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#1 of 14 Old 09-14-2010, 10:47 PM - Thread Starter
 
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My wife and I are trying to raise a bilingual child but are having trouble setting the easy rules for ourselves to follow. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

I am a native Spanish and English speaker. My wife is a native English speaker but is fluent in Spanish. We live in NYC where there are plenty of community opportunities to speak both - including my family, who only speak to each other in Spanish.

We've thought about speaking to our son only in Spanish at home and code-switching as socially necessary. For example, when my in-laws visit, we speak in English.

But, does that eliminate English-language television and read alouds at home?

Do you think we should continue speaking in Spanish while outside on the street? Or, should we switch to English outside to match the majority language of the community?

Can we cheat on occasion and speak to each other in English?

Christian, father of Santiago (HB 9/6/10) and loving husband to Wendy.
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#2 of 14 Old 09-15-2010, 11:37 AM
 
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First of all, don't change the way you communicate with your wife. This wont have any effect on the child so it's unnecessary to mess with it. If you already speak both, or either, just do whatever works for you. Remember when you were young, even if it was in the same language, it was all "adult speak" and you probably tuned out anyway.

As far as the child is concerned, the general rule is that the better the child learns the second language, the easier it is to be flexible late on. Children usually do better if they associate each situation and/or person in their life with a language. For example; my kids speak to me in only English, only French with their father and outside (we're in France) and then German only at school or with German speakers.

What happens when you flip between languages is that the child finds out it's okay to use, usually the community language with the parent(s) and soon it becomes a battle to keep the minority language going at home. I didn't want this to be difficult so I keep to English in all situations, including in public, including in front of my in-laws, in front of my non-English speaking husband, etc.

I'm not rude about it. What is said to a toddler is kind of obvious. As they grew older, I taught them to be polite with English and only use it in small, usually obvious, exchanges. We never use French unless stuck on a word. My youngest is especially amusing with this. ("But I can't tell you because I don't know what it is in English!" "Well then what is it in French? Did you forget that Mommy speaks to Papa in French and has been in France 14 years??")

You have to decide whether you want to teach your son English at home, unnecessary if you live in the U.S., or whether you want to concentrate on the Spanish to really make sure he's fluent in both. Speaking a non-native language to your child is not always the easiest but that's a personal decision your wife can make for herself. You could start out all in Spanish and she could later switch to English once he starts school and starts getting exposure to English. In your case, he'll get plenty of English by just stepping out the door!

There's no need to switch to English outside the home. Not only would you miss a good opportunity to use vocabulary he doesn't have at home but then you get into the when-to-speak Spanish again dilemma. If you're 20ft from anyone else, do you continue in English? I saw a family at an airport in Germany, switching from Portuguese with each other, to heavily Portuguese accented British English with their child. Hmmmm... That was useful

You have to ask yourself, does everyone have to understand your private exchanges? Do you want to risk your son thinking that Spanish is something to hide or be embarrassed about? What will he think if he hears Spanish in public? Why are they using that and not us when we speak that way at home?

Not that one can avoid the occasional awkward moment. One time though, my son saw a Hasidic Jewish man giving a speech in the U.S. My son is used to seeing Hasidim in public in France but not in the U.S. (especially not in California!) He tugged on my arm and in a loud voice said "Mommy look! He speaks ENGLISH!" So we had an American child telling his American mom that a fellow American spoke English, in amazement while in the U.S. Yes, sweetheart. There are Jewish people in American too, like... your own mother?

I do read aloud only in English. When they were little, I would just tell the story in English but later I taught them which books were which. "Now ask Papa to read this to you because it's in French". Again, it was the littlest who protested. "No! It's in English!" even though she couldn't read.

I do try to get my kids to watch videos in English. Our "rule" is to watch it in the original language. I'll let the little one watch "Harry Potter" in French because it's kind of hard for her (special vocabulary, etc.) For fun though, I noticed the other two go back and forth, just curious how it's translated.

But I do let them watch cartoons in French, or for that matter, whatever language. I've been on vacation and found them watching cartoons in the local language. At my parents, they'll watch them in Spanish, just for fun.

