Does anybody speak to their child in a language they are not fluent in? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 13 Old 10-25-2010, 09:43 PM - Thread Starter
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I'm probably a bit ahead of myself, but I can't help but wonder. I'm in college getting my bachelors (eventually getting masters) in Spanish, with a double major in education. By the time I graduate, I will be as fluent as a non-native speaker can ever hope to be. I'm single and childless thus far (I'm only 21, but this board is too much fun!) so I obviously think about the future. Given my degree choice and the fact I will be spending time overseas for my education, I hope to marry someone from Spain or Central/South America...foreign men have always been my "type", so it wouldn't surprise me if I ended up with one.

All of that aside, let's say I end up marrying a standard American. It's REALLY important to me for my children to be bilingual, so is it completely unrealistic to commit myself to speaking mostly Spanish until they're in kindy or first grade and can enter a Spanish immersion school? I know it would be hard since it's not my native language, but I can't imagine it's impossible. Has anyone done this? Am I being idealistic? I would imagine that if I can easily teach advanced high school spanish courses and do translation work, it shouldn't be a big deal to speak to a small child. Any experience?

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#2 of 13 Old 10-25-2010, 10:35 PM
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by the time you get a BA and an MA in Spanish, you will be fluent. try to study abroad as much as possible, too. so you shouldn't have any problem raising your kid bilingual with that as 'your language', whether or not it was your first language.

my situation is kind of similar, Spanish is not my first language but i've lived in Peru for a few years, took classes in high school and college and am completely fluent. my son has had no trouble learning both languages, even when i was the only person in his life speaking Spanish. the one thing you will find out is that the vocab you use for raising a baby/child is different than what is taught in Spanish classes (like, all the sweet nicknames people use to talk to their children, or the names of all the different kinds of dinosaurs...) but it's easy to learn vocab you don't know.

also, Spanish language immersion schools aren't that common in the US yet sadly, so you will want to take that into account when deciding where to live once your kid is school age.

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#3 of 13 Old 10-25-2010, 11:42 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the quick reply

I assumed I'll end up fluent, but didn't want to sound over-confident. I have absolutely no experience with foreign language, it's nice to know it is doable to gain fluency. It's also great to hear you've had success with your son! I'll be spending six months in Spain for my bachelors degree (in 2012) and will hopefully spend six months in Mexico when I get my master's. As for immersion schools, they're fairly common in Minneapolis, thank goodness!

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#4 of 13 Old 10-26-2010, 12:08 AM
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I speak to my kids in Spanish (NOT exclusively, though) and I imagine I'm at a level pretty similar to you. The one difference is that my partner is Spanish so we speak Spanish together at home most of the time, and my kids are getting Spanish language input from a native speaker so I don't worry too much about the fact that my Spanish isn't perfect.

I'm also doing a double-major (Spanish and Chinese, actually!) and it's also super important to me that my kids speak more than one language. I can't speak to my kids all the time in Spanish because I am just not that fluent, but I speak to them in Spanish a lot (and Chinese). Ds is just a baby but dd, 3.5, already understands a LOT and my dh is not her dad so she has only been speaking Spanish with HIM for a year now. The rest is me. She doesn't really speak it but she understands it (same with the Chinese), and we are working on the speaking. I don't doubt that ds will speak Spanish fluently because that is all that dp speaks with him (also because we want to move back to Spain!--then dd will speak it, too, I'm sure).

I also agree that you should have every reason to think that you will be truly fluent after your experiences.

Also: I know a lot of mom's through my international circle of friends that are married to Spanish or Latin American men who speak Spanish fluently or pretty fluently and speak it almost exclusively with their kids, so I don't think it's at all unreasonable to think that you could do that, too.

And I think it's awesome that you want to! Good luck with everything; I think learning languages and traveling are so important and so very enriching!!! I'm excited for you!

Mama to a beautiful girl since May 2007 and a beautiful boy since August 2010! :
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#5 of 13 Old 10-26-2010, 03:15 AM
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i am not fluent at all in spanish but i still do my best to learn and so i do speak to my kids in spanish a lot. most is out of habit (my inlaws lived with us for over a year, so i picked up a lot)

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#6 of 13 Old 10-28-2010, 04:08 PM
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I try. I'm not fluent in DH language of origin, but I do try to teach DS words as I remember them. DH will speak to DS fluently in that language, but I use english for the most part.

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#7 of 13 Old 10-28-2010, 04:33 PM
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I am an American recently transplanted to Brazil, and my 3yo and I speak almost exclusively Portuguese with each other, even though she already knows more Portuguese than I do because she goes to school while I am studying it alone at home (& while caring for a baby, so very slow-going).

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#8 of 13 Old 10-28-2010, 04:45 PM
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I didn't because I thought DH would speak to them in his native tongue. He didn't and now I regret it. I am semi-fluent but I have a small accent and occasionally make grammatical errors. Luckily we're in a third country now and they're learning the local language. I'm pretty irritated that he took the easy way out, though.

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#9 of 13 Old 10-30-2010, 03:50 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the replies ladies!

Since I unfortunately have not found my DP yet, I really have three possible scenarios.

A.) Marry somebody who speaks Spanish fluently. In this case, I wouldn't feel quite so much pressure and could speak both English and Spanish to my children, though it would naturally be mostly Spanish. Living in America, I'd want my home to be an "island", because I know how easy it is from my bilingual friends to slip into English 24/7 when you live in a country that speaks mostly English.

B.) Marry someone who does not speak Spanish fluently. This puts the pressure on me to speak only Spanish to my children, but it would be worth it and I think it's possible from what you've told me.

