Children learn language out of necessity, not for fun!Hi,
I'm American and speak English natively and Spanish fluently. My DH is Mexican and has been learning English during our 6 years of marriage. We have lived in the US. When our daughter was born almost 4 years ago, Papi spoke Spanish to her 90% of the time (he likes to "play" with some English phrases) and I usually spoke English when we were alone and Spanish with him and sometimes repeated key words or phrases in both languages. As she got a bit older, like a year or so, I worried that since he worked, she wasn't getting enough exposure to Spanish, so I really tried to speak more Spanish to her, but whenever we were out with other people, I invariably resorted to English. Her first words were some in English and some in Spanish, almost like she picked which was easier to say and that's the word she always used for that thing. But as she gained fluency in the language, speaking more phrases and sentences instead of just words, she spoke more and more English. Also, as we approached 2 years and all the independence and rebellion of that age, it became much harder for me to keep speaking Spanish to her, especially when she answered me in English. It was like I needed my native language to "defend myself" with this challenging, bright, talkative child. Also, about that time, I went back to work part-time and my DH was caring for her while I was at work. So I felt like she was spending more time with him and he could bear more of the responsibility for her Spanish. So as of a month ago she is 3.5 and understands Spanish perfectly (or age-appropriately, anyway), but she hardly speaks it! While Papi always spoke Spanish to her, he never insisted (by playing ignorant to her English) that she speak to him in Spanish. I thought that hearing it would be enough, but it isn't! They have to speak it, too. It isn't that she wasn't willing, just really couldn't remember and say the words! Weird! But now we have been in Mexico for the last month staying with my in-laws and she is in a kindergarden for three hours every morning and her Spanish has improved dramatically, though the grammar still has lots of "english-isms" and she sometimes sticks English words in when she forgets the Spanish words. It definitely is pidgeon Spanish, not native Spanish, but hey, its a huge improvement over one month ago. We are going to be here another month and then hopefully, we can at least maintain her progress by my husband being really disciplined in insisting that she speak to him in Spanish, having Spanish-only family meals, and talking to her Mexican family on the webcam. Also, we now plan on visiting more often, hopefully once a year or so.
Sorry that was such a long story! I guess my point is that I was surprised that it has been harder than I expected to raise her bilingually. Even though one parent always spoke to her in Spanish and the other parent sometimes did, the surrounding culture and our failure to require her to speak back to us in Spanish resulted in a very-English dominant child with passive Spanish skills. It has taken immersion in Mexico to enable her to communicate in Spanish, but I don't know if she'll ever achieve native speech. So my advice is: have at least one person (parent, grandparent, nanny, whatever) who doesn't understand or refuses to understand the local language and try to visit the other country frequently and for relatively long stays. Good luck! It is fun to have a bilingual child!