins here.)
Reading (via Doman)
Dreaming (This is my personal addition. I ask my son what language he dreams in and it varies.)

For us, I decided that I wanted to have the highest competency in Spanish and English, up to writing in Mandarin, and just signing in ASL to where he can communicate with a deaf child of his own age and other adults, which he does now. What level do you want your child to be at?


Now you have identified your languages. And you have identified the intended competency level. Now you need to understand the commitments. I believe the research shows that a young child needs 5-7 years to really be quite competent at a language. And even if you
are fluent and a professional teacher, you need human reinforcement from outside.

If you live in the US, like I do, there are limited resources for non-English languages and most of them are very expensive. However, if you are creative and resourceful, you can do it on the cheap. For example, when I need a babysitter, I hire another family’s Chinese nanny and specifically instruct her that she is to speak exclusively Chinese, bring Chinese story books, and read these and other books I get from the library to my son. He is playing with his own toys and he learns words that are appropriate for his age in a natural way.

When we could get Chinese news on our PBS-type station, I told him that he could watch it. What a treat it was for him since he watches virtually NO tv. And I read the subtitles to myself the first few times to make sure it was appropriate. The news is from some official
Communist China TV agency that makes it appear that there is nothing bad that ever happens in China. Huge chunks of news are spent on what old people and kids are doing, dancing, arts, festivals — all happy, happy joy news that is appropriate for a 3 year old. (We don’t have
cable or disk TV’s, but I would imagine you can get age-appropriate programs — or maybe not.) I really don’t know if watching the Chinese
news helped much — other than listening, not necessarily understanding.

Next, look for classes, and evaluate for quality. I observed many Spanish classes and decided that they were for entertainment only or really poor quality. My son knew more Spanish than 90% of the other children and his accent was better than many teachers. As a matter of fact, if you do not speak the language, get someone who does to help observe classes with you. You wouldn’t knowingly have your child learn English from an US hillbilly or a native Frenchman with poor grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary – so don’t expose your child to the equivalent in their target language. There are so few good classes for little children because there is a huge demand with so little supply of foreign languages. If you can’t find a class, maybe you pass on that language if no other human can teach it to your child.

As to Mandarin, I found out that many Asians are also teaching Chinese and don’t speak it well because they actually natively speak Cantonese or Tagalog(?) or another Asian language, don’t know how to write the simplified characters, and don’t know pin yin or accent marks. However, because most Americans are clueless, the “teachers” can fake it. If you want more on how to test for Mandarin quality classes, let me know.

If your child is over 2, then consider some of the interactive language programs. People at the Doman institute swore by Rosetta Stone for young kids. I have free access to Spanish and Mandarin through my library and my son can play if he has been particularly well-behaved that day. Do you have access or can you afford it?

If you are not going to commit to providing the resources for an extended period of time for your child, you may want to reconsider teaching a foreign language. Perhaps all the time you would spend preparing cards and teaching them and all the other opportunity costs aren’t worth it. Maybe, instead of a half-way approach, you might be much better off just goofing off and playing with your child, or getting more sleep, or stressing less about teaching another language.


If you have selected your languages, chosen a competency level, and are willing to make the commitment, then use DOMAN cards to supplement the human interaction with the language that your child will be having.

I hate to waste money or resources, so after I bought all the card stock, I put English on one side and Spanish on the other upside down. The English side is in RED and everything on the Spanish side is in Blue. So my cards are one side BIG RED LETTERS “toothbrush” in the center. TINY RED upsidedown “el cepillo de dientes” in the lower left hand corned.

BIG BLUE LETTERS “cepillo de dientes” in the center. (I didn’t have enough room for “el”) In tiny blue letters upside down in the lower
left corner “toothbrush” Now when I was teaching religiously with cards, I would say in a really upbeat way TOOTHBRUSH, and then flip the card over and say “CEPILLO DE DIENTES”. It took less than a second. Then sometimes I would do only Spanish or English. Remember to mixed the order all the time. Is it the best way to teach two languages to be read simultaneously? I don’t know. I do know that many mothers have taught older children Spanish and English simultaneously through phonics and have been successful. Their kids didn’t confuse the languages.

