Raising Bilingual Twins

teaching twins a second language

Author: Stephanie Ernst

Did you know that being raised bilingual can give you an advantage? Studies have shown that children exposed to two languages from birth have an advantage in concentration in school, as well as helping them with language development.

In our house, we have 2 dominant languages (Dutch and English), and a third (German) that comes out at family gatherings. We chose to raise our twins in Dutch and English. We put a lot of research into how we would do this, and in this article, I wanted to share some of the tips and tricks we learned, as well as try to work through some of the myths you might face.

raising bilingual twins or triplets

Raising Bilingual Twins: It’s All About Exposure

There are really no secrets here. The biggest tip is to give as much exposure as possible to both languages. We followed the “one parent, one language” (OPOL) strategy precisely as it sounds. One parent speaks one language, and the other speaks the other language.

We didn’t strictly adhere to the rules because we both speak our non-dominant language regularly. Still, as much as possible, we exposed the girls to our native language. This was things like watching TV and movies in both languages, reading books,  etc. 

OPOL is controversial, with basically 3 schools of thought – those who love it, those who hate it, and those who use the principles and adapt them to their situation. (We were the third group!)

Another method is minority language at home (MLAH), where the children are exposed to the main language outside of the house, but at home, they speak the less common language. To be honest, this is similar to how we do things now!

There are of course, other options, like moving to another country or doing a foreign exchange or immersion program, but these are often out of our reach financially or practically. Schools sometimes offer language programs, so don’t be too disheartened if you want your children to learn a second language but don’t have the early exposure options!

The main tip is to be persistent, and adapt the strategies to suit you.

(Psst. One of my favourite resources for bilingual kids is by a twin mum! Check out Ute’s International Lounge and her list of resources. “How to raise a bilingual child” is awesome.)

raising twins to speak two languages

Myths About Raising Bilingual Twins

Will it cause speech delays?

No. Language milestones are the same in all languages. If you have concerns about your twin’s language development, speak with your medical professional.

Will it cause confusion?

In the beginning, it will cause some fun moments where your twins mix the languages, and this is fine. This isn’t confusing or problematic. Once they start school they’ll sort the language order out pretty quickly. Make sure you speak with your twin’s teacher about this as well, so they’re aware of the situation and can help.

If they can’t speak both languages fluently, are they bilingual?

Yes, they’re still bilingual. As time passes, they’re going to choose a dominant language, and this will always be the one they’re best in. Just keep going with the exposure and practice of the non dominant language!

Children with speech problems can’t learn a second language!

Yes they can. They may have a few more problems, but with the right support they can absolutely learn. Be patient, take your time, and it can be done. And again, if you have concerns about your twin’s speech development – always talk to a medical professional.

Check out our blog on Language Development In Twins and Multiples HERE.

raising bilingual twins when parents dont speak another language

Raising Bilingual Twins: Learning a second language can be fun!

Remember, there’s always a third option if you are considering raising bilingual twins.  Learn a second language together as a family!  This is particularly good for families with older twins – apps like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone or Babbel can be a fun way to do it together. (check out Duolingo’s competition mode as well for the super competitive among us.)

It all comes down to what works for you, and your family.  Raising bilingual twins can be challenging, but also a lot of fun.  My advice is to research different methods, and develop a strategy that works for you and your twins.

Learning a second language can be fun and rewarding, and is absolutely possible with twins!

stephanie Ernst TAPS twins

Stephanie Ernst is a freelance writer and self-proclaimed TAPS Nerd. She’s the TAPS Support Foundation‘s founder and spends her free time raising awareness of the issues facing parents of twins.  Her own experience with Twin Anemia Polycythemia Sequence (TAPS) and feeling the isolation of this diagnosis drives her determination to change screening protocols worldwide, support twin research, and raise the profile of multiples’ rights.


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