'Forget about bilingual Kitas': Key tips for raising bilingual kids in Germany

Michael Stuchbery
Michael Stuchbery - [email protected]
'Forget about bilingual Kitas': Key tips for raising bilingual kids in Germany
A growing number of children are being born to international families in Germany. Photo: Kliimkin / Pixabay

With greater numbers of international workers choosing to settle in Germany and raise a family, the question of how to best raise bilingual children is often considered.


The Local asked its readers who have raised bilingual children in Germany to tell us how they managed to raise children who speak German in addition to their parent's mother tongue. 

Trust the (school) system. 

One piece of advice was echoed by several readers: Trust the German education system to take care of teaching German through immersion. 

Siniša, 44, from Hesse, who speaks Croatian and English at home, told The Local: "Speak your native language at home. The school will 'cover' German and other languages."

Steve, 55, who lives in Munich and speaks English and Spanish with his daughter agrees.

"Be consistent and raise your child in your native tongue. At a local school, they will learn German quickly," he said.


Chris, 44, from Hamburg, who speaks English with his children, backed the idea of leaving kids' schools to take charge of teaching them German.

"Get the kids into the German education system as early as possible and let them learn themselves from native speakers. As a bonus, they'll pick it up quickly and not pick up a 'non-German' accent either," he said.

Read more: ‘Multilingualism is an enrichment’ - The challenges of raisin bilingual kids in Germany

Readers also noted that even in the preschool stage, children can handle multiple languages. 

Julie, 41, who lives in Hamburg and speaks English and Italian at home, said: "Relax and go with the flow. Don't get hung up on finding bilingual Kitas for toddlers if they already get significant exposure to the non-German language at home. Languages seem to develop in different spurts at different speeds."

However, liaising with schools in Germany was noted as an essential skill. 

Kim, 46, based in Sindelfingen, with a family speaking both English and German, said: "It's essential for at least one parent to understand German when children attend a German school. They can help explain language and cultural differences. They can also help with administrative matters and even homework."


Maintain the mother tongue.

While readers were keen to encourage parents to trust the immersion process that German schools provide, they were also quick to advise a concerted effort to maintain speaking the mother tongue in and around the home. 

"For international parents, I think it's very important that their children do not lose touch with their mother tongue, as it is a very special part of their identity," said Prashanth, 42, who lives in Munich.

Anne-Marie, 52, from Frankfurt, who speaks 'Singlish' (Singaporean English) with her children, stated that it's essential to be firm.

"Speak in your mother tongue to your kids from the day they are born. Be consequent about it, even in front of other people who do not speak your mother tongue," she said.

Karl, 44, who lives in Celle and who speaks English and the indigenous American Ute language with his children, said getting family on board is important. 

"Communicate with all family members your decision, intentionally speak all of the languages, when possible provide translations so family members present are not excluded from conversations," he said.

Charles, 40, from Berlin, even stated that speaking German at home may prove detrimental: "Don't speak your own mediocre German with them. It may be hard to see them speaking another language as their more comfortable primary language than your own."

Charles, who speaks English at home, added: "Find books and shows to share with them in your native language to continue the shared experience."

Read More: What foreign parents should know about German schools

Just let it happen with the kids…

Sometimes, it seems, becoming bilingual takes care of itself. 

Paul, 40, from Munich, married to a German, said: "Our oldest just started speaking English one day around age 3. She had heard so much she could understand and just started talking. 

"The twins are starting to speak more and more English. It wasn't a problem since she was fluent in both by age 4. I advise patience and not expecting perfection at a young age.

Crystal, 38, who lives in Nuremberg and speaks English at home, responded: "At first, my main concern was getting as much German into our lives as possible so my son would be ready for Grundschule. 

"Now I'm swinging the other way. My advice is to try to relax. There are always other things to worry about, and kids learn so much really quickly."


…but also challenge yourself

Finally, respondents to The Locals' survey repeated that raising bilingual children is something that requires a degree of effort - on the parent's behalf. 

J.K, 40, who lives in Hanau and speaks English and Telugu at home, told The Local: "Language is very important for the kids to grow in a culture. 

"Parents should facilitate situations around the kid to better integrate locally. Parents (at least one) should be able to speak German at a level better than B1. 

"If not, supporting kids in their education is difficult, and this will hamper their chances of reaching a higher education level."

Read More: Six surprising facts about Germany's school system

Moreno, 40, who lives in Munich and speaks Portuguese with his children, was firm in his advice: "Don't choose the easy way for you, parents. Don't hide in your language community bubble. 

"If you intend to live in Germany for a long time, put your kids in German schools and get them in touch with the German community.

"If you don't speak German like me, deal with it. But don't transfer your problem to your kids."

Have we missed any crucial advice for raising bilingual children in Germany? Tell us in the comments section below.


Comments (1)

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Chris 2024/04/25 20:07
If the parents are German and English, for example, the German should speak german to the kids and the English should speak english to them.

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