Now Mandarin is a whole different story, but you will be happy to know that many Chinese babies have been taught Characters with flash cards for eons. Doman didn’t invent the program. Every word in Mandarin is spelled with a character or combination of characters. There is no
alphabet! I use the 11×11 math cards for Mandarin. My son’s teachers or the babysitter will prepare the cards. For those, one side has the
Character and the other side has the pin yin at top with the tones so that I can pronounce it, the translation, and the character again so
that I can eventually pick it up too! (Also, the babysitter only reads characters and not pin yin.) The only problem I have encountered with the babysitter is that she takes the cards and says the character, once, twice, three, etc times and then tries to get him to repeat it. It has taken a lot of work to get her to do it rapidly the Doman way. At one point, I just would ask her to prepare cards for me and not use them with my son. I have gotten more sophisticated and Word now draws the characters for me that I print out and cement glue to one side.

Now when my son asks me in any language what a word means, I immediately sign to him the word. So ji(1), pollo, and chicken all use the same sign. Sometimes I play games where I have the cards out and I sign and he selects. Or the reverse, he signs and I select. If you haven’t picked ASL as one of your languages, I strongly recommend it. Signing has made teaching other languages so much easier and interesting.

Is it too late to teach my child? How do I teach my baby? How do I teach a language I don’t know?

I will break up the children into 2 groups. First) 0-2 years old, and Second)2-6. I will comment on the 0-2 year old here. (If anyone
wants to know about the other group, let me know and I can write another email concerning that group.)


If your child is under two, they are at a perfect age to introduce them to different spoken languages and even American Sign Language.


Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. (Or sign away.) Get other people who speak the target language to speak and talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. I firmly believe that a child will speak the language of whoever is giving them food. So, if you can, make your mealtime with your child in your target language(s).

If you can’t speak the language, let’s stop here and answer:


This is where things get fun. Remember, you don’t have to be an expert, you just need to know enough to get your child started. Think of it like this, most good musicians don’t start taking lessons from experts. They take lessons as children from okay musicians who make their classes fun, enjoyable and rewarding. These kids then graduate to better teachers. Your job is to be the first teacher who makes the
language interesting and fun.

How much of the language do you need to know? Well, remember the joke about the the lumberjacks being chased by the bear? You don’t need to run faster than the bear, just faster than the other lumberjacks. In our situation, you need to be steps or paces ahead of your child.

Where to start if you really don’t know a language? It’s time to buy some of the idiot or dummy books. I really like “Chinese for Dummies” and there really isn’t anything else interesting in Mandarin that I have found. (Let me know if you have found a fun Mandarin book.) For Spanish, some people swear by the “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning SPanish.” Whatever you use, make sure you like it. If you don’t like it, then it becomes a chore and you get grumpy, which your child will almost immediately pick up on. Also, make sure the language you pick
is one that you like. Don’t pick a language that you hate or have had qualms with. Your babies will notice that also. (Please go back to
my earlier email about picking your target languages.)

If your book has a cd then listen to it while your child can see you repeating words. Do a little bit everyday. Go to your library and check out language tapes. LISTEN to LANGUAGE TAPES IN THE CAR or when you have a minute. As a matter of fact, my son was listening to me do langauge tapes in the car when I was trying to get a start in Mandarin. I am told he has a good accent. Hmmm, I wonder if a baby listening to his mother practicing a language does anything for the baby? (I do remember that he just would mellow out and be non-cranky when I started repeating Mandarin sentences.) I checked out all the tapes I could whenever they were available. Sometimes only the super advanced tapes were available, so I practiced them. On those, I just repeated without even trying to understand what I was saying. I also checked out the tapes to teach English to native Mandarin speakers.

Sometimes that was easier for me to understand than the other way around! Be creative and use whatever your library has available. If
you have the time and money, maybe you can find a FUN class in your target langauge. (Another mother took a Chinese class offered by our
county that was so dreadfully boring and technical. She hated it. And the guy who taught it wasn’t even a native speaker!)

I caught just a bit of a program on PBS when they were having their fundraiser. It seemed really good and made sense to me. I didn’t see
it all the way through and if someone has it, may I please borrow it? Okay, I just googled it and here is the link about it.

Okay, so you have your idiot’s book and have started a language tape. Now, go to the library and get a kid’s picture dictionary. Start
reading this with your child as soon as you feel comfortable. (The picture dictionary will make you feel really smart!) You can also get a board book in your target language from the library and start reading it. If you are uncertain about some of the words, check the book out, go home, and look for the word in a bilingual dictionary or online. DO NOT GO ONLINE WITH YOUR CHILD AROUND. (I will write more about computers and videos and babies and toddlers.)

