top of page

How We Raise Our Children to Be Trilingual in English, Mandarin and Russian

Updated: Feb 7



Table of Contents



Hello! Check out my new YouTube video where I’ll share with you how my husband and I raise our children, aged 5 and 6, to be trilingual in English, Mandarin and Russian. I hope it will give trilingual families out there some inspiration and motivation.


Just to give you some background information to those of you who are new to this blog / my YouTube channel :)


We’re a trilingual family living in the UK just outside of London.


I was born in China and grew up in Hong Kong before moving to the UK in 2003, while my husband is originally from Russia and lived in Australia for many years before moving to the UK about 15 years ago.


Even before our first child was born, we always knew we wanted to pass our languages on to our future children.


Being fluent in more than one language ourselves, we’re very aware of the benefits of speaking more than one language.




So, in short, we’ve been on this trilingual journey since our first child was born in 2016.


It’s been a challenging but extremely rewarding journey, and now my mission is to help as many parents in a similar position as possible.


Before we start, I want to stress that our journey is far from over – it’s an ongoing process and probably will be for a very long time!


Nevertheless, in this video, I’ll tell you EXACTLY what we’ve been doing so far to help our children become trilingual.


Let’s get started!


One-Parent-One-Language Method


First off, let me tell you about the basic linguistic setup we have at home.


Broadly speaking, as a family, we practise the One-Parent-One-Language Method, also known as the OPOL method - those of you familiar with multilingual parenting terminology will probably have heard of this already.


If you'd like to find out more about the language strategies most commonly adopted by bilingual/ trilingual/ multilingual families, please read my detailed blog post on this subject, which offers a complete guide on these strategies!


A trilingual family living in the UK using the One Parent One Language Strategy; choosing a strategy for raising a trilingual child
A trilingual family living in the UK using the One Parent One Language Strategy

But basically, in the context of trilingual families, this method typically involves one parent speaking target language A, and the other parent speaking target language B, while everyone else in the wider world speaks target language C, which is also the majority language of the place where the family lives.


In our case, we live in the UK, so the majority language is English. I speak to our children in Mandarin, and my husband speaks to them in Russian.


At this point, you might be wondering: what do you do when all four of you are having a conversation together?


Well, initially, the idea was for me to speak Russian too, but over time, I’d say we’ve settled into using English as the “family language” at home, when the conversation involves one or both of the kids, my husband AND me.


This works for us, and it seems that most trilingual families in the UK have a similar set-up at home.


If you’re trying to raise trilingual children, I think the OPOL method is probably your best option.


Next, let’s talk about consistency.


CONSISTENCY


For us, we’ve realised that the key to success is, without a doubt, consistency.





I won’t go into too much detail here - but if you’re interested, check out my Top 5 Mistakes video, where I give more background info about that!





Basically, before we committed to using Russian and Chinese exclusively with our first child, he would only speak to us in English.


These days, we’re both quite strict about speaking to our children only in our languages, even when we’re out and about.


We also insist on them replying to us in our languages – if they say something to us in English, we ask them to repeat it in Russian or Chinese.


For us, this approach has been super effective, and for any parent struggling to make their child speak the target language, I would really advise you to be consistent about using the target language exclusively and to insist on your child talking to you in the target language.


Remember – consistency is absolutely key to successfully raising bilingual, trilingual and multilingual children!


Language lessons and weekend school


In addition to speaking Russian and Mandarin at home, we also supplement this with language lessons and weekend school.


Both our children have been going to Russian school every Saturday for several years.


They spend 3-4 hours there doing a variety of activities in Russian in an immersive environment, and the school also sets homework and provides additional learning material that we can look at in our own time.


For us, the Russian school is really beneficial mostly because it provides a truly immersive Russian-speaking environment for the children.


My husband’s family all live overseas, which means that our kids wouldn’t otherwise get the same level of exposure to Russian without these Saturday sessions.


If you're currently considering enrolling your child in a language school, watch this video to find out what I think about language schools and classes!





A few years ago, we also gave a weekend Chinese school in London a try.


Our son attended that school for two school terms, but to be very honest, that school was very different in the sense that it mostly catered for non-Chinese families, and I didn’t feel like he was learning that much.


After the school closed at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, we stopped all Chinese lessons altogether.


For almost three years, our children did not have any Chinese lessons, but we had a good learning routine at home, which I’ll go into more detail later.


But last year, our friend recommended an online Chinese language school to us. We gave it a go, and the children surprisingly really enjoyed the trial lesson.


So since then, they’ve been having one 30-minute one-to-one online lesson per week, which is not a lot, but it does give them some additional exposure to a native-speaking teacher, and the school also sets fun interactive homework, which the kids enjoy.


