Planning to raise our daughter bilingual, but unsure how to proceed - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 18 Old 05-10-2010, 11:02 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Hey there. I'm a new mom to Ela, who is now three months old. DH is Chilean and has been in the US for a year now--we currently live in Los Angeles.

We really want Ela to speak both English and Spanish, but I'm not exactly sure how we should go about it. DH and I met when I was studying in Chile. When we met my Spanish was better than his English. Now that we're living in the states we speak a mixture of Spanish and English in the home, but tend more towards Spanish because DH functions more easily in Spanish. That is changing a bit as DH has been taking classes to improve his English, and he's been asking me to speak English with him more often. Also, we currently live with my brother who doesn't speak any Spanish.

Now, I suppose we could do OPOL and DH could speak to Ela only in Spanish, even if he speaks a mixture with me, but I've read that children raised with OPOL can be pretty rigid about it (ie protesting when a parent attempts to speak to the child in the "wrong" language--"no mommy, Spanish is daddy's language!") Although I'm not a native-speaker of Spanish, I speak it fairly well and without a gringo accent. I enjoy speaking Spanish and want to interact with my daughter in both languages.

If DH's English were more advanced (and if my brother spoke Spanish) I'd lean towards speaking only Spanish at home. But right now DH wants to practice English as much as possible.

Obviously I'm thinking about this all a bit prematurely as Ela is only 3 months, but I'd like to figure out our approach as soon as possible in order to reinforce her learning of both languages. So what would you do in my situation?

Married 12/08 to Chilean DH and mama to DD 2/2/10. We're a bilingual home and we familybed1.gif and toddler.gif

 

Expecting #2 in late June!

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#2 of 18 Old 05-10-2010, 11:13 PM
 
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i'm guessing from your context that OPOL is one parent one language? thats a method used by friends of mine when both parents spoke english but only one spoke a second language. the mother spoke only english with the LOs so the father spoke only spanish with them, though he was fluent in english as well.

the other method i have heard of is to basically say everything to your child in both languages, sort of repeating yourself. your LO will learn to comprehend both languages simultaneously, and some say that overall, expressive language may come a bit later than if the LO was learning just one language, but some say it isnt delayed at all. either way, IMO, the benefits of early multi-language learning outweigh any slight delay in expressive language.

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#3 of 18 Old 05-11-2010, 12:14 AM
 
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Can your dh speak English and yu speak Spanish? And then of course whoever is speaking to her uncle speaks English
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#4 of 18 Old 05-11-2010, 02:23 PM
 
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If you are both fluent in Spanish I would just try to maximize the Spanish directed towards your DD at home. Why not have both parents speak to your DD in Spanish but communicate with each other in English for now? Adult conversation is mostly bla-bla-bla to young children anyway, and as your DH becomes more comfortable with English outside the home he may ultimately choose to revert to Spanish at home.

I don't think there's much point to OPOL when both parents are fluent in the same minority language.

I would just make sure to avoid 'Spanglish.' Pick a language for your sentence and stick with it.

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#5 of 18 Old 05-13-2010, 06:06 AM
 
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You have two issues here.

First of all, communication between the parents have nothing to do with what they speak to the children. My own grandmother never learned her parents' Russian because they were part of the immigrant generation who thought that would be damaging. We know now that to be a myth but communication between adult parents has little, if any, impact on the child.

So are you debating between both of you speaking Spanish to her or doing OPOL? Speaking a non-native language to your child, especially outside of the country, is not often so easy. It's a personal choice and you can switch later on, especially to the community language.

We do OPOL and I will admit that this is not the best method. I speak English to my kids in France. Their exposure to French is so much more than that to English, since it's basically just me. All are fluent in English though so OPOL works for sure, but it's not an even balance.

Please though, choose a language and stick with it. Resist repeating everything in both languages (the kids "tune out" the weaker language anyway) which is headache-inducing for you too!

Just because you want to interact with your dd in both languages doesn't mean you have to do it from the get-go. You can let her get a good grip of both before mixing them up. Children are rigid because they want to relate to those in their lives in just one language. If you mix them from the start, it's very likely that since you all live in the U.S., she'll just decide that her stronger language, English, is what she wants to use with you.

You can see plenty of children in California who can only understand Spanish but can't speak it. The advantage of learning a language young is that they can pick it up without an accent. By answering back in their easier language (English), they don't learn this and abandon the more difficult skill-speaking. The result is that they never achieve full fluency in Spanish.

A big price to pay just because the mother wanted to mix both languages from the start!

When my children got older, we did end up using some French terms. My kids did pony riding and gymnastics. I don't honestly know a lot of the terms in English (saddle but then what is the padded thing underneath?) School supplies? There is a different term for each kind of notebook. We just give up and use the French lol! But my children have a firmly-established relationship with me in English, the only reason why they are truly bilingual.