Okay, now that you feel comfortable reading a board book, try to include your target language with your Doman reading session. (I went
into detail in an earlier message.)


Now you are feeling good and you want to go solo and just speak to your child in everyday conversations. Learn the words of those things that your baby likes (names, toys, animals) and food words. Try substituting these words into your conversations with your child. (Okay, so they aren’t really conversations since your baby doesn’t talk yet, but you get the picture.)

If normally you start off in the morning by saying, “It’s time to eat breakfast.” This changes over time/weeks with:
“It’s time a comer breakfast.”
“It’s time a comer desayuno.”
“It’s tiempo a comer desayuno.”
“Ya es tiempo a comer desayuno.”

Or if you are personally good with languages, just go bilingual on your baby on day one and say things in English and your target langauge. Or just speak in your target language.

Teach the language with real things. Use a real banana and not a picture of it. (That might come later when your child is speaking the language with ease.) Use real food items that your baby eats to teach words. Say the words while your baby is tasting a food or touching a
toy. Avoid things that are not tangible or can be touched or seen by your baby, with some happy exceptions like “love” and “adore”. (Your
child will know what that means.)

Have fun. And you will not be perfect. Try your best. Your pronunciation will not be good at first. It might even be real bad. But, laugh about it. Don’t show frustration. Don’t be frustrated. (If you are and this is stressful, rethink whether you want to do this. Maybe your child can just wait till later and take a high-quality class.)

Back to making mistakes. So what? For the longest time, I called my son’s Chinese teacher a mouse instead of teacher. Lao shu instead of
lao shi, which sounded the same to me at that time. Of course I was horrified when I figured it out because I would tell my son things like, “Say xie xie to your lao shu,” when class ended in front of the teacher. Now, my son and I laugh about it together. And you aren’t going to have the perfect accent or tone, just do your best and have fun. Within a year or two, take pride and be in awe when your child corrects YOU! I take it as a sign that I did a good job.


I talked a little bit about reading books to your child. That is wonderful and a great time to share. Have your child with you on your lap and give lots of kisses and hugs at the same time. When you feel comfortable, change your voice for different characters to make it interesting.

With the 0-2 year olds, I also recommend going to your library and checking out high-quality classical Spanish or target language music (no pop music here), operas, and musicals. Things that your child can hear in the car. I shy away from Kiddie cd’s because so many of them are poor quality in terms of musical ability and vocabulary. I would NOT PLAY ANY VIDEOS or TV shows or COMPUTER programs for any child under 2. There is sufficient research to show that this kind of exposure to children under 2 is likely responsible for many kinds of medical and behavioral problems.

I believe there are many class action suits being started against companies and people who make or market under 2 videos, electronic, and computer programs. Yes, I just googled one of the lawsuits against makers of video and computer programs for children under 2 and it says “the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children younger than 2 be discouraged from watching television. The academy, in a policy statement issued in 1999, said: “Although certain television programs may be promoted to this age group, research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers . . . for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills.” Here’s a website of one of the groups that I haven’t read but seems to be representative of the trend to protect babies and toddlers from electronic visuals.

I think I remember that parents of ADD and ADHD kids who sat their babies in front of TV’s and computers have already or are going to
file lawsuits against makers of video and electonic programs for babies and toddlers. There are just too many risks by having your baby
or toddler sit in front of a computer screen, tv, or video player. The prudent thing for children under 2 (and some parents will say under 6) is just avoid TV, VIDEOS, COMPUTER programs, and ELECTRONIC SCREEN toys. Really, if you have to use these things to teach a language to babies and toddlers, you are pretty desperate and possibly haven’t thought about the long-term langauge commitment. And, is it really worth using a pretty poor teaching tool for a baby and toddler when you might be risking your child’s cognitive development, sleep patterns, eating patterns, behaviour, sociability and health? I really don’t think it is worth it. I want you to give the best to your child so that your child can be the best. Please, please, avoid the TV, VIDEOS, COMPUTER programs, and ELECTRONIC screens.

Oh course, maybe 50 years from now we might find that all this alarm was wrong. But for now, I don’t want any guilt on my conscience of a child being exposed to harm because I encouraged someone to teach languages to their baby, toddler, young child and joy in their life. Please just avoid the TV, Videos, Computer programs, and electronic screens and be very clear that I am against them for babies, toddlers, and under 2′s.

