or Connect
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Mom › Parenting › Multicultural Families › Issues in considering raising a bilingual child
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Issues in considering raising a bilingual child

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
I posted this over in the toddler forum and was directed here. I'm also adding a few more details. I'm hoping someone can point me to some resources guiding parents on how to raise bilingual children.

I have been wanting to raise my children bilingual in Spanish and English while living in the US. Lately, though, I have been more and more concerned that I am doing more harm than good. I am 100% convinced that being truly bilingual does amazing things for kids, I'm just worried about how I personally am going about it. Some background: DH's mother is Mexican. When DH was little she decided that she would speak to him in Spanish during bathtime. Why so little, I'm not sure. Anyway, he knew all his body parts in Spanish and his first word was "agua." Then one day at 2 he said "Mama, no talk that!" and she never did again. This breaks my heart and is very disappointing to him too.

Flash forward to today: we have a 13 month old. My family is German but came during WWII and never spoke German again so no one would question how American they were. I want dd to have some sort of cultural identity (and the advantages of being bilingual). I double majored in Spanish in college and used to be fluent. It's been about 5 years since I spoke to anyone, and I'm rusty. I'm also realizing I never learned many baby words/phrases. When we see DH's mom, I encourage her to speak Spanish to DD, which she does almost exclusively. Unfortunately, we live in WA and she lives in TX. Our neighborhood public school has an amazing half-day immersion program in either Spanish or Japanese. The catch is that unless your child already speaks one or the other you don't get to choose; it's a random drawing. I greatly prefer the Spanish program because of our family connection, the fact that I (mostly) speak it, and I feel it is more useful, so I really want her guaranteed a spot.

I speak Spanish to dd almost exclusively during the day and then dh uses what Spanish he knows when it comes up in the evenings and on weekends. We speak primarily English to each other. I take dd to a Spanish language playgroup once a week. I read several books to her in Spanish every day. I'm trying to brush up by reading my own entertainment and parenting books in Spanish and using the Rosetta Stone software, but it's slow going since I'm also working on my PhD. In the fall she will be entering an English-speaking Montessori school for full day daycare at least 3 days a week.

I'm so worried that we're screwing up her verbal skills (like how at 13 months she doesn't have any), and she won't be smart because she'll be so confused about how to talk and think and she'll have terrible behavior because she can't express herself.... *hyperventilates*. She seems to understand basic phrases in both languages at this point. I just worry I'm confusing her or that my bad grammar and limited vocabulary will do more harm than good. I could really use some advice on how it is best to separate the languages and whether this is a good idea at all. I want to give her this advantage and sense of where her family comes from, and I want to recover and improve my Spanish, but I don't want to deprive her of the fact that she has two highly educated and literate parents in English as well. We are looking into some career options in Mexico and Puerto Rico as well, which would pretty much solve the problem, but I don't know when/if that will really be possible.

Please be kind. I'm really trying to do what's best for my daughter and yes, for my goals as well.
post #2 of 30
I don't have any personal experience yet, but we will be raising our kids to be bilingual (I am American and DH is Danish). I think this is a great goal and it's awesome that you are concerned and want to do it right. I hope you get some more useful "been there, done that" kinda replies, but I thought you might be interested in this website which has a bunch of tips and articles. Good luck!
post #3 of 30
Thread Starter 
Thanks, that site looks good!
post #4 of 30
Technically English is my second language, but I speak my native language so infrequently that I've forgotten so much of it. The only resources I have are studies that indicate the positives of bilingualism - cognitive flexibility, higher scores on intelligence tests, etc. Your concern about confusing your dd is legitamate - there's no denying that it IS confusing and that bilingual children show slightly slower language development; but your dd WILL develop mastery in Spanish and English so long as there are opportunities to communicate in both languages consistently. my ds is 21 months - I speak mostly English and some Korean, dh husband speaks exclusively english, my parents speak exclusively Korean. He sees my parents roughly every 4 months. At first he was very confused but now seems to be able to understand and speak some korean. We're hoping to enroll him at the international charter school - a spanish immersion program. I'm sure it will be very disorienting at first, but I have faith that he'll master spanish, english, and some korean. Try not to worry too much if you see that your dd's language development is slower than the "norm," because this is the norm for most all bilingual kids.
post #5 of 30
I was raised as a multi lingual kid and it all worked out! My first language was Portuguese despite the fact that my parents spoke Spanish at home because we were living in Brazil. I understood them obviously, but the outside influences from school, radio, TV and friends outweighed it all.

We then moved to the US where I still spoke Portuguese (to my teachers' dismay!), but my parents worked with me (and I'd gone to an International School in Brazil) so that I learned English pretty quickly.

As for today, I'm fluent in all three languages although by lack of practice some are more rusty than others. I regret that my parents didn't work harder to teach me grammer and written Spanish more, but I went to study it in college so oh well.

