Raising Bilingual Kids & Little Global Citizens

Language Strategies

Adapting the OPOL Language Strategy – Not All Families Can Stick To OPOL So Why Should They?


Last Updated on March 26, 2024 by Bilingual Kidspot

Adapting the OPOL Language Strategy

The OPOL approach is probably one of the most well known language strategies used by parents raising bilingual children.

It is as simple as it sounds, one person speaks one language to the child. You can read more in detail about this approach in this post (OPOL – One Person One Language).

Many parents though, think that this is the only way for children to grow up to be bilingual.

They worry that they will fail their children if they don’t follow it strictly.

But this is certainly not the case.  

While OPOL does work for many families, not all parents can be consistent with it, which is ok. Some families choose to use the Minority Language at Home, or the Time and Place method.

OPOL though, seems to be the most popular.

There are actually many  adaptions of the OPOL language strategy that families can use depending on their circumstances.

Below are some scenarios. Insert your own language to replace the examples.

Adapting OPOL when parents don’t understand each other’s languages

It can be really frustrating when a parent cannot understand the conversation with their partner and child. So there are a couple of ways you can handle it if this is the case for you.

Scenario 1

Parent A speaks Italian, Parent B Speaks Spanish.
The common language between them is Spanish.
Parent B does not understand Italian.

In this case the parents can use the OPOL language strategy when alone with the child, and then when talking as a family together they can use Spanish as it is the common language. This way Parent B does not feel left out if they don’t speak Italian

One thing to note using this strategy is that Italian will have very little exposure compared with Spanish. Therefore it is extremely important that Parent A has as much one on one time with the child in order to provide enough quality exposure. Remember quality is better than quantity.

Raising bilingual kids with limited language exposure

Scenario 2

Parent A speaks Italian, Parent B Speaks Spanish.
The community language, and language spoken between them is English.
Neither speaks the other’s native tongue.

In this case parents usually decide on a family language. When each parent is speaking with their child alone, they speak their native language, using the OPOL language strategy.

When both parents are together with the child, they speak the family language. In the case above the family language would be English. This way everyone understands each other.

Again as in the first scenario, parents should provide children with as much one on one time together in order to be exposed with each of the minority languages.

Tips to Improve the Minority Language

Adapting OPOL when there are other people around who don’t speak the language

If you are a family who use OPOL strictly at home, but the community language is different to the one you speak, here are a few ways to handle it.


Parent A speaks Italian, Parent B Speaks Spanish using OPOL, community language is English

In this case each parent can continue speaking with the child in their native language when they are alone, or at home. But then when they are out or other children or friends are over, switch to the community language, English.

While you may think this may confuse your child, it won’t be the case because of the context. They will understand there is a time and place to use each language.

Adapting OPOL when one parent speaks the two minority languages

This is common with bilingual or multilingual parents who would like to pass on more than one language.


Parent A speaks English, Italian and Spanish, Parent B Speaks only English. The community language is English.

In this case Parent A is speaking both minority languages. There are a couple of options which combine the Time and Place Method with the OPOL approach.

A – Speak each language for a week or two at a time.
Eg: One week speak exclusively Italian, the next week speak exclusively Spanish. Two weeks can also work. The main thing is consistency during this time, sticking to the one language as much as possible, and encouraging your child to use the language you are speaking.

B – Select a time of the day, or a place where you speak each language.
Eg: You speak Italian in general around the house, but go to a Spanish play group or activity group together where you spend time speaking Spanish with others.

Another idea is to create a language room or corner where you go to speak Spanish together. This room, or corner of the room could be filled with language resources in the target language such as books and posters. It should be a place where your children are happy to be and associate this place with the target language.

Language Resources for Bilingual Kids

OPOL and Changing Language Strategies

If the One person, One language strategy isn’t for you, don’t be afraid to stand back and reassess your family situation. As above, you can either adapt the OPOL strategy or otherwise take a look at the many other strategies you can follow.

Take a look at my post on the different Language Methods where you can read more in detail. These may be a better fit for your family.

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