Her Language or Yours? Balancing different goals

by cv harquail on November 1, 2009

One of the oft-cited opportunities of au pair childcare is the idea that your children can learn another language from your au pair.

Sometimes people choose au pairs to help them reinforce a second language that is already spoken in the household (perhaps, by one of the parents or by a child adopted from another country). Or, they might want to learn a new language together (perhaps learning some German in preparation for their trip to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup).

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This is conceptually a great idea, but  you might run into trouble if you want your au pair to speak with you all in her native language, but she wants to practice her English with you.

Conflicting Goals

Left to her own choice, your au pair might prefer to speak English with you so that she can become more fluent. (Becoming fluent in English is one of the top three reasons for becoming an au pair.) So, to help meet both of these goals, you might need to get creative.

How can you manage these (possibly competing) goals?

Rather than issue blanket directives (e.g., All Portuguese! All the time!) try parsing up the days, weeks and activities:

Set aside certain activities for ‘second language’ time. Bedtime stories, singing games, baths, etc. can all be good time to remember to speak in another language.

Set aside certain times of day: how about All Spanish Sunday? Tinglit Tuesday? Or the “Morning Russian Around”?

Try bilingual games — where she can teach you and the kids words, phrases and idioms in her language and you can do the same for her. What does “from the get-go really mean? When do you use that, and not “Get a jump start”? This can get especially fun if the phrase sounds naughty. (Quelqu’un pour “tant pis”?)

Choose entertainment in the second language. Kids can watch a scary Disney movie in her language and you all can play with the vocabulary, maybe even talk back to the characters. (Öffnen Sie die Tür nicht! Tun Sie nicht!) (Franzi, that’s for you :-) )

Speaking the second language with a few key people. If you have family members who speak the au pair’s second language, you could ask her to speak it with that person, so the kids can listen in and learn. (Not to mention, wouldn’t Baba just love to speak Romanian with someone!)indo child.jpg

Be sure to turn these activities around to give your au pair some focused times to practice her English with you.

What ways have you tried to blend a second language into your home?

Have you had and great successes or challenges using native language as a selection criterion? Do tell …

{ 26 comments }

NewHostMomtoBe November 2, 2009 at 2:38 am

I am really interested in what people have to say. I wrote a while back to ask something similar to this. I wouldn’t ‘demand” that the Au Pair speak her native language, but I would hope that she would want to share her language with us too.

It seems from reading many posts here and at other places, that many HMs have the problem of APs only wanting to speak their native language instead of practicing or getting better with their English. I personally would love it if the AP that we choose decided that most of the time she wanted to speak her native language and get her English with some of the things you suggested above. I think it would be awesome if while she is on duty that she read, have games, etc in her language and culture.

Of course, I am not a host mom yet and really just thinking about it. I am a SAHM {ready to go back to work} and the only reason that an AP actually became a topic of conversation was because of having someone fluent to speak the language that we are learning. We will be traveling and will get to use that language regardless if we have the experience from the AP. There is a great little school around here that has the language, culture, cooking, etc so I think we can find fluent speaking people to interact with. We are even thinking of joining the said language’s playgroup.

I am feeling very bewildered as I had hoped that the AP program was really a cultural exchange and that our family would also benefit from having a person fluent in another language and culture here to share with us. It seems as many, if not all, host families are only wanting to have childcare without any real interest in the APs country, language, culture, or family. It just seems like a waste of a resource for all involved. We are an active family and have many English opportunites available to an AP who wants to become fluent. I don’t doubt that the AP would have lots of practice and become fluent in English from the many outside activities and people around us. The television and movies are also in English. We currently only speak English in the home, so it isn’t like she will never hear it in the home.

How do you get Disney Videos in another language like Russian, Italian, Romanian, etc that will play on our DVD players in the US? That would be very helpful to know. Sorry for getting sidetracked!

I would love to hear how any family and/or Au Pair has handled this and how it worked out.