Personally, I would recommend doing everything you are doing and pushing as much Spanish as you can. Remember to play Spanish CDs and TV/movies as well. I also read somewhere that they recommend not allowing kids to intermix languages because that makes it too easy not to learn the right word in a language - hence the Spanglish and whatnot.

Good luck!
post #6 of 30
My DS is 13 1/2 months old and is as bilingual as an early toddler can get. DH, DD, and I speak English to him, grandma and everyone else that he knows speaks Turkish (we live in Istanbul). Although he is home with me and DD all day, every day, and he hears English from us, he quite obviously understands both languages and will follow commands (as much as any toddler does) in either language. His jibberish babbling sounds more Turkish than English, but he does have some clear English words--like NO! We've never given a second thought to raising him to be bilingual.

Every study that I've ever seen has indicated only positives to raising bilingual (or trilingual, or multilingual) children. In fact, the early they are started with multiple languages, the better. Multilingual children tend to talk later than monolingual children, because they are learning multiple languages simultaneously, but when they do start talking they are able to separate the languages and speak appropriately, for the most part. I had a friend here who was from Peru, her DH was Turkish, and they spoke English together. Their 4-year-old DS was able to have a conversation in all three languages at the same time without difficulty. It was remarkable!

I say don't worry about it, keep going as you're going and have fun with it!
post #7 of 30
It's an awesome thing to want to try but I'd question whether you can raise a bilingual child in an English speaking community if neither of you is a native Spanish speaker. You mention bad grammar and limited vocab - won't it feel strange communicating with your child in a language you're not fully proficient in? I'm projecting a bit here as I speak fluent (but rusty) French but never use it with my son as it feels unnatural.

I'm not trying to be a naysayer as I'd love to be wrong about this!
post #8 of 30
My DD is fully French-English bilingual. It's easy for us because we are in Montreal. I speak English with her, her daycare is mostly French, but still bilingual and people around us speak one or the other, or both. Initially, she did not speak as well as the other kids her age who are only learning one language and I was a little worried she would be confused, but around 2 and a half she grasped the concept and started asking if certain words were French or English and since then she has greatly improved. She still does a lot of Frenglish or Franglais as we call it here, but everyone else does that to so it's understandable.

I think that the important thing is to be consistent so that she understands the difference between the 2 languages. Then, whenever she learns a new word you can tell her which language it is and teach her the same word in the other language.

It really is not that difficult, as long as she is expose to both languages in natural settings, not just a class or other forced situations as knowing words and grammar is not all, she should also develop a native, instinctual understanding of the language.
post #9 of 30
I was raised trilingual Greek-Spanish-Portuguese, i'm actually Italian and French as well but my lovely family thought it wasn't importatn to teach me and my siblings those two. Well, my dad was Greek and he used to speak to me exclusively in Greek as well as my paternal family. My mum was born in Spain, to an Spaniard father and a Portuguese - Italian mother, and she was rasied in Portugal. Ever since I was a child i could speak Greek, Spanish and Portguese without any problems, and my grammar and vocabulary is perfect I said my first word when i was 2.5 years old. My mum used to(well still) mixes Spanish and Portuguese with me.

Now my kids, my DH is English, he obviously speaks English to them as it's his first language and also speaks Spanish. We speak English to eachother though, sometimes it's 50/50. For my part I speak Greek to my kids, and my mum who lives with us speaks Spanish or Portuguese to them she'll switch, when my dad was alive he spoke Spanish to them. My kids have a language of their preference with eachother. DS and DD speak Spanish to eachother most of the time, while DS and DD2 use English, DS2 is not talking yet but understands in all 4, and so on.
Plus i have the older 3 in a German/Dutch/English school, DS and DD are doing great with German and Dutch but DD2 is having a hardtime with those. But i'm pulling DD and DD2 to homeschool them, and i've been thinking Rossetta Stone for them...

Hope i didn't confuse you!
post #10 of 30

my bilingual parenting experience...

Remember, multilingualism is the cultural norm in many many countries around the globe. It's not the least intimidating or complicated for millions of little ones.

...so far, I've one 5 yo who was raised bilingual and a 12 mo baby.

First of all DO NOT WORRY that your 13 mo does not have active language skills yet.
Few 13 month olds speak; even in monolingual households, which is irrelevant anyway IMHO. She's absolutely typical.

I'm a native Hungarian and my dh is a native English speaker whose spoken Hungarian skills were eclipsed by our ds at about age 2.5 yrs, LOL.

We each speak our native language to him, period. At all times, and under all circumstances. The kid doesn't mix languages. He doesn't have a preference, it's all just very natural to him. We were told his verbal skills might develop later than average because of the dual input, but I didn't for a moment believe it and I was right. He was talking in sentences by 20-22 months, in two languages.

