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.
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.
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!
I'm not trying to be a naysayer as I'd love to be wrong about this!
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.
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!
...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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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!
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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...
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.
maybe some research shows that *on average* children in multi lingual environments speak a month or 2 later than unilingual children. that's nothing. and not noticable on an individual level.
I'm Australian, so my first language is english, and I also speak pretty good German, Portuguese, Spanish and Hebrew.
DD was born in Brazil, and her father is Israeli.
I made a big effort not to speak with DD in english, as much as I could, even though my other languages aren't grammaticaly perfect.
sometimes when I don't know a word in one language, I'll slip a word from another language into the sentence.
This totally goes against what the experts say, but it worked for us.
DD's 'first' language was Spanish, since we were in central america when she started talking, at around 14mo. by the time she was 18mo, she spoke equally well in all 5 languages, though she totally mixed them up. sometimes a sentence with 5 words, each in another language
By 2yo she could easily distinguish between all her languages, and translate between them. whenever she met a new person, she'd spend a minute working out what language they speak, and stick to it with that person. If she said something to someone, and they didn't understand her, she'd keep repeating herself in different languages till they got it. Every new word she learned, she'd ask how to say it in every language.
With her israeli grandparents and family she spoke only hebrew, with my parents only english, with her german babysitter, german, etc. but with me she always mixes it up.
She even started speaking Latvian and Estonian from watching Shrek 2 dubbed on DVD, and picked up some french and dutch from watching videos too.
When we vacationed in turkey when she was 2.5, it took her about 10 minutes to work out how to ask the locals for sweets
Sadly, I got a bit lazy with it, and we moved to israel, so then her hebrew took off, and the other languages didn't really develop much more, due to lack of exposure.
When she was 4 we moved to australia, by then she spoke hebrew perfectly (for a 4yo) and a fair bit of spanish. she'd lost the portuguese and german, though still knew a few words and could understand a fair bit.
After arriving to australia, and being in english immersion, her english took off like crazy. she didn't really speak much english before, but it's come to the forefront for sure
anyways, all this rambling is basically to say go for it! even if she just learns a few words and gets an "ear" for spanish, your dd will benefit.
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In addition to all Spanish at home, DD is in daycare FULLTIME: all English. As a result, DD was a late talker... by 15 months, she had maybe 5 words. By 18 months, she had maybe half a dozen. But by 20 months she was using full sentences in both languages. She just turned 2 and her Spanish is better developed than her English: her accent and diction is far clearer than in English and her verb conjugation and use of pronouns is ok in Spanish and nonexistant in English.
If your goal is to give your child exposure and a head start, I don't think that being a non-native speaker is going to hurt your child. Being 100% bilingual takes a lot of help from your environment and also requires maintenance and work on your child's part, which you can't control. I don't see any reason to discourage doing your best to pass this along to your child.
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If I were you, I'd mainly be concerned about getting her to a native speaker on a daily basis for Spanish. Is there any way you could get her to a nanny? DVDs seem to me to be for older kids- an older Spanish-speaking child for playgroups?
I wouldn't worry about bilingual, but you need to be consistent and have near-native-speaker proficiency.
we are teaching our kids three languages and my two year old knows hundreds of words in all three with no delays. quite the opposite she speaks better than most kids her age and started speaking it before others did. i dont see how it can do any harm.
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I just wanted to add my experience. I am an american mother of three small children living in Brazil. My husband is British, so we speak..... three languages in our home
My eldest is very adapt at speak the variety of languages we have. My son generally dominates one and the other he does well. When he was younger he spoke mostly portugues but now he goes to a british school so he speaks...as we say like daddy does. My youngest only speaks to me in english rarely in portugues but exclusively in portugues at her little pre-school.
There are variables in all of this the child, the enviroment, the language ect...
My two eldest are taught in a school where the great majority of teachers English is their second language most of the students speak with a strong portugues accent which might be their limited exposure (only during school hours) or the influence of the teachers.
I see no disadvantage even if you spanish is not perfect the kids in my children´s school are learning english and the graduates of the school are able to study at universities in the USA and UK.
Last but not least 13 months is still very very young for many children to have strong verbal skills.
And Hey/Oi to all those connected with Brazil
DS was in a similar place to what you describe at 13 months. Understanding both languages, saying a couple of words. He is now two and his receptive language is fantastic (he clearly understands both languages very well) and his expressive language is less than his peers, but is within normal range. DH was extremely slow to talk and didn't suffer for it, so there could be genetic factors, too. We aren't worried. He will talk more when he is ready.
This approach has its limitations, of course, but it is working for us. We recently switched DS to a French daycare, which I trust will give him exposure beyond what I can provide, and we have access to French schools here, too. At some point we may add Spanish (my third language.)
I would say that the biggest downside of all of this is that it is exhausting for me! It is hard to speak consistently in a weaker language (it reminds me of when I lived and worked in a non-native tongue -- so tiring!) but OTOH, it's good practice. Rust can't cling to a tongue in motion.
In short, I don't think you are harming your DD at all.
professor & maman de DS1 (6) & DS2 (1)
professor & maman de DS1 (6) & DS2 (1)