CV November 2, 2009 at 9:30 am

Hi NHM@B–
It may well have been you who left this topic suggestion on Skibit?! Just a few points to address —

When host parents complain about APs not speaking English or not trying to learn English, it is out of concern that the AP isn’t trying to learn how to communicate better with the family. The issue is less about speaking her native language than it is about *not* learning enough English. If a family can’t communicate with the AP and the AP can’t communicate with the family, things don’t work.

Also, when we think about cultural exchange, that doesn’t always mean ‘learning the au pair’s language’. Some families want this, others don’t. Those who don’t want to learn a second language still want to learn how things are done differently (or similarly) in the AP’s home culture,or learn about her political views and so on, and they are also interested in sharing their culture with their AP.

Basically, if a host family wants an au pair with a specific language background so that they can learn or reinforce a language at home, they should
1)discuss this with potential candidates before matching AND
2) have a plan for balancing English and native language sharing within the home.
Emma’s experience (below) looks like good model.
cv

NewHostMomtoBe November 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm

I sent you an email with the above email address, so I am not sure if you are reponding directly to me or not. I would think that a lot of us have some of the same questions & maybe a lot of us have asked you about this. This site has been very informative.
When I sent you the email, I had wondered if this was something that had worked for experienced HFs. I was glad to see that Emma’s experience was similar to what I thought “our family/AP’s” experience could be. I would definitely ask before matching so it wouldn’t be a surprise nor would she be made to do something that she didn’t want to do. I just wanted us both to get the most out of the experience.

CV November 3, 2009 at 12:27 pm

NHBTB– It could have been you, too, since many folks voted on this topic and also sent me emails about similar topics. Make sure we answer what mattered to you when you raised the topic!

Emma November 2, 2009 at 9:19 am

When I came to live with my HF (2.5 months ago) I didn’t know any Danish, and the children did not understand any English (save for words that sound the same in each language. Thank gawd for cognates!) I speak to the children in English, trying as best I can to keep sentences short and simple, and to use the same syntax for basic instructions and questions (ex: ‘are you ____?’ ‘it is time to/for ____.’ ‘do you want/want to ____?’) If they don’t understand me I will fill in the blank with the Danish word (or point) and then repeat it again in English. This seems to be helping their comprehension of the language. Similarly I understand the toddler better than the 6yr old usually, because the younger one uses a simpler sentence structure.

In the house (especially during dinner) conversations are held in both languages. If the parents and I are speaking in English, often they will translate for the children. When they speak in Danish they translate the words that I don’t understand, or will sum up if I haven’t managed to comprehend the gist of the conversation. In daily life the parents also repeat instructions to the kids in Danish and in English. I think it is a good system. A week or two ago while sitting down to Sunday breakfast my HM put a jar of what I believe is like a dark chocolate version of Nutella on the table and joked that it was the ‘adult’ version of it. She said this in English. The 3yr old grabbed the regular Nutella and replied in Danish that she wanted the childrens’ Nutella. Even though they aren’t speaking English yet, they definitely understand.

I think requiring partial immersion of the new language in the house at all times, and possibly even full immersion occasionally is the best way to learn a language. My Danish classes are taught almost entirely in Danish (to the point where Danish words we don’t understand are explained to us in Danish.) It is frustrating, yet in just 3 weeks of classes 3 days a week I understand almost half as much as I do in Spanish (which I studied for three years in high school, and one year in University.) I also watch TV (either in English or in Danish) with Danish subtitles on; that has helped me a lot personally in understanding new words and the sentence structure in the new language.

