Selecting a Language Plan Pt. 4: Mixed Language

Selecting a Language Plan Pt. 4: Mixed 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.

We previously covered three of the most used language plans to promote bilingualism in children: Minority Language at Home, One Parent One Language and Time and Place. Today, we’ll be covering another commonly used strategy, the Mixed Language plan, as many bilingual families resort to this method that offers a fluid and natural approach to introducing a second language to little ones. Depending on the family’s goals, this method can be practiced in different ways with the common theme of interchangeably speaking two target languages in a way that feels comfortable to the family.

Mixed Language

What is the Mixed Language approach? This is when both parents use two or more languages interchangeably, including both the minority and majority languages. It can even consist of a combination of the previous strategies mentioned. For example, one parent could be using both English and Spanish while another parent may speak Spanish in some contexts and English in others. With this language strategy, different languages are used in any situation rather than sticking to one language for specific circumstances which is what naturally ends up happening with many bilinguals over time when everyone speaks both languages. Sometimes, bilinguals speaking in one of their two languages might not have the right word or phrase to describe what they’re feeling or wanting to express at a given moment, so languages are used interchangeably which allows families to express themselves more fluidly.  

The Mixed Language plan tends to put less pressure on families to follow a specific “plan” as there aren’t set rules or routines, just using both languages throughout the day as it feels most comfortable to the parent. As a result, the focus of the Mixed Language plan is to expose the child to multiple languages often and naturally rather than having a specific way of dividing the use of languages. 

The Mixed Language strategy is often practiced by:

  • Families who prefer not to have set rules or guidelines when it comes to which language to use with their children. They want to speak in a way that feels natural and is the easiest to express certain thoughts or ideas in a given moment
  • Families in which both parents are bilingual in the languages they are choosing to speak to their children. They may not be native bilinguals, but they know enough of their minority language to be able to speak it effortlessly with their children

Becoming bilingual requires a child to receive a lot of constant exposure and input to the target language in order for them to truly learn it and speak it. That said, it’s crucial that parents practicing the Mixed Language approach understand that quantity and quality of language exposure will directly affect how proficient the child will be in that language. For example, if parents using the Mixed Language approach want their child to become proficient in the minority language, then they should make an additional effort to reinforce it at home through engaging activities conducted in the minority language. 

Reading bilingual books for kids or offering screen time in both languages are great ways to squeeze in additional language practice. Some families may choose to read a book in both languages in one sitting, which is a good way to expose kids to both languages. While others may read the story in one language, while labeling key vocabulary in both languages. Reading bilingual books for babies and toddlers is a great way of having access to both languages simultaneously.

Berenice Moreno and her husband currently use the Mixed Language strategy with their three children, who are exposed to both Spanish and English. They began using the Minority Language At Home approach, but have transitioned to a Mixed Language approach, as the kids have become more proficient in English. They try to incorporate the minority language, Spanish, as much as possible and expose the kids to activities to reinforce their Spanish, such as reading, singing, watching shows, etc. However, they may switch back and forth between English and Spanish depending on the activity, context and level of comfort.

FAQs about the Mixed Language plan, answered by Berenice Moreno (bilingual SLP):

  1. What if one language gets more exposure than the other?

Proficiency in each language will vary depending on how much each child is exposed. The child might start to prefer one language over the other. With this strategy, it’s up to the family to decide how much exposure they want to provide, without a lot of pressure!


Berenice’s main comment on the Mixed Language plan is that most of us that are multilingual don’t necessarily choose this approach, but instead it can happen naturally due to circumstances of living in a multilingual community. This approach can feel more natural because there are less rules and it’s essentially up to the family how they use this approach. If you want to expose your child to a specific language more, she suggests adding more activities in that specific language.

While family language plans are a great way to provide structure and direction when it comes to bilingualism and introducing a second, or third, language at home, choosing a strategy and sticking to it does not need to feel so rigid. It’s important to keep in mind that your language plan can change as your family dynamic or situation changes. You may start off with one strategy and eventually transition to another depending on what feels right and realistic for your family at that given moment. Parents shouldn’t feel pressured to stick to one language plan, rather follow what feels comfortable, natural and doable for your unique family. As children grow, certain plans aren’t feasible anymore, but as long as you continue to provide exposure to the target or minority language, you are already helping your child tremendously in their language learning journey.

For some families, language plans might be consciously selected, but for others, a specific plan may be the only option that just happens naturally based on their circumstances. For those of us who do make a conscious decision on which approach to take, this choice will depend on what your personal goals are for your child’s bilingualism journey. Your goal might be for your child to be biliterate and proficient in both languages or perhaps you just want to support what your child is learning at school. Every bilingualism goal is valid!

So, parents, whatever your situation is, feel confident in selecting a language plan for bilingualism at home that will set your child up for success and endless opportunities!