I hope sharing this has helped you.

Sorry if this has typos or seems discombobulated at times. It is really late and I have to sneak time for myself whenever I can.

Hope this helps you! Teresa


  1. Katrine Friis

    What a great article you have posted Teresa! Thank you for sharing your experiences! I live in Spain and am starting to teach English to children here. So I would really LOVE some info on how to teach children with the Doman method in the 2-6 age group!!

    Hope to hear from you! Thanks so much!


  2. Nathalie Poitiers

    Thank you so much for this post. I have four-month-old son and I want to teach him different languages. Very helpful

  3. Diana Alanis

    Thank you so much for writing this. It was so helpfull to me. I have a 3 year old and a 10 month old baby. You answer all my questions and more. I trully appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us readers.

  4. Kayla

    Hi Alenka, Hi Theresa,

    Thank you so much for this fabulous website and for sharing with us your experience!

    I live in Indonesia, and intend to teach my baby 3 languages. English, Mandarin, and of course Bahasa/ Indonesia. And since Glenn Doman method has just become famous here, I do not know any other way to teach my baby to read other than using GD method.

    Which bring me to this question:

    If for instance I want to teach my baby the word “banana”, do I flash the english card “banana” then follow by mandarin card “xiang jiao”, then follow by indonesian card “pisang” then follow by a picture of banana?

    Or is there a better way?

    Please help! Thanks a lot!

  5. Alenka Post author

    Sounds like an interesting approach! In my personal experience, I was introducing languages and materials sequentially, slowly, one by one. I started only with Russian words, since this is the language that my baby, Smiles, hears the most around the house. With my older one I started exclusively with Russian reading as well, then added math and Encyclopedic knowledge cards. Once he was comfortable with this material (and I was comfortable with the schedule), I added English, followed by Spanish. So, eventually, we were watching 5 english words, 5 russian words (different), 5 spanish…. followed by 5 english couplets, 5 spanish couplets, etc… Let me know if you want me to elaborate further.

  6. kayla

    So if I get it right, you teach your baby different word for each languange? e.q: you teach 5 english words about fruits, and 5 spanish words about body-part… and so on?

    Oh, yes, I DO want and need you to elaborate further! ^^

  7. Alenka Post author

    You are totally right: 5 English words about fruits, 5 Spanish words about body parts, etc. Once my son was ready for couplets, the number of presentations increased: 5 English words, 5 English couplets, eventually – 5 English sentences. Then the same for Spanish. For Russian we were already reading books, so we would follow with that. Besides just presentations we followed many other advices given in these articles. The only thing I and Theresa disagree is the mixing of languages: I believe we should try the best we can to speak every language exclusively, and Theresa slowly incorporates the new language in the canvas of the old one. As far my own research indicates, kids learn in the environment that surrounds them. I’ve noticed, that by offering my kids translations of the languages that we are learning, I am expanding their knowledge of the native language, but slowed down the foreign language acquisition.

    Our approach is to have 1 day a week in Spanish, 1 day a week in English, all the rest – are our Russian days. On our English/Spanish days we not only speak to each other English/Spanish, but also sing songs, watch TV (that’s rare, but if there happens any TV that day, it has to be in the language of the day) and listen to CDs (that’s a lot – we spend lots of time in a car).

    Russian is his primary language at this point, and the most comfortable. English – I don’t care as much, since he hears it everywhere around and in school, so his English is growing rapidly without too much of my help. In English I am mostly interested in his reading and writing. Comprehension comes naturally.

    So, the only really “foreign” language for us is Spanish. The ideal case would be to hire a Spanish babysitter, but we don’t have one at all. Since my own knowledge of Spanish is still really rudimentary, I am using online dictionaries a lot, books in other languages, CDs. I am helping him translate what he wants to say in Spanish. I often stumble into a problem of not knowing myself, how to say it correctly. That GREATLY slows us down. Nevertheless, he can exchange a few words with native speakers, and since we recently starting doing some Rosetta Stone Program exercises together, I was amazed to see how much he actually understands. I am even toying with an idea, that if he starts Spanish in school, we might add another language at home later… But that would greatly depend on how busy we are with everything else going on and his own interests.

    So, if you know a few languages, just speak to your kid in that language, and open their language learning horizons!