They speak to each other in French and I wont stop them. There is a mom at their school who makes her sons speak to each other only in German but I never did that. Part of the reason is that we're near Germany and her dh is fluent. In fact, I think they speak to each other in German so it's easier to have one "family language". We don't. Our dinner table is a mismatch but we're used to it.

It's not too early to look around your community and see what is out there to help this project. Spanish speaking schools, playgroups, organizations, babysitters, etc. can help show your son that Spanish isn't just what his parents use.

These schools can have waiting lists and in bilingual programs, they usually favor native Spanish speaking children for places. Do take time to look into this matter. Some "bilingual" schools might be to just teach English speaking children Spanish and could be boring for a child whose fluent. "Dual Immersion" is best, if you can find it. Most young families do move at some point so knowing about the schools could be a factor in where you next live, or whether to stay in your area.

The secret is to do what works for you. Whatever you can keep up long term should be the goal (although, as I mentioned, the rules can be changed if necessary). Living in the U.S. with a native English speaking mother really favors the English in your son's life so whatever you decide, it might be helpful to keep in mind that the Spanish might need more support.

Some people will say to just do whatever but honestly, in RL, I've seen families flip back and forth and then the children switch to the community language, soon losing the other one quickly. I really think that being disciplined really helped to insure that my children were truly bilingual. It's never been a battle and it just feels normal to us.

It's so nice to go back home and have my children run up to my parents speaking as if they never set foot outside the U.S. (let alone live and were born in France). My son recently passed a native-level test for an English program for middle school. He turned it down to continue in French-German bilingual school. He reads age-level books in English although he has never been schooled in English. It's not just a language you're teaching your son but a whole culture and outlook on life.

Good luck!
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#3 of 14 Old 09-19-2010, 11:13 PM
 
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My DH is Mexican and I'm American and we're both bilingual. We have two boys--a 2 y/o and a 5 1/2 y/o. Over the last five and a half years, we've tried a little of everything in our quest to raise our sons bilingual and our rules at this point are as follows:

1) We just speak Spanish in the home w/ exceptions made for book time and movie night (we try to keep a good # of Spanish books around, but the majority of our books are in English)
2) We just speak Spanish if we're in a public place where social interaction is minimal (i.e., the grocery store)
3) We tend to speak a mix of English and Spanish in a public place where socializing with other parents/kids is likely (parks, playgroups, tot lots). We basically impose no rules on this situation and try to do what we feel will be most likely to encourage interaction with other kids. I find that this is a pretty easy thing to improvise and don't find that the "switching" confuses either of the boys.

I am also a huge proponent for seeking out regular immersion experiences. Whatever you choose to do as a parent, the range of language your DS will gain in his interaction with just you and your DP is limited and his motivation to learn Spanish will also be limited.

Our boys go to a spanish immersion preschool and we try to visit my in-laws in Mexico every 1-2 years... More than any other single factor, I believe the trips to Mexico have played an essential role in my 5 y/o's commitment and ability to become fully bilingual....

Best of Luck!
Kathy
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#4 of 14 Old 09-22-2010, 06:12 AM
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We're French/English and we use one parent, one language. DH (monolingual) only speaks in English with DS; I (English/French/Spanish) only speak in French with him. DH and I speak mostly English to each other, though he understands way more French than he used to so we're starting to mix it up form time to time. We occasionally read books or sing songs in the other language, but most of the time we keep to our languages. We stick to that in public, too, though I will sometimes repeat myself in English when other people are around and I don't want them to feel left out of our conversation.

I am not a native French speaker (but went to school in French) so it has been occasionally a struggle for me. Having clear rules has been very, very helpful in staying on track.

DS is now in kindergarten, is fully fluent in both, has that native speaker natural sense of masculine/feminine (I am envious!), and code-switches no problem. Our dominant community language is English and both our families speak English only, but thanks to me and a French daycare, DS recently started fully francophone school. He passed the entrance, "are you French enough?" test with flying colours. (I, meanwhile, am brushing up on my written French so that I can communicate with the school without seeming totally incompetent!)

Based on our experience, my recommendation is to pick a rule and stick to it. Don't worry too much bout your conversations with each other -- it's your conversations with the babe that matter.

