Bilingual Princess and the 20 second secret

A fairy tale for bilingual parents

Fairy tale by Soile Pietikäinen, illustrations by Henrik Mäkinen 







Once upon a time, in a far-away land there was an immigrant, who was married to the king. In fact, she was the queen. This is what happened. 

The queen was expecting her first baby. She dreamt that she would love and cherish her child in her own language. They would play and tell stories. They would laugh in the queen’s native language. 

The child would grow up having a wonderful relationship with both parents in each parent’s language. 

The king thought this was a marvellous idea too. He was fully behind it and together they decided to raise a bilingual family.



A baby girl was born and both parents lovingly spoke to her, each in their own language. The baby princess delighted her parents beyond measure and developed every day.

Until, one day, the baby princess began to speak … and the words came out only in one language!

What now? The king and the queen had read that if each of them would speak their own language to the baby, then the baby would speak both languages too. This was supposed to be easy!

So, they tried harder. Even their cat tried harder, but the only thing that changed was their increasing frustration.

When they didn’t know what else to do the king decided to call a competition. Tut-tu-ry-dyy! Trumpets called all citizens to attention.Ä

"Anybody in the kingdom who can help the little princess speak her mother's language will receive a life-long invitation to the palace garden party with plenty of selfie opportunities."

A line of hopefuls formed outside the palace gates. The queen vetted the most promising proposals for testing. 

Many people suggested that the queen should just keep speaking her language to the child and eventually – as if by magic – the child would speak her language too. 

They were all sent home. That method had already been tested, thank you very much. Something more was needed.

The queen selected two advisors. 

The first advisor advised that the queen should add more exposure.

This meant that the queen should surround the little princess with lots of people who speak the queen’s language. 

The princess was taken to playgroups and shown lots of cute videos. She was taken to events and trips to places where everyone spoke the queen’s language. 

But the princess hid behind her mother’s legs and did not start speaking her mother’s language. 

The second advisor advised that the queen should add individual input.

The queen should only and always speak her language to her child.  She should employ the advisor to speak even more of the language to the child. 

But the princess did not understand what they said. She became tearful and did not want to speak her mother’s language.


A feeling of hopelessness descended over the palace.

The queen doubted herself.

Persisting felt like a constant struggle. Often it felt wrong. Sometimes it felt even cruel. 

A knot of disappointment was growing in everyone’s belly. The king and the queen were about to give up the whole thing … when the cat stepped in front of them and cleared its throat. 

“Meow”… the cat began. “Your majesties, on my nightly hunting trips I have come across an old lady who lives in a hut in the middle of a forest. She rarely goes out, but I have heard with my own ears that her children speak three languages and that she has helped many of her neighbours’ children too. 

Your majesties, would you like me to fetch this old lady for you?”

The king and the queen were taken aback. They had never heard this cat - or any cat – speak a monster language before. But what the heck, they thought. 

It was worth a go. 

The cat set off to the big forest nearby and went straight to the cottage of the old lady. The cat knocked at the door. 

Knock, knock, knock

            (No answer)

Knock, knock, knock

(Someone peeped from behind the curtains)

Knock, knock, knock!

Who’s there?” a feeble voice asked through the door.

It is me, the royal cat. I have come to seek your help for the little princess who cannot speak her mother’s language.”

Oh dear.” Said the old lady and opened the door. 

To cut a long story short, the cat convinced the old lady to come to the palace by the backdoor – because the old lady was socially anxious- so that she could listen to the queen and to the princess to see if she could help them.

The old lady visited the palace to watch and listen to the queen and the princess. Then she said: “Hmm…I think that I might be able help you”.

"But on one condition!"

The queen would have to promise to dedicate …

20 times 20 seconds

...every day to practice what the old lady taught her.     

The queen promised.   


For the next four weeks the old lady visited the queen to teach her how to help the princess to speak her mother’s language. 

In one day, the princess noticed that something had changed. 

In one week, she began to say little things in her mother’s language. 

In one month, progress was gaining speed. 

Encouraged by that the queen continued to practice 

20 seconds 20 times every day.

In six months, it was hard to tell there had ever been a problem. 

The king thought that now was the time to award the prize. 

There was a competition, remember?

The old lady was not interested in garden parties and she was terrified of selfies - whoever they were. The cat on the other hand was ready to party any time, and the selfies! The cat loved selfies.  

So, the cat got the prize. But the old lady had a wish. She knew it was impossible - I mean, anyone could understand that – but she would have wanted to help families all over the world. 

Oh well. In any case the old lady was happy for the progress the little princess had made. She wished the family all the best and returned to her cottage in the woods. 

The queen was left thinking how she could grant the old lady her wish.

That year on Christmas morning, a parcel appeared at the old lady’s door, and when she opened it, she was surprised to see a shiny new … (what do they call it?) a laptop computer.

On it was a note that read: “From this special box a thousand birds can fly to all corners of the world spreading messages of joy to many families. All you have to do is open this magic machine and begin.


And with that the old lady created an online course that could fly to any corner of the world, any time of the day - helping families whenever and wherever they needed it. It was the old lady's dream come true.  

And what happened to the little princess?

She got a baby brother and they grew up happily with two languages, eventually becoming bilingual adults who enjoyed speaking their mother’s language…

...till the end of their days.


To enquire about it

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Here is a pdf download for you, if you would like to keep this story or to print it.