    One last note: I’ve noticed, that when I let my son answer to me back in any language that he wants, his comprehension of the language increases, but his ability of the new language remains diminished. So recently, just like I described, when he answers me back in the “wrong” language for that day, I playfully help him express this in the “right” language. Something like, “Wow! Sounds great! And how do we say that in Spanish? Let’s think together. That’s a good try. And how do you say “ball”? Aha… so…” There was a really dramatic leap in his language skills since I started to insist on this “game”.

  8. Linda

    Dear Alenka,

    I am so excited finding this great website. As I am a nerve breaking mother of twins, I seriously want to make sure how to start teaching my kids correctly rather than confusing them for the rest of their lives.

    I have had showing my twins the graphic books since they were 3 months old. As they are now turning to 6 months, I would like to follow Glenn Doman’s method by showing them the flash cards and powerpoints in different languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese & French. I would like to know whether I should:
    1. flash the 5 languange materials everyday, 3 times a day accompany with audio CDs, books, etc. or

    2. present 1 language a day, such as English day for Monday, flash 5 English words only, accompany with other multimedias & books in English. Tuesday for Mandarin & so on? Or

    3. flash 5 language cards everyday, but show one language of multimedia & books per day: Monday for English, Tuesday for Mandarin, & so on?

    I hope you understand my question and your feedback is really appreciated.


  9. Maria

    It was a great post! Thanks so very much. I have an 18 mo. old daugther and we are teaching her 3 languages so far (Spanish-I am from Puerto Rico, French- my husband, and English-since we’re living in US), also she heards Creole-Patau from my husband and family members fron Haiti. At the moment she understand every single word in all 3 languages and is trying to talk and repeat. My husband only talks French with her and I Spanish, and English when we are around doing shopping or sharing with English-speakers only. We introduce everything in a normal way. We use a lot of comunication, songs, crafts, children books and always in a fun way. Also, most of our books are in English, so we read them in English but talk and make refference to everything in another language. So far, we talk all languages every single day with her. At the momment, she doesn’t have an extensive vocabulary but we know that is growing everyday and we are having progress. Thanks again for the great post and I will try to introduce another language (maybe ASL for now) and to follow your suggestions!!!!

  10. liza

    hi alenka,
    i, like everyone, would like to thank you for your wonderful work and generosity. i speak russian, english and spanish, so, ideally, i would like my daughter (18 months old) to learn all three. my husband and i speak spanish, i speak to her in russian, and english, well, you know, it’s all around us.
    so, i guess my question is, and i know that this has been touched upon, but i just don’t seem to get it all that well, first of all, would you recommend that i do one language only and leave spanish to my husband? or, should i teach the same words, simultaneously in the 3 languages? wouldn’t this be really confusing for the kid? i have noticed that she will say “nosik” and “nariz” depending on which parent she is talking too, since we have been trying to separate the two. or maybe it would be better to show one set of words in russian and a completely different set in spanish, english? also, why should we assume that 15 times is enough for a word to be assimilated? i guess what i really want to hear is someone’s own personal experience teaching various languages at a time, preparing materials etc. finally, i know you prefer not to be judgmental, but seeing that you have a lot of experience in this field and i am just starting out, would you mind telling me what you think of brilkids? they have a program in english and are currently working on one in russian? i have been thinking about making cards in russian and getting this program for english. aaah, which reminds me, when you make conversation about the cards, are you supposed to use the target language or the original one? so, should i be saying “nariz, puedes tocar tu nariz” or “nariz, gde tvoi nosik”?
    thanks so much once again, i’m looking forward to your enlightening comments.

  11. Alenka Post author

    All of those are excellent questions! I’ll try to answer them to the best of my knowledge.

    Knowing three languages at once – how lucky your daughter must be! You should feel very proud for offering her the possibilities to absorb all of those languages naturally, through speaking and listening to her loved ones – you, her daddy, grandmothers, grandfathers.