NewHostMomtoBe November 2, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Thanks Emma! It was great to hear your experience. That is actually what I was hoping would happen with our family & Au Pair. What you said here..
“I think requiring partial immersion of the new language in the house at all times, and possibly even full immersion occasionally is the best way to learn a language. My Danish classes are taught almost entirely in Danish (to the point where Danish words we don’t understand are explained to us in Danish.) It is frustrating, yet in just 3 weeks of classes 3 days a week I understand almost half as much as I do in Spanish (which I studied for three years in high school, and one year in University.) I also watch TV (either in English or in Danish) with Danish subtitles on; that has helped me a lot personally in understanding new words and the sentence structure in the new language”.
Is exactly what I was thinking would have all of us learn the language we want. {The AP English and our familythe said language that we want to learn}. I know for me, I need the practice of converstation to really ‘get’ the language. Thank you for sharing with us your experience. I really think that both the AP and family can benefit from an arrangement like this.

Mom23 November 2, 2009 at 9:57 am

A few years ago we had an au pair from China. Our youngest child is ethnically Chinese and we thought it would be good for her to keep up her Chinese. My daughter was not that interested in learning Chinese, but one of our sons was. Our au pair kept telling us how good he was at speaking Mandarin. Long story short, both he and my daughter are now in a Mandarin immersion school. Had our au pair not spoken with the kids in her native language I doubt we would have recognized that our son enjoyed learning Mandarin and I doubt we would have considered the Mandarin Immersion school for the kids (it is in a different part of town from where we live and presents some logistical issues).

Even if it is a word here or there, I think it is good for children to be exposed to many different languages. I like the idea of one day a week being devoted to learning the au pair’s language.

NewHostMomtoBe November 2, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Hi Mom23, thanks for sharing that info. My friend’s little boy also took right to Mandarin. I know that when we lived close to her there were lots of immersion preschools with Mandarin. I was really surprised at how easy her little boy took to it. He definitely understood more than he could say, but that has changed. Her youngest son actually began speaking it because his older brother would want to share what he learned at school with his baby brother. So in their case, the children actually also helped each other.

CCHostMom November 2, 2009 at 10:48 am

I’m the one who requested this topic, CV, so thank you so much for doing a post on this topic!

I asked because we’re torn about whether or not to specifically look for au pairs who speak Spanish, as we’d love our kids to learn it. We’ve had two au pairs before, neither from a Spanish-speaking country. Right now we’re taking a break, as we don’t need an au pair at the moment, but we expect we’ll get one in a few months.

We had very good experiences with both our previous au pairs, although one worked out better than the other because I think she was a better fit for our family personality-wise, and it didn’t hurt that she was an excellent driver as well.

We’ve already met with our cluster’s LCC. It seems that in our agency, most of the excellent drivers who are infant-qualified (we’re hoping to have another baby) are from Germany and Brazil. Our LCC gently suggested that if we look at au pairs from certain countries in Spanish-speaking Central / South America, we should be cautious, as she’s not found them to be good drivers. I know it’s not a good idea to draw too many conclusions about an au pair based upon which country she’s from, but when an LCC gives me feedback like that, it does make me cautious. Besides, our former au pair The Excellent Driver was German, so my own experience doesn’t exactly contradict what she said.

Since I know from experience (and from reading this board) that it can be tricky to find an au pair who (1) is amazing with kids AND (2) is an excellent, experienced driver AND (3) who clicks really well with your family, I thought, are we just setting ourselves up for failure by hoping to find (1) – (3) as well as a native speaker of Spanish? Sounds insane, doesn’t it?

By the way, I would be thrilled if the kids learned Portuguese or German or anything else, but the language that’s easiest to find extra classes for (for further enrichment or for language exposure when we no longer need au pairs) is of course Spanish.

One more thing: I also realize that the Au Pair will expect to improve her English while she’s here, and I would definitely try to make sure she gets as much practice as she likes. I’ve seen one or two Year 2 au pairs from my agency who wanted to rematch because their HF wanted them to exclusively speak their native language to the kids – I wouldn’t want to drive my au pair away with draconian language requirements!

Mom23 November 2, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Hi CCHostMom. We have hired a driving instructor on occasion to give our au pair some pointers about driving in the city. We had one au pair who after working with the instructor decided that she would probably never be able to drive in our city and rematched with another family who did not need her to drive. However, for the most part, it has worked out well to have him give au pairs who we felt needed a bit more instruction some extra help getting up to speed. If you are concerned about driving, this might be an option.