Since you're in L.A., you should have an easier time with the Spanish (I'm in a part of French where NO ONE speaks English). You may want to look into bilingual schooling. This would support your husband's efforts and also later on give her the academic foundation in both languages.

No, it's not too early to look into these schools. Many have waiting lists and you may want to select now, in case you move (which many young families do) to place yourselves closer to your choice.

From what I've heard, it's easier to get into a bilingual school as a native Spanish speaker so this might be inspiration to use Spanish with her, at least at first.

Dual "immersion" is best. This is where half the class are native Spanish speakers and the other half speak English as their first language. My kids are in a bilingual program but it's designed for native French speakers to learn German. There are native German speakers in the class but they had to be fluent in French to start it (a requirement) and quite frankly, the level of German is easy for them. British friends here in France thought their son would do better in a bilingual school but the kids were mostly French speakers so their son found the English too easy and the French too hard. So not all bilingual classes are the same!

The methods that you're debating between are OPOL and "home vs. community" in case you read up on the subject. Look on the Amazon list because they have a good collection of bilingual parenting books. You don't have to buy any from them but it's a good source of reviews.

Good luck!
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#6 of 18 Old 05-14-2010, 11:01 AM
 
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I posted recently a similar (although not identical) question and someone responded very helpfully with this clarification--because like you I don't want to not be able to speak in Spanish with dd although I'm not the native speaker in our house (that would be DP--not dd's father but the father to our baby-to-be--got all that?!): it seems to me that in your situation, as in mine, the most important thing is that your DP SPEAKS SPANISH CONSISTENTLY with dd. That it is less important that you keep your relationship with dd "purely" English (although as PPs have pointed out, your dd will likely end up using English with you anyway simply because it will be her stronger language) because English is the community language and won't require the reinforcement that the Spanish will.

But can I just commiserate for a second because your post reminds me of how complicated this can all be! My DP ALSO wants to improve his English (and *I* want to improve my *Spanish* with him!) AND I often feel (and know that he does, too) a little self-conscious in situations like where we're at a family party or something and he (or we) is speaking Spanish with dd, because I know some people probably think it's rude or something. But it's important that he is consistent with this! I'm just very aware of the many obstacles as we find ourselves in this situation. I do truly believe that whatever efforts are required, though, are truly worth it!

Suerte, mama!

Mama to a beautiful girl since May 2007 and a beautiful boy since August 2010! :
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#7 of 18 Old 05-14-2010, 11:08 AM
 
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Crashing from New Posts... I just wanted to say that I read a very interesting book a few years ago called "The Bilingual Edge."

The title is kind of obnoxious imo (obviously meant to grab the attention of the 'omg how can I give my child an edge so she'll be guaranteed to go to Harvard!) but the content of the book was very interesting and seemed to be based on a lot of sound research. It covered various different ways to work a multilingual household, studies about how how children learn languages, and a chapter about unexpected hurdles (special needs, speech delays, etc).

Trying to live a simple life in a messy house in a complicated world with : DH, DD (b. 07/07), DS (b. 02/09), and DD (b. 10/10)
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#8 of 18 Old 05-14-2010, 02:04 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks so much for the thoughtful responses mamas!

We have been looking into dual-immersion schools in LA and in CA in general, because I really don't want to raise a family in Los Angeles. Thankfully, there are a lot of good programs. I think we're leaning towards finding a whole-school dual-immersion program because I've spoken to a girl who was involved in a program within a school and she remembers being embarassed about participating in the program. I want Ela to be proud of her bilingual abilities!

Also, we're hoping to take frequent, extended trips to Chile to visit family in the future (my ideal would be to get into teaching and have my summers free so we could go every-other summer or something like that, provided DH's work situation is flexible) I think the trips will help a lot, because very few people in Chile speak English.

I've started really being aware of the language I use when speaking to her, and I'm doing a much better job of catching myself when I slip back into English. I've also started to look into buying picture books in Spanish and maybe some Sesame Street DVDs in Spanish. She's too young for all of that now, but it won't be long. But DH is still much more comfortable speaking to her in Spanish, though he and I do speak English more frequently these days. It's funny how speaking to babies is different from speaking to anyone else. DH feels comfortable speaking to adults in English, but the thought of speaking to a baby in English seems silly to him. So that's good for us!

Thanks for the commiseration La Sombra Even though DH and I speak Spanish together every day, I know that my Spanish has gotten worse since when we met in Chile 2 years ago. It's frustrating because my desire to improve/maintain my Spanish is obviously taking a backseat to his need to improve his English. I think a trip to Chile would do us all some good! Unfortunately I don't think DH can leave the US for another year or so.