    Generally it is a good idea for each family member to speak just one language. Children identify what language to use with each parents easily. I know many multi-language families and their kids effortlessly switch from one conversation/language with one parent, to another. The trouble usually starts with English: while kids are at home everything goes smoothly, but as soon as kids go to school/preschool/daycare – English takes over. Today my son spent 10 minutes trying to remember how to say “rooster” in Russian, even though Russian is still his primary language. I noticed, that only with regular “lessons-sessions” (speaking exclusively in that language, reading, AND writing) it is possible to preserve all of them. As soon as the parents give up/relax, school-age kids are happy to switch exclusively to English…

    I think that “one parent-one language” rule originated because it helps to keep conversations exclusively in that language and to enforce this rule. Well, it doesn’t work in my home: my husband comes home from work so late, that my kids crave any kind of conversation with him, regardless of the language. So I have to speak all these languages – I have English day, Spanish day and the rest – are Russian days in our house. Seems to be working fine. English he is mostly picking up from school, surroundings, books, cartoons. Spanish – we learn together, so it is his weakest (and mine too – I can only dream of having enough time to learn to speak it fluently!). Russian – is still his primary, but I understand that it will remain so only until grade school – as soon as most of his reading/writing/conversations will take place in English, so will his thinking process.

    So pick whichever method you find easiest to stick to and be consistent with it. I remember someone commented that her dad was speaking one language in the car, another one at home and third… in some other setting. She said that thanks to her dad’s consistent routine of speaking specific language in specific place, she was equally fluent in all three languages.

    Why 15 times is enough?
    It may be 15, may be 10, may be 30. It is just a sample number. Your kid will guide you how many times she needs. Some kids learn fast and get bored with too many repetitions. The only thing that my children do fast – is forgetting things that they’ve learned. So 15 wasn’t enough for them. I developed a system for ourselves, that works with our schedule and allows me to update/show things consistently. Please, by all means, experiment and see what works for you. Moreover, at different times, different approach might turn out useful. As for us, we watch our presentations 3 times a day, one set of English words, one set of (different words – just like you, I thought that having different words in different languages might be easier) in Russian, yet another set – in Spanish. Eventually we move onto couplets/phrases/sentences, so I slowly increase the amount of presentations. In addition to presentations here on the site, I constantly create presentations with pictures of my kids, and their loved ones (“Mommy is eating”, “Daddy is drinking”, “baby is sleeping”…). These presentations immediately become their favorites. I also make books about our holidays, birthdays, vacations – simple sentences with words that we’ve learned and photographs. I end up printing them out afterwards and using as books/family albums. Silly in some ways, but seems to work well both for reading and building family memories.

    I know that that site created a software that can help you make words/cards/images. I haven’t used it, so I have no personal experience with it. I already have so many free presentations, that I just don’t have the need to spend money and time on another software. It might be very good, or not so good – if you have any experience with it, please share – I’d be curious, and I am sure – other readers as well.

    “nariz, gde tvoi nosik” – mixing languages
    I believe mixing languages is only confusing – the kids will tend to mix it by themselves, by experimenting with it. I believe, that the more we stick to just one language at a time – the better they learn it. Unlike adults, kids “absorb” languages, so they don’t need translations. When I read a book in Spanish to my baby (or watch presentation), I just speak Spanish (to the best of my abilities). On the other hand, if I am reading a book in Spanish with my five year old, I occasionally ask him to tell me in his own words in Russian what he understood – not as a test, but as a casual “What do you think just happened?” or “Oh, what did the farmer say?” – usually, I am pleasantly surprised. I do that in all languages – sometimes, with his amazing child’s view-comprehension, he gets a totally different story… And if not – I just look at the words with him and we try to figure out together what it can mean!

    Have fun!!!

  12. Alenka Post author

    Liza, sounds like you are all ready to begin! 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 seems fine. I used cardstock and had 8 1/2 by 11. You can try and see if it works well for her!

    No testing – this is a peculiar topic. Doman has entire chapters in his books dedicated to No Testing rule. Yet, all the parents want is testing – some kind of proof that all of their efforts are not in vain. I am no exception to that rule. So, I really liked the suggestions in the book: I did not explicitly point and ask “What is it?”. I didn’t let grandmothers terrorize the kids with the usual well-meaning questions: “Who is this? What is this? How does it do?” I am doing my best to stay away from these questions myself. Yet, there are ways how you should know and it is far easier, then 6th sense: if your kid is watching, paying attention, that’s all that matters. She is learning. Something. Not necessarily what you want, but it is definitely productive, so keep doing what you are doing! If your doughter is losing interest, time to start “jumping through the hula hoops”: is the font too small? Is it the card? Are you showing cards too slowly (often the culprit, since there is no real “too fast” – the faster, the better)? Is there something distracting around her? There are loads of questions and ways to solve it… The most important rule – don’t bore your child (by showing it too slowly, too often, for too long…)

    Yet occasionally I like to offer them the opportunity to show what they know: I hold two cards and say: “Hm, where is banana?” Always offering choices somehow takes the edge off pressure. Sometimes I hang cards on the fridge and say: “Can you bring me the word apple? Oh, thank you for bringing me the word pear! I am glad you found it! Can I have the world apple now?” Success with every try – seems to be imperative.

