If you read my previous post, you may or may not have decided to speak your own mother tongue to your child exclusively. No longer mixing languages should mean no longer speaking English to your child. Maybe you haven’t yet made the decision because you are worried about how your child’s English is going to progress then.

My objective is to encourage you to make the switch to your mother tongue. It is a lot less scary than it might seem at first sight. All you need to do is trust the other people in your children’s life, who speak English to them. So here is some reading on the question you might ask yourself.

Will my children still learn enough English if I stop speaking it to them?

The answer is yes, they will. If your partner speaks English to them, there is nothing to worry about. But even if he doesn’t, your children will learn English as soon as they enter day care. In modern Ireland, most children go to Montessori classes from the time they are three and a half or four years old. Even if they haven’t spoken English up until then, they will pick it up in very little time. If they are in day care before that age and/or full time, that’s even less worry about their English for you.

How can I be so sure? For one, because I have a daughter who learned English through no input of mine whatsoever, and a son, who is doing the same thing. My daughter had been in day care from the time she was one year old and I went back to work. From that time on, all my efforts went into teaching her German, the English just happened. My son is only two and therefore not talking as much as his sister, but even though he is not in day care, he is learning English from his dad and basically everyone else in his life who speaks English.

I used to also notice this phenomenon in my home town in Germany. In the aftermath of the political and social upheaval of 1989, it was decided to re-settle the descendants of Jewish families that had fled Germany during the Second World War back to Germany. The Russian-speaking descendants of these people were given temporary accommodation in my home town and their children entered the local schools. While the families continued to speak Russian at home, (often the parents and grandparents didn’t speak any German for a long time,) the children started to speak German with the local accent in no time. Within weeks the way they spoke was no different from the local children.

If you start adding up the people in your children’s life who speak English and compare this number to the number of people who speak your mother tongue, you will probably find that the English-speaking list is longer. If you then consider the amount of time each of these people has contact with your kids, which is the most important factor, you will know how much of the time your kids are exposed to each language. (Do the same exercise for any other languages that matter to your family.)

The key to effective language acquisition is maximum exposure. In terms of your children learning English though, this shouldn’t be a problem, if they are living in an English-speaking country. So what I’m trying to tell you is that your child’s exposure to the English language is likely to be more than sufficient, with or without you speaking it to them.

In fact, depending on their age, your children have probably mastered a fair amount of English already. Listen to them speaking it. Does their accent sound like the local one or more like your foreign one? No disrespect, there is nothing wrong with foreign accents, but this tells you where they learned their English. Don’t be too disappointed; your task is a much bigger one: passing your mother tongue on to your children, so that it becomes their mother tongue, too. Especially if you are the mother. And in doing this, you are passing on much more than just a language.