Our baby will be (is) raised the same, because we had really good results.

I'm sure if you're enjoying your endeavor and doing it with conviction and confidence, as with everything else, your child will follow your lead. Remember to have fun with it though!!

post #11 of 30
I am raising my daughter bilingual (German/English). I am a native speaker of both languages. There are different techniques of teaching both languages; you must find one that works for you and your family.

My goal is for my daughter to be able to feel in both languages/cultures.

I have a book recommendation for you:

From what you posted, it sounds like you have a good approach.
post #12 of 30
First, its not uncommon for multilingual babies to speak later than their uniligual peers. Babies as young as 6 months can distinguish 3-4 languages with no problem. If I understood correctly, your situation is unqiue in that neither you nor your dh is has a mother tongue other than english. While I think that exposing your dd to Spanish (or any other language) can not hurt I am of the opinion that each parent should speak their mother tongue because usually, no matter how well you learn a launguage chances are there will slang you don't know, a slight accent you dont realize you have or just small subtlies of the language you can't pick up if not a native speaker. My dp is Italian and speaks only Italian to dd. I speak only English (occasionally a phrase here or there but not a whole convo with her in Italian). We speak to each other in both. I was an au pair for a German/Italian family and the mother spoke only German to her kids and the father Italian. I came along and spoke mainly English with them so they learned that too.

I guess I would say have her speak with native spanish speakers in your commnity or family as often as possible and maybe get spanish cds or dvds. If you are confident in your language skills than continue with what you are doing, but I would be cautious if you have an accent.
And don't worry about her being confused. She may mix the languages for awhile, but in the end she will be able to keep them seperate. Kids are pretty amazing that way. I remember that if I tried to trick on of the kids in my au pair family by saying something in German, they always responded to me in English or Italian. And for a while the little girl used to say a phrse involving all three languages. Its was funny.
post #13 of 30
I wouldn't worry about messing up her verbal skills, but I agree that she might speak later.

Our closest family friends are a couple comprised of a native Spanish speaker and a native Chinese speaker. Mom speaks to the kids in Spanish, dad in Chinese. They use English with each other and the kids also picked up English at daycare.

Both kids spoke late, but it was always perfectly obvious that they understood what each parent was saying to them. Now the oldest girl is 8 and pretty much fluently trilingual.

Doing what you are doing is a huge gift. I envy your ability to do this for your dd.
post #14 of 30
I just wanted to chime in here. I heard this theory that bilingual/trilingual etc children will speak much later all through my pregnancy (mostly from inlaws and family and then friends and strangers too)
I kept insisting how I had studied linguistics a little and how my professor had explained how children (up to adolesence) learn language easier than adults. I've spoke with a friend who speaks 4 languages and said the two that he learned as a child he doesn't forget but the two he learned as an adult, if not used, fade easily. My aunt also told me about how she learned only Italian and when she went to school had a hard time learning english, a harder time learning the material than the other students, and felt in inferior.
I always knew that I would teach both english and portuguese to my son, (I added ASL to my plans when ds was around 6 months) these examples only reinforced my determination.
DS started (ASL) signing first. Then he started speaking (5-10 words not just mama, dada) around 1. By 16-18 months he already knew over 150 words in english, atleast 50 signs, and various words in portuguese. His cousins who were 21 months and 2 years and only spoke portuguese knew less than 10 and around 50 words respectively.
Now my son is 21 months and knows all of his letters in english (upper and lower case) and the sounds they make, endless words in english, atleast 50 words in portugues, atleast 100 signs and speaks in phrases (just recently!). I think in the end it depends on the child whether they will speak later or not. I don't believe that it hurts a child to learn more than one language. I don't believe that it causes big delays in speech (maybe a small delay if at all). Some children just speak later than others just as children reach other developmental goals quicker than others. Good luck with all of your teaching, I think it is a blessing to be able to communicate with others and get to know other cultures and people.
post #15 of 30
Hi. I read your post and sympathized and just wanted to offer some support.

First, I don't think you are doing harm. Try not to stress and hyperventilate.

Second, I understand wanting to do the best for your child and being usure what that should be or look like. I do sympathize. Here is my experience.

I was in a similar situation, speaking to my children in Spanish when Spanish was my second language. I spoke to them exlusively in Spanish for three years. Then I decided I was doing them a disservice. They needed English to interact in the world and they weren't getting it at home. I feel this put my shy son at a disadvantage with my family and friends I had wanted them to get English from my family, but it ended up they didn't see my family much, and when they did see them, everyone was a bit frustratred and confused.

In our situation, my husband always speaks to them in Spanish so they still do have that as a second language, although somewhat limited. They will also someday visit Peru and I know they'll have enough base knowledge to build on and attain fluency there.