    So, just watch your daughter’s reaction and you’ll be able to find out if cards, computers, dry erase boards, doodles, easels, work better for you.

    Same goes for images: by no means I am advocating images. Neither I am advocating computers at the early age. It was sort of desperate measures. It looks like neither of my kids are visual learners, and words by itself were not stimulating enough: both of my boys are too energetic to stay still even for 5 seconds. My second one, smiles, was a little better at that, even now he occasionally enjoys flipping through the cards without ever looking at any pictures… yet for consistent program I needed something else. After a myriad of things that we did (watching it in the car, vacuum cleaning it, jumping over it, hanging it all over the place), the computer just turned out the easiest: they both love it. Preparing materials, fitting it into our schedule also somehow became easier, so images, sounds, special effects became part of our learning to read process. It is a lot harder to update

    My older one still loves to flip through simple small cards by A.P.P., that are arranged phonetically. Despite all the challenges, he was surprising me how well he was reading the familiar words, how he figured out lots of sounds… so it is working.

    Have fun!

  13. liza

    thanks for your reply.
    yesterday, i went out and bought some index cards, so we will soon be ready to begin. do you think that a card that measures 81/2 inches by 4 1/2 inches is too small? this was the largest index card that i was able to find and seeing that my daughter is already 18 months old and able to spot a dog blocks away, i think her sight is good enough for it.
    i read your entry about not testing, so you recommend just to continue showing the cards until some sort of 6th sense tells me that she has captured their meaning and then i would recycle them and introduce new words. bear with me, does this sound correct? day 1 – 5 words, day 2 – 10 words, day 3 – words, day 4 – 20 words, day 5 – 25 words, then day 6 take out all the words from day 1 and add in 5 new words and so on?
    also, you think that words should be shown without images or, since you are using ppp, are you advocating image use?
    maybe i can first rapidly move through the cards without showing images and then repeat, with pictures, just to make sure that she knows what i am talking about.
    plus, i don’t really understand the underlying idea of the doman method, in order for my daughter to be able to read a book that i make for her, no matter how personalized, she would have to have seen all the words in it, right? what about connectors, “and” and such? it just seems so strange, or will she be able to intuitively learn to recognize words?
    finally, would you mind letting me know how you fit all these presentations in, twice or three times a day. plus encyclopedic knowledge and math (both of which i haven’t even begun to think about). maybe you can just post a tentative schedule that seems to work for your family.
    thanks ever so much,

  14. liza

    if you don’t mind, i’d like to ask one more question, one more for now that is:) i don’t seem to understand the basic idea of teaching like this, how can you make a book or expect the child to read one if you have to stick to only words that you have shown previously? or will her understanding pick up some time later? how would you teach “and” for example, or any connector for that matter?
    also, to reiterate, if i were to show presentations in two languages, i should speak the language of the words at the time, right? it just seems counter-intuitive since up until now, i have been only speaking to my daughter in russian, almost pretending to speak neither spanish nor english. so when we see a presentation and it says “nose, can you touch your nose” i have translated the phrase to make sure she understood what was being asked. i guess that was wrong then.
    alenka, are you teaching your younger son all three languages too? you mentioned watching presentations back to back, in 3 languages that is? how long does that take and how can they pay attention to all this, plus the math and the encyclopedic? i am just trying to stand on the shoulders of giants…
    thanks so much,

  15. Alenka Post author

    Wow! What a compliment! Thank you!

    I wrote such a long answer to all your questions that I separated it into an article. See it on the site!