Married 12/08 to Chilean DH and mama to DD 2/2/10. We're a bilingual home and we familybed1.gif and toddler.gif

 

Expecting #2 in late June!

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#9 of 18 Old 05-19-2010, 07:14 PM
 
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Hi Kitteh,
I wanted to add my personal experience. I'm Greek and I live in USA with my American hubby. We are raising our DS bilingual doing the OPOL method and it's been working great. I can already see how he interacts with us (DS is almost one) and he already uses both languages.

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Originally Posted by kitteh View Post
Thanks so much for the thoughtful responses mamas!
Also, we're hoping to take frequent, extended trips to Chile to visit family in the future (my ideal would be to get into teaching and have my summers free so we could go every-other summer or something like that, provided DH's work situation is flexible) I think the trips will help a lot, because very few people in Chile speak English.
This is very important. It was one of the suggestions in this book I read - very useful -. The book suggests at least a month every year spent at the minority language country, so that kids gets used to the language in an environment where nobody speaks the strong language. That way they feel more confident about using both languages.

Best of Luck!!!

Greek vegan mama to an amazing little bean born in May 2009.
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#10 of 18 Old 05-25-2010, 01:42 PM
 
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Que tal Kitteh?

I am raising my boys bilingually but we always start with Spanish. This is a tried and true way of making sure your children will maintain the minority language with perfect accent and respect. Some call it ML@H - minority language at home. I should also mention that although both my husband and I spoke Spanish first, being born in the US makes it highly likely that English will always be dominant once learned. For this reason we speak to each other in English. So both our children are absorbing it and learning correct pronunciation and accent by listening to us but can always organize who to speak English to and who to speak Spanish to. Both of our sons speak Spanish very well. My older son reads and writes it. My younger son still prefers it. Some might say because it is our first language although not our dominant, it is our love language. There are so many methods and it isn't to early to be thinking about all of this. It takes a good amount of effort to continue to speak in Spanish past toddlerhood. There are some really great blogs about raising children bilingually. One of my favorites is SpanglishBaby. If you have more questions or happen to be in the Chicago area contact me and I can give you some more info or invite you to our Spanish Immersion Playgroup. The most important thing is to try to avoid Spanglish and know that if you are passionate about Spanish your kids probably will pick up on your love for it!

Best,

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#11 of 18 Old 05-26-2010, 12:52 PM
 
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Hi there,
I've got a similar problem and thought maybe somebody has got some insights or an idea that I have not thought about yet as to how to handle the situation. I am a single mom and have a son of 14 years and a daughter that just turned one year. I and my son are native German speakers, but as we lived in England for some years in the past and as my son's father is English speaking, both I and my son are basically bilingual. Now we live in a German speaking environment and although I and my son sometimes speak English, we mostly communicate in German. I am now wondering how I could raise my daughter bilingually. Personally I want to speak German with her as it would feel artificial not to. I would not mind talking English part of the time, though. Just not all of the time. Can something like this work? E.g., German most of the time, but English for dinner conversations? Any experience with such a scenario or any ideas?
Nina
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#12 of 18 Old 05-27-2010, 07:39 PM
 
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Hi all,

I am a native speaker of English but want my child to speak another language in addition to it. I speak a little Spanish, but have become interested in learning Italian lately. So, my little one and I are both learning a new language at the same time with books and music and videos from the library and the internet. Our favorite programs so far are Professor Toto DVDs (search for them online - we have Italian, but they also have other languages). There is one DVD in English and one in Italian, and this is working great for us! We also just got the CD-ROM by Transparent Language "Before You Know It" - it is AWESOME for learning the basics AND has flashcards, photos, pronunciation, etc. We are speaking both English and Italian to one another and I feel this is a great way to do things right now. Perhaps later we will both go through a more formal local class together but the Professor Toto DVDs combined with the Transparent Language "Before You Know It" CD-ROM are a HUGE lifesaver for me!

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#13 of 18 Old 06-02-2010, 10:50 AM
 
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I was just going to add that I've read both books. I'm actually quoted in "Raising Bilingual Children" (page 108, if you want to check it out lol!)

"The Bilingual Edge" is more for non-native families trying to teach another language while "Raising Bilingual Children" is more for those parents whom one or both speak another language natively. So different audiences...

I hear you about L.A. but I have to add that your husband's language skills may be better put to use there. I can assure you that there are spots in S.Cal which are very nice and where you can have a nice life. And please don't stress the N. Mexican accent you always hear. My cousins' children have total South African accents even though they were born and raised in Israel. The English there, quite frankly, is more often with a New York accent, lol!

