Raising Multilingual Children: The One Parent One Language Approach

Photo by Stephane YAICH on Unsplash

Raising multilingual children requires far more effort and work than most people think, it’s actually a labor of love, research, and planning. Considering how many different methods and strategies are available, it can feel quite daunting to pick the right one. In this month’s installment of our ‘raising multilingual kids’ series, we are going to look at the one parent one language approach.


A little history

The one parent one language approach is probably one of the most popular and oldest methods, with the first appearance on records in 1902 by French linguist Maurice Grammont., who theorized that languages should be represented by different people to allow for maximum exposure and avoid the mixing of the languages.

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

Why use the OPOL method

This approach works particularly well when parents are fluent in different languages as it allows them to speak to their children in their dominant one, therefore being able to confer opinions, feelings, and emotions easily.


So, what are the main pros of OPOL?

  • Exposure. As we all know, when raising multilingual kids, the key to success is exposure, exposure, exposure. When parents stick to one language each, children get exposed to all the languages in a roughly equal manner from birth.
  • Simultaneous multilingualism. Differently from the minority language approach (which we will visit next month) and the time and place strategy (which you can read more about here) children are simultaneously exposed to all languages from birth.
  • Straightforward. Of all the methods out there to pick from the OPOL is probably the most straightforward being bound by only one rule: one person speaks one language.
  •  Comfort. As mentioned above parents stick to speaking their native language, making the process natural and comfortable for all involved.


Why OPOL might not be the best method for you

Like anything we do, OPOL method is not without its cons, let’s look at some of them together.

  • Consistency. Pretty much like exposure, consistency is key when raising multilingual children and sometimes it can be hard to stick to one language all the time in a multilingual family. It becomes especially difficult when outside of the household, in social situations, surrounded by a group of friends who might not speak the language, etc.
  • Exposure. Yes, I know, I earlier said this was a pro but as we do not all live at home 24h a day, exposure is never going to be completely equal. More often than not, one of the two parents usually works longer hours and spends less time at home with the kids, therefore reducing the actual exposure to one of the languages spoken at home. We also need to take into account that once kids start going to nurseries and schools their exposure to the community language will be far greater than the other languages spoken at home.
  • Family dynamic. In families where one parent is bilingual and the other is not, the family dynamic might change as there will be the risk that one of the parents might feel ‘left out’ and the other might feel tired and frustrated to have to translate everything all the time. 


How to make it work

One word: consistency. Like any other method for raising multilingual kids, keeping at it is the only secret. It’s tiring, frustrating and sometimes all you want to do is give up and revert to speaking just one language but stick with it, and eventually it will get easier.

You may also like these articles from Bébé Voyage:

Raising Multilingual Children: Is The Time And Place Strategy Right For You?

International And Multicultural: One Family’s Journey Living Around The World


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