What NOT to Say to Your Au Pair!

At Au Pair USA, we’re constantly working on ways to prepare you for a successful au pair placement. We give you tips on interviewing au pairs. We provide you with resources to welcome your au pair. We check in with you upon arrival to ensure the relationship is blossoming and meet with you shortly after to answer your questions and share information. But we don’t often tell you what NOT to say when hosting an au pair. 

What do we mean?

Most au pairs are non-native English speakers. This means they are still learning how the English language works. They might be translating everything that you say to them into their native language. If that is the case, their brains must process, translate, and decode what they’re hearing to ensure comprehension. In fact, even au pairs from English-speaking countries may struggle with particular sayings and idioms we use casually and effortlessly in our daily lives.

Communication tips for you and your au pair

Here are some prime examples of what NOT to say to your au pair so you’re not met with a “deer in headlights” look or some major miscommunication.

1. “Let’s play it by ear” This could go wrong in many ways. Your au pair, being around kids most of the time, may think you’re introducing a new game to play, “It by Ear.” There could be tons of confusion here, especially if you’re discussing schedule-related topics and then throw this idiomatic expression into the mix.

Recommended replacement: “Let’s decide on that later.”

A baby with a fox hood.
Although “It by Ear” might be a cute game for some host kids! Image courtesy of Pexels.

2. “Reach out to…” Think about how complicated it could become if you were translating something like this. Reach out? Put my arm out? What if we’re not near each other? What does this mean?!

Recommended replacement: “Call/text/email…”

3. “Spill the beans/tea” Unless you want a mess all over your floor, I’d stay away from this one. Again, this could cause serious confusion for your au pair in a conversation. They might wonder why you were talking about one topic, and suddenly, you want them to make a mess?

Recommended replacement: “Tell ___ about ___.”

4. “Touch base” Such a commonly used expression that can cause so much confusion. From an au pair perspective, they might be scratching their head, thinking, “Base? Like baseball? What do they mean?”

Recommended replacement: “Text each other,” “Call each other,” or “Give an update.”

5. “How come?” You may never think this simple expression could be something that could totally halt a conversation. Au pairs will be trying to translate this, which will likely make no sense to them. You’ll be waiting for an answer to this seemingly simple question, and they’ll probably be quiet because they have no idea you even asked them something.

Recommended replacement: “Why”

A host mom speaks with an au pair.
With these tips in mind, you’ll be communicating with your au pair like a pro! Image courtesy of Pexels.

Want to learn more idioms that non-native English speakers struggle with? A quick search for “English idioms” will show you that we use hundreds daily. Keep these challenging phrases in mind as you share information with your au pair so everyone can “be on the same page.”

Marisa Lonic

Marisa is a lover of all things cultural exchange. She and her family have hosted au pairs from Brazil, Germany, Colombia, Spain, and Ecuador. As a mom of four and the founder of Mama Work It, she helps working moms juggle mom life, work life, spouse life, fill in the blank life through her books, courses and coaching programs.