Buena suerte!

professor & maman de DS1 (6) & DS2 (1)

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#5 of 14 Old 09-22-2010, 04:55 PM
 
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I am not a native French speaker (but went to school in French) so it has been occasionally a struggle for me. Having clear rules has been very, very helpful in staying on track.
Gosh, that is really interesting and encouraging. I am natively bilingual (and trilingual by education) but the language I am trying to teach my LO is my nondominant language, and my DH doesn't speak it at all. (I grew up in the US and English is my dominant. We spoke Greek at home and spent a lot of time in Greece and I did periods of schooling and employment there so my Greek is fluent and native but still far behind my English.)

I am not really optimistic about my DD's chances of picking up Greek with any proficiency unless we travel there very often (which isn't possible right now).

I'm so impressed that your DS is natively francophone without a natively francophone parent and living in a non-francophone country. Wow. Kudos to you for a super job.

Me, DH, DD1 (5/2009) and DD2 (10/2011).
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#6 of 14 Old 09-22-2010, 07:18 PM
 
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I am a native English speaker but am fluent in French. DH is French, and didn't speak English when we met, so we only communicate in French, even though he speaks fluent English now - with a very heavy French accent.
My first two dc were born in the US, the other two in Germany. We now live in the UK.
Dh has always spoken only French with the children. I speak English and French with them. If DH is around we all speak French. If I am alone with the kids I mix the two languages depending on what we are doing/what I need to say. The kids watch films and listen to stories on tape/cd in both languages. Dh usually only reads French stories to them but I will read both French and English. They know when they should speak French or English, although sometimes they use words in one language if they don't know it in the other. My two older dc learned to read and write in French first. They then taught themselves to read in English.

They all spoke English first but have always understood French and would answer DH in English even though he only speaks French. My 3yo is just now starting to speak French. The kids have a hybrid American/British/French accent when they speak English but their French accent is just French.
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#7 of 14 Old 09-22-2010, 07:26 PM
 
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this book was very helpful for me, a native-English speaker, and my native-german speaking husband.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...ef=oss_product

they present a number of ways to approach bilingual parenting and we decided that "one parent, one child" worked best for us. i speak exclusively to her in english and he exclusively in german.

she's 21 months old and has advanced verbal skills in english and average verbal skills in german. she also has figured out who to speak what language to when it comes my husband and i.

hoping for a !
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#8 of 14 Old 09-22-2010, 08:44 PM
 
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my kids (mostly dd) has picked up the majority of spanish from my IL's... dh has trouble remembering to speak spanish to the kids this as my dd just told me "i colored his cola!!" haha.

mama to one '07 and one '09
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#9 of 14 Old 09-22-2010, 09:11 PM
 
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I am a native English speaker and fluent in German, and my husband is native German and fluent in English, and we live in the US. We speak German with the kids everywhere, unless a non-German speaker is involved in the conversation. Our three-year-old spoke more German than English when she first started speaking, and now she mixes them up in sentences (which I think is just normal development. My husband and I never talk like that).

We have gotten lazy about switching to English more than we should, and our almost two-year-old is having a language explosion--in English. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but we have gone back to strictly German, since this is obviously a very fertile language learning time for her.

For my husband and me, it does matter a lot what language we use with each other when the kids are around. If we speak German to each other, our older daughter uses MUCH more German herself. That makes complete sense to me. Of course we model the language that she doesn't see modeled as much with other adults.

On the other hand, I don't worry at all about English videos or books. We have German DVDs and English ones. We have some German books, but many more English ones. My husband actively encourages the German shows and translates all books to German as he reads them, but I don't do that.

We took a long trip to Germany in the spring, and that definitely helped our older daughter's German and her understanding that there is a place where people speak mostly German. Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousin do not speak English, and she had no problem communicating with them.
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#10 of 14 Old 09-23-2010, 03:17 AM
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I'm so impressed that your DS is natively francophone without a natively francophone parent and living in a non-francophone country. Wow. Kudos to you for a super job.
Thanks, but, like I said, it's me *and* a francophone daycare. We're in an anglo part of Canada, but French is an official language, so we have relatively easy access to resources and community. I suspect that if it were just me, I would have had to work much harder to give him the excellent language exposure that he has received from the daycare (and now school) community.

