Choosing an Au Pair: Language as a Selection Criterion (Poll)

by cv harquail on November 2, 2009


What do you think of the idea of choosing an au pair based on her native language?

Note: Choosing on language is not the same as choosing an au pair based on culture. Just think of the range of cultures where French is spoken!  Cameroon, Haiti, Montreal and Tuscany are  very different  cultures.

Is it a good idea to choose an au pair for her native language, if you are not trying to learn that language?

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Is there any reason to choose on native language, if you are not trying to blend this particular language into your family?

I can’t think of one, but someone asked me to field this topic, so “let’s tawk”.


Jenny November 2, 2009 at 2:50 pm

After having a German native speaker in our home, I think I might be apt to choose another German speaking girl because I understand the accent and so do the kids. She does teach the kids a few words, but I wouldn’t say we are trying to “learn” the language. That’s really the only reason I can think of to choose a specific language that you don’t care to learn.

A November 2, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Just because I’m not trying to learn a language doesn’t mean my kids won’t. My one-year-old understands German as much as English, so it might benefit him to have another German speaker.

aussie mum November 3, 2009 at 8:10 am

I also have had German au pairs as well as a Finnish one. They chose not to share their language with us. As our daughter is only 2, we thought we would avoid a European this time around. We have come up with a winner…we have a British AP who also happens to be a Primary school teacher. She will be a fine asset to our family as she reads to our daughter often, she speaks clearly and warmly….you have to also decide what skills you want your AP to enhance?….it certainly has been proven to us as our daughter’s vocabularly has exploded since we have employed our new AP.

lisa November 3, 2009 at 1:30 pm

and Great Britain does not belong to Europe??

Alia November 27, 2009 at 12:43 am

She means Continental Europe, non English speaking. You could gather that from the paragraph, don’t nitpick.

Jennifer November 3, 2009 at 12:56 pm

I was one of the “I don’t understand”people but then. I was reminded of an instance of selection by language. A friend has had aupairs since her chd was 3 months old. After having 2 Korean and one Thai AP, the family specifically selected an English speaker. Apparently their child was speech delayed. It was speculated by the speech language therapist that not being exposed to enough spoken language, and in particular, Latin-based languages, that the child became delayed in acquiring some of the building blocks of English. They decided to go exclusively with English speakers for a few years.

When we decided to get an AP when our child was 10 months, we made sure to select girls who were fluent in English in both speech and writing and chose those who spoke Latin based languages. They also had to be “chatty” types who would talk to our child alot.

Casie April 30, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I don’t think that the child became delayed in speech because of having non english speaking in her life. My friend, canadian, have one child now she is almost 2 years old, she has delayed speech too. Mom always home to raise her.

However, picking someone who more talkactive and willing to learn with your child would be reasonable to improve your child to learn more to talk.

Calif Mom November 3, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Age of your kids definitely makes a difference on this issue. When my little one was really little, I did try to pick someone whose English was excellent; but that led us to Pointy Boots and we all know how that turned out. (yes, CV I’ll tell the tale soon, when I get some spare time.)

IMHO, au pairs are usually trying to learn English, and I have had to really work hard to make them not only feel comfortable using their native language around me, but to PLEASE teach it to my kid–maybe this is a cultural thing? I *think* our Brazilians have thought I would consider it bad manners to speak in their native language around us or to the kids, ie., on the phone with friends while in our living areas. I always tell them I love listening to it. It’s beautiful. For me, any exposure of the kids to new phonemes is worthwhile. Even Portuguese! So what if it isn’t ubiquitous. it’s good for the brain.

I will say that our eldest only recently shook a mispronunciation that she learned from her first caregiver, back when she was acquiring language. Our Tibetan Pema could not say “library”, and it became “Live-rary”. Our kid is an advanced reader, but until 3rd grade or so she would still say this “the Pema way”.

come to think of it, our daughter has the same sense of style, too. Which is to say that a western AP (or Auntie) would never combine those particular articles of clothing! I’m not sure I can attribute that to exposure to childcare proiders of a certain culture at a certain age, but I guess we’re getting into nature vs. nurture now, aren’t we? :-)

PA aupair mom November 3, 2009 at 6:13 pm

The sense of style made me laugh at my desk. We were at the park the other day and saw an older gentleman with white knee socks pulled up and black sandals and my 5 year old said “Look, that guy’s German”.

So funny the cultural things they learn without even trying.

Cali Dad November 4, 2009 at 2:42 am

As our children are very young, we made the unusual choice of an au pair whose native tongue is English. Each day our au pair spends time helping my 4-year-old daughter learn to read and write, and it’s exciting to see what new things she learns everyday! We didn’t feel it was necessary to expose her to a third language so early, but rather wanted her to focus on the basics of English.

Natt November 4, 2009 at 3:22 am

Next time around, we are hoping for our 3rd German aupair, as both my girls have started picking up the language. Even my 18 month old has started singing “hoppy hoppy reiter” :)

That said, fluency in English is still of utmost importance to us, as both our girls are still young. We want them to learn the basics of English too!

Mom23 November 4, 2009 at 9:22 am

I think if you choose an au pair based on language/country you run the risk of overlooking some red flags. At one point we wanted an au pair who could reinforce the language our children were learning in school. We had the file of someone we liked. However, her driving looked a bit weak. She assured us she was a good driver. She was terrible. The driving instructor we hired even told us that he didn’t think he could get her to a place where he felt it would be safe to have our kids in the car with her. I think our desire for an au pair who spoke a certain language led us to make allowances for driving, where we might not have for an au pair from another country. She was a very sweet girl and unfortunately after several months we had to rematch.