But essentially, my honest advice to parents is this:


You DO NOT HAVE TO pay other people to teach your kid the target language!



Language learning has to start at HOME.


Unless you send your child to a bilingual school where they spend 6 hours a day immersed in the target language, just going to a language school on the weekend or having an online lesson once a week or whatever isn’t going to help your child become bilingual or trilingual.


Language acquisition has to start at home, with the parents.


But if you’re doing things right at home, of course, it doesn’t hurt to supplement that with language lessons or weekend school.



Reading and writing


Now, this might not be relevant to every bilingual or trilingual family out there, but for us, we also want our children to learn how to read and write in our languages.


If that’s your goal too, establishing a consistent routine is essential.


Over the course of the past six months or so, we’ve settled into the following routine:


  • During the week, from Monday to Friday, the children do “homework” with us for approximately an hour each day, split between a morning and an evening session.


  • The morning session takes place just before they go to school, and the evening session takes place after dinner.

  • My husband and I alternate, so for example, on Mondays, I do homework with our son in the morning while my husband sits down to study with our daughter, and in the evening, we switch over. This way, both kids get more or less equal exposure to Chinese and Russian literacy work over the course of a week.


I know some of you might think this sounds like A LOT of work.


Well, I’m not gonna lie, it IS hard work!


But don’t forget that we have to fit English and Maths homework into these sessions as well.


And on the weekend, the kids do get a break; during the school holidays, too, we’re a bit less rigid about maintaining this routine.


But I really think having a routine has helped our children get to a basic level of literacy in all our languages and keep the momentum going.


Grandparents, relatives and friends


What else do we do to give our kids a trilingual environment? We’re very lucky that my mum lives just down the road from us, and we see her at least once a week. My mother is, in fact, highly multilingual herself if you count the Chinese dialects as separate languages, which they kind of are because a large number of these dialects are not mutually intelligible!


Her first language is the Shanghainese dialect, but she also speaks Mandarin, Cantonese and English. When we’re with the kids, we all speak Mandarin together, so that’s an additional source of language exposure for the children, which is great.



Trilingual family - mixed heritage children with their Chinese grandmother; raising bilingual trilingual multilingual biracial mixed raced mixed heritage children
My children with their Chinese grandmother!


I’m also friends with a small group of Chinese mums whom I used to work with many years ago, and we arrange to meet up every now and then.


It’s great for our kids to see their mum interact with other people in Mandarin, as it helps them understand the point of using the language.


We also see my cousin’s family a few times a year – I need to make a separate video about my linguistic interaction with my cousin’s family, as it’s a really interesting story in itself – my cousin’s from Shanghai and lives in Berlin with her German husband and their son.


When we’re together, it’s super beneficial for all three children in terms of learning Mandarin because they not only hear their mums talk in Chinese a lot but are also forced to use Mandarin to communicate with one another as that’s the only language they have in common.


I’m sure one day, my cousin’s child will learn to speak English, and things will be different then, but for now, they have to communicate in Mandarin!


So if you have family, relatives or friends around who speak your target language, leverage that to give your kids extra exposure to the language!


Avoid the “perfection” trap


Now, before we finish, I want to give all parents out there a key piece of advice:


Do not fall into the perfection trap!


Perfect is the enemy of the good - Voltaire

Having watched this video, you may have the impression that our kids are perfectly fluent in English, Russian and Mandarin – but that’s far from the truth!


While they can certainly communicate in these languages, their pronunciation and fluency are far from what you would call “perfect”, and we’re okay with that.





I’ve met parents who told me that they’ve given up with this whole bilingual/ trilingual thing because it's just too hard, their kids will never speak the home language perfectly, or they’ll just stop speaking it when they start school anyway, so what’s the point?… and so on and so forth.


But I’m here to tell you that as long as you DON’T give up, your child will make progress, and they don’t have to speak a second or third language perfectly to reap the benefits of being bilingual or trilingual, or to communicate with others.


Try not to compare yourself to other families – I know it’s hard!


For example, just last weekend, we met up with our Chinese friends, and my friend’s daughter speaks flawless Mandarin, and I sort of felt bad that my kids’ Chinese isn’t nearly as good.


But you know what? Everyone’s circumstances are different.


Be proud of what you’ve achieved, be proud of what your child’s achieved.


Perfection doesn’t exist, and in any case, language learning is a life-long journey.


The important thing is to keep learning and using the language every day.


I hope you find the video and/or this blog post useful! If you have any questions or comments, please share them in the comments section below, or on YouTube.


Thanks for reading and speak to you again soon :)


Comments


bottom of page