NewHostMomtoBe November 2, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I don’t know how you can say that “you” requested this info. I am sure not only I, but others, have also requested this. I know that I just sent an email to her requesting any help/info several weeks ago. I am sure that you & I are the only ones that have.

Yes CV, thank you for posting this info for ALL of us!

NewHostMomtoBe November 2, 2009 at 2:01 pm

I meant to say that I am sure that we “are not” the only ones who have requested this.

CCHostMom November 2, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Oops, sorry, I’m the person who posted the question specifically on Skribit (which CV asked about above). Sorry, there may have been others, but I didn’t see the question, so I asked it. Absolutely did not mean to offend…

NewHostMomtoBe November 2, 2009 at 2:15 pm

I didn’t mean to offend either… I just know that this topic has to be thought about besides just the two of us. I was hoping atleast. lol To be honest, I am not sure how I asked. lol I was new and had subscribed specifically to ask that question and get help/info from other families who have done it.

DCHostMom November 2, 2009 at 12:18 pm

For us, this was a major reason we selected the au pair program. It’s true; some au pairs prefer to live in a 100% English environment, understandably.

We include “willingness to share your language with our children” as a major criteria when interviewing. I state it directly in my initial email and some au pairs immediately and politely decline. But, I’ve found the majority of au pairs willing, some even excited, at the opportunity.

We made native Spanish speaker a high criteria so have been sent options almost exclusively from Latin America. We’ve had some great choices, including a number of teachers.

As a bonus, we offer to pay her education tuition (up to $100 per month) for the entire time of her stay, even after the initial $500 is gone, which around here happens at month five, for teaching our children Spanish.

For those of you working to raise bilingual kids, I highly recommend the book Bilingual Edge. It gives great strategies and tips, including for families who are not native speakers of the language they are introducing to their children.

Regarding driving, I think this is more a city-country and age thing. If you find a great au pair from a major city (like Bogota) she is likely to be a strong driver and will probably find US roads sane and safe.

In addition to looking for a young lady who is a native Spanish speaker, willing to teach her language to our children, ideally with a background or interest in education/child development, we also only look at young ladies who are at least 21 years old.

Yes; this limits choices. But so far, the formula has worked for us.

CCHostMom November 2, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Thanks, DCHostMom, I appreciate your perspective! We want to raise our kids bilingual too, so I absolutely get where you’re coming from. It’s good to know another HF has had success with this.

NewHostMomtoBe November 2, 2009 at 2:11 pm

“For those of you working to raise bilingual kids, I highly recommend the book Bilingual Edge. It gives great strategies and tips, including for families who are not native speakers of the language they are introducing to their children”.

Thank you DC HostMom for sharing this info! I think I will buy the book today. Thank you also for sharing your experience with us. :}

NewAP Mom November 2, 2009 at 3:00 pm

This was, for us, the major reason we selected the au pair program over other forms of childcare. We’re a French/American family and wanted our kids to grow up to be bilingual and bicultural from the beginning.

First – DC HostMom – thanks for that book reco. I just ordered it as well.

I totally agree that there are conflicting goals when the au pair is here to learn English and the host family wants her to speak her native language. We, also, include the expectation that she’ll speak to the kids only in her native language (always French) in our initial intro letter, and bring it up several times during the interview, and include it in the host family handbook. I only speak English with her. My husband, who is French but speaks fluent English, speaks whatever the au pair wants.

For families that are truly dedicated to raising bilingual children, the strategy of speaking a language intermittently won’t work. There are essentially two approaches to raising bilingual kids – 1) the whole household speaks the minority language, and the kids pick up the majority language in school, at the park, etc., or 2) each adult only speaks one language to the kids. My family goes with 2), because although I speak French, I have an American accent and don’t want to pass on bad habits. I also don’t know “kid-speak” in French, like lullabies and that kind of thing, and didn’t want it to get in the way of communicating with my kids.