C.) Marry someone who speaks a language fluently that is not Spanish. In that case, I'm out of luck and we'd have to do the trilingual thing of me speaking only Spanish, my DH speaking only his language, and DH and I speaking only English to each other. That sounds like a lot of work.

I know I'm wayyy ahead of myself, but it's fun to speculate. In today's society I think it is so crucially important to be bilingual, because it opens so many doors. My family's language (Norwegian) was lost because of the intense pressure to assimilate.

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#10 of 13 Old 10-31-2010, 01:05 AM
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I speak Spanish but my actual hispanic-ness is negligible at best. I like to pretend I'm puerto rican, lol, but we really don't have any proof...we just know our ancestry is from a carribean island, possibly DR, puerto rico, or haiti.

my Spanish has been fluent in the past since my ex and I lived with the IL's who were not English speakers, but when ds and I moved in with my parents we lost a lot of that because my dad doesn't speak Spanish. My SO now, and dd's dad, is Costa Rican and Mexican, but born in the US. Our Spanish is definitely different background/accent/culture wise, but we are at about the same level of fluency.

We have fallen into a bad habit of using Spanish to talk over the kids' heads, to correct each other without them understanding or whatnot.

However because I spoke Spanish a LOT to ds his first year he has retained a lot of unerstanding. He can speak it a little as well but not like he should be at this point. Your post reminds me that we need to get back to our "spanish only at home" rule...use it or lose it!

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#11 of 13 Old 10-31-2010, 05:42 AM
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I speak both mine and Dh language with my children, took me a while and some years living (again, post-kids) in an english speaking country to feel confident speaking to them in english for about half of what I say to them in a day. I know I still make mistakes & my pronunciation must be quite a mix nowadays .... on the other hand, I met quite a few expats recently and they all have different accents in english anyway .... so that helped me relax

+ DH is never going to help out that much with homework (we tried, it's really not easy/natural to him .... or up to the standard I think is necessary for decent results if we are going to switch countries and school systems every 3-4 years) so I'm the one who homeschool in the language of the country we are not living in (= even if it's not my mother tongue).

it felt weird doing the homeshooling in english at first (I was VERY motivated when I had to do it for my mother tongue since I got very upset when DS stopped talking in it once he had mastered english) but am now started to see the results since eldest child was accepted in a middle school where they do some subjects in english (about 1/3 of the school time). It helped very much that she was an avid reader from an early start & we baught quite a few books as well as using the library extensively, reading them about 3 albums every evening starting when the eldest was 6 (at one point when DH was away on business, we had stocked up with our 5 cards and had more than 90 library books at home ... that was just about a month's supply !) + at the "right age" for us we lived in the country where the library had great incentive for encouraging children to read and we made the fullest use of all that was possible & available ....

so far, so good, just hoping that my more scholastic approach now won't end up in a "rejection stage" later on .... I just can't make it sound as fun as when we lived in the US, it's just not in my culture ...
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#12 of 13 Old 11-01-2010, 05:25 AM
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I do.

Or at least, I do, according to my definition of fluency. To me, fluency = just as comfortable in this language as in mother tongue and rarely (if ever) trip over tongue.

I speak English (mother tongue), French (second language -- I went to school in French, am considered fluent or near-fluent but I am not as comfortable as I am in English, and I occasionally trip up), and Spanish (third language -- learned when I lived in South America, comfortable, but nowhere near fluent.)

DH is monolingual (English).

I have only ever spoken French with DS since he was born. He is now 4. It's going really, really well, but I won't gloss over the facts that first, it's definitely harder this way and second, part of the reason it's going so swimmingly well is that we have deliberately sought out French support. DS was in a francophone daycare and is now attending a fully francophone school. This helps his language acquisition immensely, and also helps me brush up my rusty French.

So it's certainly possible (at least to this age) but, in my experience, it really, really helps to have some sort of external language source so that you don't have to do it all yourself. Also so that your child(ren) can surpass you and speak it natively!

Good luck with all of your endeavours.

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#13 of 13 Old 11-02-2010, 03:19 PM
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I'm trying my darndest!

I lived briefly in Mexico and Costa Rica, studied Spanish in high school and college but not in grad school. I married a Venezuelan and started speaking exclusively Spanish to DD 4 years ago.

I will say it's HARD. DD went to an English-speaking daycare, so she only got Spanish at home. DH was working 2nd shift, so he wasn't around when I was home with DD. Which meant that 95% of her Spanish came from ME.

Surprisingly, I haven't screwed her up too terribly. Yes, I taught her things wrong and had to correct us both after the fact. I can't work on her vocabulary as much as I would in English because I just plain don't have the same vocabulary in Spanish as I do in English. Her accent is better than mine. But my extended family speaks no Spanish, most of her friends speak English, and it's a constant battle to keep the Spanish going.

We recently moved her to a Spanish immersion program and it's been mostly good. Many kids there only speak English, so of course DD just speaks English to them. She's also picking up more Mexican vocabulary and accent, which drives my DH nuts but is still better than a gringa accent.

I get tons of compliments on my Spanish and understand everything I hear; but I don't think I'll ever feel fluent without living abroad for at least a year. I have a great child-related vocabulary but can't begin to describe my professional work in Spanish.

I guess as ~pi said, it's definitely possible but it requires serious dedication and constant work. DH and MIL, both native speakers (and MIL is a Spanish language professor in Venezuela) had to seriously improve their Spanish, too, to speak more coherently with less slang, a clearer accent, and fewer curse words. (I'm not kidding, btw) So it takes real effort on their part as well.

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