Bummer you would have to go to Chile in the winter. Love that country! Great excuse to visit it lol! Oh the beef-yum! Winter or not... (Oh and I did the Good American thing and visited Allende's grave). The people are nice and welcoming... and don't speak much English. They were very, very patient with my broken Spanish. Just a great place...
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#14 of 18 Old 06-03-2010, 03:01 AM
 
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Great discussion! As a mom raising her children in a non-native language (and husband native-speaker), I highly recommend the ml@h approach (minority language at home) if it is doable! The distinction between family language and community language is an easy, clear way to separate languages. However, as others have said, no matter what choice is made, it can be hard to maintain: with OPOL one parent might feel stuck speaking a language and no one else is responding in it!

Also remember that children are picking up language from everyone all the time! If parents are speaking a language together, the children will be hearing that as well. They may even feel excluded and want to be part of that other language spoken between their parents.

Research is showing that in terms of language learning, it is not really such a big deal whether parents speak different languages. Children figure it all out as they are picking up word/sentence patterns, not having to choose which language bucket to put each word into. However, that having been said, the problems can come from (1) parents bit by bit only using the community language because it is easier and (2) kids just using the community language because they don't see the need to use the minority language(s).

What we read about consistency and not mixing languages has more to do with setting a good example and sticking to the plan than it does with potentially causing language problems. Creating a habit from the get go is so very helpful because then it just "feels right" to speak a certain language together - and that is the best way to keep the language alive!

Here is some great research from Cornell about bilingual children.

So wonderful to see all of these discussions going on!

Cheers,
Corey (from Multilingual Living)
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#15 of 18 Old 06-25-2010, 03:13 PM
 
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I am in a very similar situation to the original poster: my husband is from Mexico, we both speak Spanish (I am not a native speaker but I have very little accent) but his English needs work, and my daughter is 5 months old. I had always just assumed that if we used both languages, my daughter would just naturally pick them both up, but after having read other posts, I am now starting to panic! Right now we are in Mexico for an extended period of time waiting for immigration stuff and DD hears exclusive Spanish from everyone but me (I use exclusive English with her so she still hears it but I speak only Spanish with everyone else). Then my daughter and I will be going home without DH and we don't know when he can join us and she will hear exclusive English unless I speak to her in Spanish. When my husband joins us, it will be back to lots of Spanish. Is she destined to have language problems? Should we focus on only one language at a time? That will be very difficult as my family does not speak any Spanish and DH will not be able to communicate very well with her if we use only English. Will hearing heavily accented English from her father cause problems?

Wife to DH from Mexico, and mother to DD (01/10); DS (09/11); and one on the way (03 or 04/14)  buddamomimg1.png

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#16 of 18 Old 06-25-2010, 04:03 PM
 
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We use a mixture of both languages. I tend to speak English with DD (my native language) and DH (tends to speak his native language with DD). We speak a mixture of them to each other. When we're visiting my family we speak almost 100% English and while visiting his family almost 100% his language. We currently live in the US but might move to close to his family. If that happens we'd probably switch to 100% of English at home.

Because we switch so often and it's clear to DD that we spoke both languages (I actually speak another in addition to that but am currently not actively teaching it to her). She doesn't seem to have any problems when we speak the "wrong" language to her. She has pretty much even words in both languages but her pronunciation is better in DH's language (I just posted about this recently).

Could you speak more English with your husband when your daughter is asleep? Then he could practice but she'd still get the advantage of primarily Spanish. Honestly, if I spoke DH's language, we'd speak it 100% of the time at home while living in the states but I'm just not at that level yet.


ETA we also travel back and forth between the two countries often so there might be some advantage there. Plus neither of our families speak the other language so DD is really forced to speak both languages well. Since you'd be in LA could you travel to Mexico often?
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#17 of 18 Old 06-29-2010, 06:02 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by elliemae8 View Post
Hi all,

I am a native speaker of English but want my child to speak another language in addition to it. I speak a little Spanish, but have become interested in learning Italian lately. So, my little one and I are both learning a new language at the same time with books and music and videos from the library and the internet. Our favorite programs so far are Professor Toto DVDs (search for them online - we have Italian, but they also have other languages). There is one DVD in English and one in Italian, and this is working great for us! We also just got the CD-ROM by Transparent Language "Before You Know It" - it is AWESOME for learning the basics AND has flashcards, photos, pronunciation, etc. We are speaking both English and Italian to one another and I feel this is a great way to do things right now. Perhaps later we will both go through a more formal local class together but the Professor Toto DVDs combined with the Transparent Language "Before You Know It" CD-ROM are a HUGE lifesaver for me!

Thank you very much for these suggestions. I want to teach my dd Chinese, but I didn't like the options that I have right now. These are very interesting. I will have to think about possibly purchasing them.
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#18 of 18 Old 06-30-2010, 12:27 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emilysmama View Post
Thank you very much for these suggestions. I want to teach my dd Chinese, but I didn't like the options that I have right now. These are very interesting. I will have to think about possibly purchasing them.
You are very welcome
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