I had this fantasy of bilingual children and wanted their native language to be Spanish, I think because I like it and think that it is pretty more than any other reason. I finally had to look at my motives and decided they were selfish. Now, my 2nd DS, I am not worried about, since he is not shy and he is picking up both languages equally. But for my first I wish I would have taught him English sooner.

Not saying that will be the same with you. Just try to calmly and rationally look at the pros and cons. What do your children need to do best in the world? When and where will they get that? What school opportunities are there?

Also, once I had my second child, I relaxed about a WHOLE LOT of things and I now stress less over both of them. I guess I would say to you that as long as you are acting out of love, your children will be great no matter what you decide!! Please remember this!
post #16 of 30
I think what you're doing is great. Being able to speak foreign languages is always a plus, being fluent (bi- or multilingual) is even better. There are enough studies out there to prove it.

I don't think it's confusing to children. They pretty much figure out when to speak which language and with whom.

I am a native German speaker, my husband is American, so we each speak our language with our son......but since he's only 12 months old, I can't tell you yet how it's working out
post #17 of 30
The children speaking later due to bilingualism is false according to what I have read.

I spoke to my DD in only Spanish until the age of 3 (then I got lazy) and DH spoke only English. DD has always had amazing verbal skills. At the age of 5 she was tested as having the vocabulary of a 7th grader.

Reading books, learning songs (Jose Luis Orozco is great for traditional Mexican music), and always having that dictionary handy will go a long way since you have a good background. You really can't mess her up. Now, it takes 30 hours/week of exposure to the 2nd language to become fluent (I've read), so bear that in mind . . .the more comprehensible language, the better.

Don't overthink this!
post #18 of 30
You are doing the right thing. Even though you are not a native speaker, the more languages your dd is exposed to the better off she is.

I`m Hungarian and DH is Japanese. We are raising our 20-month-old ds in Japan and it`s very challenging for me. He`s becoming very good at Japanese but I cannot say the same about Hungarian. I speak exclusively my language to him but he hears much more Japanese from friends and neighbors. I fear sometimes that he will never learn fluent Hungarian (we plan to return after Dh finishes school here). All your testimonies are giving me hope
Sorry for hijacking your thread...
post #19 of 30
we're bilingual, kids are with me most of the time and I speak only English to them, everyone else in their life, dad included, speaks German to them. We speak English to each other. DS1 was a little later with his verbal skills than other kids his age, but he knows twice as many things! He speaks more German than English... I don't speak any German to him because mine isn't great, lol, don't want him speaking mama's Deutsche! I do actually clarify a lot of times that papa says <insert german word or phrase> and mama says <insert english> he has no problems, and can translate things without blinking. I'll speak in English and ask him to go say something to papa, and he'll go and say it in german to his dad.
post #20 of 30
I know that this thread is a little old but I feel that I had to post because the previous posts don't really address the issue here. The issue is that the OP is not a native speaker, not bilingual, not even "fluent".

First of all, BRAVO for thinking about how to get your child speaking another language!

My perspective is different from the previous posters. I have discussed the issue of non-native speaker parents speaking a language with their children with language pathologists who specialize in bilingual families and have also seen this issue arise in real life. My thoughts are that unless you are bilingual or very fluent (i.e. you hardly have an accent and only make mistakes in very complicated sentences), I would not try to converse with your child in Spanish all the time. Your job is to convey to your child your mother tongue, not a foreign tongue that you don't properly know yourself.

I think a better approach in cases like yours is to invite your child to learn (or in your case re-learn) Spanish with you. Look at books together and repeat the words. Listen to CDs together. Sing Spanish songs together. Watch Spanish DVDs together. Go to the Spanish playgroup. But I would not try to converse with her on an ongoing basis in Spanish because, well, you are not going to be able to maintain it, you will end up mixing English and Spanish, which just gives rise to confusion for the child, and most importantly, you are not teaching her real Spanish that a native speaker speaks. You are teaching her your accented, mistake-ridden Spanish (unless of course you really are fluent, which you say you are not).

Studies show that children in bilingual homes do not suffer, language-wise. But these studies involve parents who are either native speakers or virtually bilingual. On the other hand, studies (in Germany) have also shown that children whose non-bilingual Turkish parents tried to speak German to their children ended up speaking worse German and worse Turkish as a result. Basically, the kids ended up not mastering either language. Your scenario is slightly different because you are living in a predominantly English-speaking area but I would still maintain that language at home has the strongest impact in the early years. Stick with your mother tongue for day-to-day talk and allocate special times and activities for learning Spanish together.

See my recent blog entry for any additional thoughts.
Good luck!
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Multicultural Families
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Mom › Parenting › Multicultural Families › Issues in considering raising a bilingual child