So following that, it would be confusing for the au pair to speak one language at one time and another language at another time.

Upside for the kids: My kids are 14 months old and although they’re not speaking yet (bilingual kids sometimes have delayed speech) it’s obvious that they clearly understand both languages. So cool.

Upside for the au pair: It’s a little gentler introduction for those who are less sure of their language abilities. We admittedly did all of the interviews in French this time around, because we wanted to get to know the au pair more than we wanted to assess her language abilities. I talk more than everyone else in the household combined (LOL) and I only speak English with her once she gets here (started with emails immediately following the interviews) so she’ll definitely still be learning English. She’ll also speak English at playdates, the park, etc.

Downside for the family: CC Host Mom – your concerns are absolutely valid. Definitely listen to what your LCC says about certain countries, and evaluate how important the language is to you in comparison to that. Our LCC said that she almost always has problems with French au pairs. And well, that was true with our first au pair as well. I say this as someone who is married to a French man and wants to get French citizenship as soon as I get a moment and speaks fluent French – French girls don’t necessarily make the best au pairs. For us, we’re willing to work around that because the language is so important. But you need to make that decision for yourselves. If you truly do decide it’s worth it, then I would definitely try to match at a time of year when there are a lot of au pairs in the pool, and interview a lot before you select. And be willing to spend more time working things out and making more compromises elsewhere.

Downside for the au pair: Of course, not as many opportunities to speak the language of the country.

If anyone has other specific questions feel free to ask…

Amy November 2, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Just thought I’d add another bilingual strategy that I’ve heard works: the family I’ll be starting to au pair for next week in Germany speak three languages at home. They work on a rotational basis ie. they speak English one week, German the second week and Italian the third, then start again. They’ve always hired au pairs who speak either English or Italian (I speak both) and want them to only speak to their son in one of those languages. It seems to work, as their four year old son is fluent in three languages (?!) and I definitely want to try a similar system if I have kids.

Ann from NE November 4, 2009 at 10:58 pm

My family fits the “we used an AP to reinforce a 2nd language already spoken in the household” category. We are trying to raise our daughter to be fully bilingual/biliterate/bicultural. I, the host mom, was raised in a “minority language at home (Eastern European language, let’s call it “EE-ian”)” family, because both my parents were born there. From my daughter’s (now 5 years old) birth, my husband and I have consciously followed the OPOL (One Parent, One Language) bilingualism model, because it’s our only option. He speaks only English to her (that’s all he can speak, no criticism:)), I speak only “EE-ian” to her, and he and I speak English to each other. Since I’m a second-generation American, I really wanted a “real native” to speak “EE-ian” to her, so that’s why I got an AP.

Both my au pairs were pre-matches: I found them myself in their home country via the Internet (the existing AP selection of agencies is of quite limited help for such small languages), but I made it quite clear in their written job descriptions and during the interview process that they would have to speak only “EE-ian” to my daughter when they were on duty (except maybe in some public playgroups when it might be necessary translate something into English); it was a requirement. Speaking English with my daughter was not an option for the AP; I could send her to a much cheaper local American daycare for that! During the pre-match process, I conducted the first telephone interview with the AP candidate in “EE-ian” myself; then my husband conducted the 2nd one in English.

I had APs for three years, from the age my daughter was 2 to 5 years old. I intentionally chose those years because I had read that those were the critical ones for language and vocabulary development, and I wanted to “front-load/immerse” her in an “EE-ian” environment before she started the American school system in English. (It was also easier to get a non-infant qualified AP after 2 years of age). The “AP as private language teacher” strategy worked quite well; as of 2 months ago, my daughter was much more fluent in “EE-ian” than English.