Trina November 25, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Mom23 – i think we may have hired the same AP! ;-)

i am experiencing the exact same thing – a sweet-as-pie AP who i hired specifically because of her enthusiasm and optimism. i realize now that her enthusiasm and optimism translated into an unrealistic assessment of her driving. AP was licensed in thailand and showed a video of herself driving away in her jeep cherokee – a vehicle that was a plus, i thought, bc our last AP wasn’t used to mini-vans and could never get used to driving a large car.

But…i ask her to drive me during the week she first arrived, and…she couldn’t drive over 15 mph…she ran through stop signs thinking it was ok to pause, not stop…she didn’t SEE some stop signs…she tried parking in a parking spot (like, with 3 empty ones next to it), tried 3 times and couldn’t line up the car.

maybe she’s just nervous, i thought. maybe she just doesn’t understand the rules of the road. so we gave her a driver handbook and some time to observe how we drive. and just for good measure, i asked my husband to take her out to try again, for an unbiased opinion. ALL the same driving behaviors, plus one i hadn’t seen – she’d pull toward the right curb every 1/2 block or so, as if she were allowing traffic to pass her…except there was no traffic. We asked her to pull the van to a stop in front of our house against the curb – after several starts and stops my husband had to do it himself!

for now, we’re lucky that our daughters’ preschool and classes, as well as our son’s school, are all within walking distance. that is likely to change within the next few months for my girls, so we are likely to rematch as well.

what a culture shock this has been for us and our AP!

Alia November 27, 2009 at 12:47 am

Us too – we had a lovely girl who didn’t drive well, had 2 fender benders with the car. But my 10 yr old daughter was already so in love I couldn’t rematch. We stuck it out, luckily I work from home so I took up some of the driving slack.
That being said, I loved that she could help my kids with their Hebrew homework. She went home in Sept., I have no au pair now, and we’ve had a few tears about not having a built in Hebrew tutor. My tears.

Sara Duke December 1, 2009 at 8:04 am

We’re going through that now. We have a Chinese au pair, and for the life of me I cannot figure out what they need to do to get a driver’s license. We ended up paying for 3 intensive sessions with an off-duty police officer, and by the end he said her basic driving was okay, but she wouldn’t yet pass a driving test based on her inability to park (she did $1,100 damage to another car her first day driving – pulling out of a pull-in parking space!). By the way, the cop said that 60 hours of practice is the minimum to create basic driving skills and that he requires it of parents of teen drivers.

We required her to pay for another round of lessons, and she improved t the point she can drive our special needs child to and from doctor’s appointments. Now we require her to practice driving 10 hours a week (we only have her working 25 hours most weeks so I don’t feel bad about requiring her to practice as part of her job duties). She could probably pass our state test now. However, in the time she learned to drive our van, she has forgotten how to drive a stick! We have a subcompact that is supposed to be the “au pair car,” but she can’t drive it!

It’s so hard to get a driver’s license in Europe — compared to the United States — that I think in the future I will stick to European au pairs.

Sara Duke December 1, 2009 at 7:51 am

My son was absolutely bilingual in Portuguese and English by the time he was 4. Our first au pair was from Brazil, and stayed with us for 3 1/2 years (we filed to sponsor her as an employer – she had been a pediatric intensive care nurse in Brazil and was perfect for our medically fragile special needs child). Her English was imperfect, but she was fantastic and supportive in my son’s language acquisition in Portuguese, so that he ended up with the building blocks he needed. By the time he was 2 he spoke in full sentences in both languages and could easily switch back and forth between the two languages. Our 2nd au pair was a native German speaker and Sasha resisted learning more than a few words of German, and by the time our 3rd au pair came 18 months later, he would no longer speak Portuguese (although it was clear that he understood everything she said).

He has lost most of the Portuguese, but is currently enrolled in a bilingual Spanish-English program and doing extremely well. He’s in 3rd grade, and they won’t tell me what grade level he’s reading at, but he has an incredibly rich vocabulary in English. I wouldn’t worry about having an au pair speak her native language to your child if you’re willing to back it up with story time and speaking to your child in English. It was clear as a baby that my son’s Portuguese was stronger in language for dressing and daytime activities, equal for eating, and his English was stronger for nighttime activities. He has a good ear for language and can hear vowel sounds I cannot (I can read — at varying levels — but have a horrible accent in French, Spanish and German). In addition to Spanish, he spent 1 1/2 years studying Hebrew — on his own intiative — until he decided at 8 that he didn’t want to put the effort into learning it.

Casie April 30, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I wouldn’t worry about the child language from having an aupair who doesn’t have english as very first language. I’m not english speaker from the begining and I believe that your child wouldn’t born and speak english right away. We learn from everyday activities, school, books, TV and etc.

I’m JK and SK teacher, so I have seen a lot of children have delvelopment in different way. Maybe because of background or parents.

What I would like you to look for in the person who you want to be your AP for your child is how well she would like to adapt herself to your culture family and your language. I learnt english when I moved to Chicago as an aupair. The family I lived with helped me improve english as much as they did to they 1 years old child. I read books, lot of books for him, sang songs and I also went to ESL classes during I was there. My english got much better in 3 months and I never scared to spoke and learned more. I taught the boy to speak some of my language, he actually could sang a song in my language. However, since I left, he went to school and I went to study master degree, when I visited him last year, he could barely understand and speak my language. In the other hands, his english is excellent.

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