  16. eleni

    Hi guys, I am a mother to be from Greece. I found your article so interesting! I myself can speak Greek, English, German and French, and would like to teach my child all of them….I guess its a hard job but I currently dont work so I guess I ll have all the time of the world to do so. I guess I ll have to pick a day for English, one for German and one for French, and then the child will speak Greek with its father and our relatives….I m not sure it ll work, I guess theres nothing else to do though…..any suggestions wuld be welcome! Thnx, Eleni

  17. Anna

    Hi Alenka

    Thanks a lot for the great article and the further comments. I have a child who’s 5, he knows 3 languages fluent, greek, armenian, english. I’m trying to teach him russian now, he knows some things, sentences and names for things/animals. I too made a plan a few months ago teaching him one language once a week, but i find it quite challenging now. I started my 2nd university recently, bch’s psychology and i’m also learning turkish. He speaks greek to his dad and armenian with me. Also goes to english classes twice a week. Do you think it would be a good idea to start teaching him turkish once i’m learning it myslef, or shall i first learn it well and then pass it to him and instead concentrate on russian. Thanks a lot. Keep up the good work. I really admire the parents that teach their children foreign languages at a small age.

  18. nafiseh

    hi,my doughter is 26 months,how can i teach he another language?can u recomend me a book?or can u email me?

  19. Francesca

    Hi Alenka,
    I just found your site and so happy I did! I have wanted to use the Doman method and was unable to due to life being a little hectic. My son will be 3 next month and I would like to start now, has anyone else asked you how to start a language program with a 3 year old or to teach him to read with this method? He is very smart so I think he will pick things up rather quickly, just a little nervous that I have missed the window of opportunity of it being easier for him when he was younger… Or easier for me to teach him when he was less mobile :) Would appreciate any advice or references. Thank you!

  20. Alenka Post author

    Francesca, congratulations on your decision! You haven’t missed anything yet – educating babies presents more then enough challenges, so three is an excellent age to start: your son understands things better, his interests are clearer and his attention span is larger! So you are in luck in many ways. As for techniques – I’d try the same things: speaking to your little one, listening to songs and books on tape, reading books, watching cartoons and even showing words in that language. I guess, speaking to him in that language at least at certain points exclusively in that language will help the most. Enjoy!

  21. guest

    I really liked your blog entry since I will hopefully teach Spanish to my children. (My second language and love)

    By the way, in case you didn’t know, it is actually, “Ya es HORA DE desayunar” (“comer desayuno” sounds weird to me; I don’t recall hearing it while living abroad) Good luck!

    “Ya es tiempo a comer desayuno.”

  22. Alenka Post author

    Awesome!!! Thank you! Can I ask you another question, please? How do you say: “It is time to make your bed.” Every time we have a Spanish day, as we go through our daily routine, I am not sure if I am using the right expression.

  23. Chaste

    Teaching my son a second language has been on my mind for a while and all the information I have found thus far is very vague. I really appreciated all the tidbits of information and how specific some of the anecdotes are. My biggest question is how would you altar your method of introducing and reinforcing a new language if your child is in the 2-6 yrs range and the parent teaching is not 100% fluent yet?

  24. Juan

    Hi Alenka, I really need to talk with you. I’d really appreciate if you can tell me which way do you prefer. Do I have to write an email here?. Thank you in advance.

    Best regards,


  25. Nicole

    My French husband and I are both trilingual and we live in France. My mother tongue is English but I was raised in a Spanish speaking country. My husband and I only speak in Spanish together but when the baby is born he wants us to switch to English. My husband only wants to speak French to the baby and have me speak in English as he says it could be confusing, but I don’t want the Spanish to go to waste. Could you please give me any ideas? Thanks

  26. Jessica

    Hi Alenka,

    Thank you so much for writing this blog. I have two boys 7 and 5. They are fluent in Spanish and English. Have been learning ASL since they were born until now and have been studying Chinese for about a year. They also take music lessons. Sometimes I have trouble finding the time to continue learning all these. I was trying to find something online that helps me decide if I should concentrate my effort on continuing only with ASL or if I should have them go to a Chinese saturday school in my area and just have them mantain their basic ASL. Your blog helped me a lot! It answered many questions I have. i like it specially because it deals with the 4 languages we are learning and because you show it can be done. If you have any recommendation on how to budget our time in the beginning stages of language acquisition ,I would greatly apreciate them. Thanks

  27. Laura

    Hello Alenka you web is amazing, I just started a blog about the Doman Method, I just openned a kids center here in Spain and we are going to use this method, I wanted to post some of the information you wrote in here (bc it’s amazing) in my blog but I need to translate it to spanish, I would link your web, to let people know you are the author but first I wanted to let you know and make sure you are okay with it.
    thanks for everything!