Now, I believe the “AP as private language teacher” strategy was enhanced by a couple of things. First of all, I wasn’t asking the APs to teach my daughter a new language; I had already been speaking it to her since her birth; they were just reinforcing (but they did a wonderful job, she sometimes has better vocabulary and expressions than I do!). Second, I intentionally didn’t send my daughter to American (English-language) preschool. Instead, she was essentially home schooled (or brought to local activities) with the “EE-ian” speaking AP, so she got around 40-45 “EE-ian” contact hours a week (+ mom evenings/weekends). Third, we also have contact with other EE-ian speaking people: my parents, a playgroup/Saturday school, and summer camps so my daughter sees other children/moms using the language.

In the past 2 months, however, since my daughter started American public school, and we no longer have an AP, my daughter has gone from a full-time “EE-ian” environment to full-time American English, and I am amazed at how quickly she seems to be forgetting her “EE-ian” and is addressing me in English, or in mixed-language sentences (“code switching”) – both things she never used to do. But I am assuming that as long as I keep up speaking “EE-ian” with her it will work out in the long run.

How was the experience for the two APs? Well, they both were mature (over 21) and already spoke excellent English, so improving their English here wasn’t as necessary as for other APs. The first had a degree as an English teacher; the second had spent several university semesters abroad. So my husband was able to communicate with them well, and I could trust them to handle public situations and emergency situations in English well. Even though my cultural heritage goal was for the APs to speak “EE-ian” for my daughter, I don’t think I would have been as comfortable with them taking my daughter on long day trips on trains if their English wasn’t functional..

How did we handle communication at home? When the APs were on duty, and my daughter was within hearing distance, I always spoke only “EE-ian” to the APs, so my daughter would hear 2 adults speaking in the language; it was also nice for me and good practice. In the evenings, if my husband was present, he and I would speak English to the AP over dinner or at house meetings. If my husband was not present, it would depend; one AP (the teacher) wanted to practice English so she and I would sometimes speak in English; for the other it was not so important, she was more comfortable speaking with me in EE-ian.

I always wrote the daily instructions in the family log to the AP in English, so my husband could also read them, and I asked the AP to write her daily notes or memories of the day with my daughter in English, it was good practice. However, as my daughter’s speech developed, if she said a new word or interesting phrase, I asked the APs to record it in whichever language my daughter spoke. Especially at the beginning, because I was worried that the bilingual situation was delaying my daughter’s overall speech development, so once a week at hosue meetings the AP and I would literally write down and count every word or word-like sound my daughter said.

For me, I think the level of trust, intimacy, and sense of family was greatly enhanced by the fact that I understood (somewhat) the country, language, and culture from where the AP came. I had my relatives in that country interview them both during the pre-screening process. Personally, it was also nice to have another adult in the household with whom I could converse in my first (although not best) language; I miss that now that the AP is gone; my daughter’s not quite at that level yet!

I was also able to introduce both APs to the local “EE-ian” community, so there were some other APs from that country here they could occasionally meet with etc.

For the APs I think it was both comforting and yet maybe they regret that they didn’t get an American enough experience. We certainly tried to facilitate opportunities for them to speak and learn English inside and outside the household and meet “real Americans” (my husband’s family?) etc. The first AP (the teacher) took a variety of English and English literature courses to enhance her skills and then also volunteered as an English tutor at the local library. The 2nd AP traveled a lot so got good geographical exposure to the cultural variety of this country.

We need a break from a “stranger” living in our house for a while, but I’m quite open to the idea of a Spanish-speaking student living in our house for the summer at some point in the future etc…

CalifPoppy November 2, 2009 at 5:06 pm

I agree with 100% everyhting that DCHostMom wrote, & our goals are strikingly similar! We were also very up-front about telling au pair candidates that one of our primary reasons for participating in an au pair program was for our kids to learn more Spanish. We made it clear in emails, interviews, and follow-up conversations that we wanted the au pair to speak primarily to the kids in Spanish. Once we identified a great candidate, we also offered to pay for up to $1500 in languauge classess – such as ESL, Communications etc. – instead of just the minimum $500 for education so she can get in-depth English practice beyond just chatting in English with the rest of our family and friends.

