Selecting a Language Plan Pt. 2: One Parent One Language

Selecting a Language Plan Pt. 2: One Parent One Language 

This blog post is written in collaboration with Berenice Moreno, a bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and mother of three. She has a M.S. in Communicative Disorders, a B.A. in Child Development, and a minor in Special Education. She has been an SLP for 10 years now and has worked in a variety of settings including Early Intervention, clinic, and schools. Her passion is working with bilingual families and students and helping them honor their languages and cultures. Stay tuned for other posts from this series!

In our previous blog, Selecting a Language Plan Pt. 1: Minority Language at Home, we discussed the Majority Language at Home strategy that many families choose to follow to promote bilingualism at home. While this strategy is certainly effective it’s not for everyone. 

Today, we’ll dive deep into the One Parent One Language approach, which is another popular language plan that many families choose to pursue as it honors each of the parent’s different native languages.

One Parent One Language (OPOL)

The One Parent One Language approach is exactly as its name suggests: one parent speaks one language to their children while the other parent speaks another language. Each parent consistently speaks their preferred language. This could be a combination of one majority language and one minority language or two minority languages. For example, one parent may speak English to the child while the other speaks Spanish.

The OPOL strategy is often practiced by: 
  • Families where each parent is fluent in a different language 
  • Families who prefer to have a clear-cut plan in place for separation of languages that ensures consistent language use of each of the parent’s native/preferred language 

Since both parents will be consistently exposing their children to two different languages, it makes sense that many parents choose this approach to frequently expose their children to both languages that are important to them. With this common language plan, it becomes easy for the child to differentiate between both languages as well as which parent they speak each language to. It becomes second nature to the children to start answering in both languages spoken since they are hearing them both often. It’s important to note that to get the most out of this language plan, parents should provide as much exposure to each of the two languages as possible by sticking to their designated language.

One of Binibi’s customers is German, but fluent in English, Spanish and German. She speaks to her kids in German, her husband speaks to them in Spanish (which he is fluent in), and their girls learn English in school and outside the home. 

FAQs about the OPOL language plan, answered by Berenice Moreno (bilingual SLP):

1. What if my spouse/partner isn’t at home as much as I am? Will my child get sufficient exposure to their language?Quantity and quality of language exposure to a specific language are definitely very important as the amount exposure will play a role in the child’s proficiency. Children will likely become more proficient in the language they are exposed to the most. It’s natural for children to be more proficient in one language than another, but all exposure is good exposure, especially when it comes to connecting to a culture! Activities, like reading bilingual children's books or singing nursery rhymes in Spanish, in the target language are always a good idea in order to increase exposure.

2. Will my child be confused with which language to speak to each parent?

No, they won't become confused! Children learn to differentiate which parent speaks which language and it eventually becomes very effortless and seamless for them to switch back and forth.


Berenice’s main tip for families implementing the OPOL language plan is that if your child speaks to you in the other parent's language, make sure you respond in your target language, without explicitly saying, “Don’t speak to me in that language.” Don’t pressure them to use a specific language with specific parents, just continue to practice it and they’ll eventually pick up who to use each language with. 

To make the most informed decision for your family, stay tuned and keep reading about the different language plans as we discuss the Time and Place strategy next!