Not to say that it can't be done (I don't mean to be discouraging!) but I don't want anyone to feel badly if they have a harder time. We have a lot of advantages in our situation.

professor & maman de DS1 (6) & DS2 (1)

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#11 of 14 Old 09-23-2010, 09:05 AM
 
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i should also say that it helped us a lot that we traveled to a german-speaking country for a month during the beginning of her language explosion.

hoping for a !
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#12 of 14 Old 09-24-2010, 04:37 PM
 
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One parent and one language is the best solution. We are raising our kids tri-lingual and it's working great without any effort. I speak Swedish only with the kids, wife only Spanish (from Mexico), and I speak English with my wife. I speak Swedish, English, GErman and Spanish and wife speaks English, Spanish and Swedish.

Kids are now 4 and 6.5 and both speak all three languages. English is not as great as the other which is no issue since it's such and easy language and the kids will learn it it no time at all.

Spending time in a different surroundings is of great help. We did for example spend two months in Mexico in March-April and this is always great for the kids (and me:-))

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#13 of 14 Old 09-24-2010, 04:52 PM
 
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Originally Posted by mangopaco View Post
My wife and I are trying to raise a bilingual child but are having trouble setting the easy rules for ourselves to follow. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

I am a native Spanish and English speaker. My wife is a native English speaker but is fluent in Spanish. We live in NYC where there are plenty of community opportunities to speak both - including my family, who only speak to each other in Spanish.

We've thought about speaking to our son only in Spanish at home and code-switching as socially necessary. For example, when my in-laws visit, we speak in English.

But, does that eliminate English-language television and read alouds at home?

Do you think we should continue speaking in Spanish while outside on the street? Or, should we switch to English outside to match the majority language of the community?

Can we cheat on occasion and speak to each other in English?
I've seen a lot of multi lingual homes growing up. The most successful ones IMO are the ones where both parents speak the non community language at homes.

The children who have parents who do this exclusively (ie parents are not comfortable in english) have kids that can easily switch back and forth between languages, nearly accent free in both.

The kids who have parents who do part time english at home don't do as well-- nearly 100% comprehension, but broken home language.

I am one whose parents did nearly 100% till age 3-4, but then gradually changed to maybe a 25 home language to 75% community language by the time I left home at 24. I can understand almost everything, but get confused with too much dialect variation or too much new slang. I can only speak 'broken' home language. English is my preferred language by far, and I refuse to speak the 'home' language except in a situation where the other person doesn't know English.

If you have the option of speaking only Spanish at home, I would do that. I wouldn't worry about your kids not being able to speak the community language, or having an accent or anything. You'll be giving them such a gift.

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#14 of 14 Old 09-28-2010, 02:31 PM
 
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One parent and one language is the best solution. We are raising our kids tri-lingual and it's working great without any effort. I speak Swedish only with the kids, wife only Spanish (from Mexico), and I speak English with my wife. I speak Swedish, English, GErman and Spanish and wife speaks English, Spanish and Swedish.

Kids are now 4 and 6.5 and both speak all three languages. English is not as great as the other which is no issue since it's such and easy language and the kids will learn it it no time at all.

Spending time in a different surroundings is of great help. We did for example spend two months in Mexico in March-April and this is always great for the kids (and me:-))
First of all, I don't think there is a single "best solution." From your posts, it sounds like you live in Sweden. So your kids would learn the community language of Swedish regardless of what you speak to them. The tricky thing is ensuring that kids learn the non-community language.

In my family, if we did one parent/one language, my kids would hear English all day from me (the stay-at-home parent), my parents, preschool, and they would hear German on the weekends and evenings from my husband. All kids are different, obviously, but I don't think that scenario would set my kids up for easy German language learning. In our situation (stay-at-home parent is native in community language) I think it is much more beneficial to speak the non-community language at home. It sounds like the OP is choosing this route too.

OP--I don't think the rules have to be super-strict as long as your child hears lots and lots of Spanish in many different situations. The occasional English TV show is not going to affect your child's Spanish learning. The good thing is that you can always modify things as you go. I personally think it is very helpful for the adults in the house to model adult conversation in the non-community language, if possible.
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