P.S. Spain & Mexico have stronger drivers that the rest of South America in our experience. I visited Venezuela, Argentina & Colombia several times for work & many young people rarely drive – since it’s expensive to own/share a car.

Another CA Mom November 2, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Our first au pair (we are on our 2nd now, both from Brazil) was actually told by her US au pair friends that she should be insulted to speak portuguese to our kids, because that would mess up her learning english. I’m not sure how speaking portuguese to a then-2 yr old and baby would have done that, but ah well. Suffice to say, our first au pair didn’t want to speak her native language with our kids. :)

With our 2nd au pair, we made it clear that we really valued the opportunity for our kids to continue to learn portuguese, and that my college studies of it weren’t going to suffice. We made her a deal: if she spoke exclusively portuguese to the kids, she could keep the new notebook computer we had just purchased for her use. Voila! Instant enthusiasm from her. And now she loves it – the kids absolutely understand her, although they usually answer back in english, but have begun spouting some portuguese. She is thrilled. And we speak only english to her and also loaded some english software for her, as well.

It’s working great for us after we learned to set expectations better. And, two of my sisters-in-law, who have degrees in ESL & immersion education, made the point that having our young kids have 45 hours of childcare weekly by someone with really fractured english would actually be teaching them poor english – well, it doesn’t sound very PC, but I thought it was a great point. This way, they are learning portuguese from a native speaker, and english from us – native speakers.

Europhile November 3, 2009 at 12:03 am

We are very “picky” when it comes to this — we only work with German speaking au pairs. We live in an English speaking country (and always have since the kids were born). When my DD started to talk, she was in daycare full time. So her language development was completely focused on English, even though we only spoke German at home. As a linguist, I found that very puzzling, as our situation was, in many ways, ideal. Theory says that as long as languages are kept separate, the language development should and can be equally strong. Well — not true for us. DD spoke about 90% English by the time she turned 2.5.

We then moved countries, to an area with scarce childcare provision, and decided to try the au pair route. We couldn’t be happier. DS, who was less than a year old when our first au pair joined us, started speaking our home language soon thereafter (he also goes to day care a couple of days), and our DD made tremendous progress in German as well, now speaking both languages reasonably well (she mixes a lot of English into her German, but once immersed in Europe, her German is actually good and age appropriate).

So yes, we are using our AP in this capacity and we don’t feel bad about it. We completely disclose what we expect. Her exposure to English is still very high, even when she spends time with the kids, as they are involved in many activities, all of which are in English. On a side note, I found found all three of our German au pairs to be extremely reliable and capable, and we are very pleased overall with how things are working out, so the requirement has not worked against us at all.

PA au pair mom November 3, 2009 at 12:32 am

Our second language at home is American Sign Language. We aren’t deaf, but I began teaching my boys to sign from birth. They learned to sign long before they began talking. I learned as a kid because my cousin is deaf.

We have had one german and one swedish au pair. They love learning the signs from the kids and the kids love learning phrases and words in the au pairs’ languages as well.

We don’t push Swedish on our boys but they will often say to our au pair, “how do you say _____ in Swedish?” She interacts with them in English and her friends in Swedish and/or German (depending on which friends).

NewAPMom November 4, 2009 at 3:08 pm

I thought of something else…

If you are only open to au pairs from one country, and you do end up in rematch and are looking for in-country au pairs, you’ll find your choices are severely limited. So if you’re going to do this, do yourself a favor and have a backup plan that allows time to get a new out-of-country au pair in case something goes wrong.

Bilingual February 15, 2010 at 7:18 pm

As a mother of bilingual children I would like to warn those mothers that want their children to learn a second language that they need to start hearing the language very very young(before they themselves can speak). They also need to hear the language/use it 30% of their waking day. If your plan is that your 6-year-old can learn for the first time said language, in the year or two that your aupair is there, then you have a very unrealistic goal.

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