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10.19.2012

{national hispanic heritage month} bilingual kids

I always knew I'd speak to my children in my mother tongue: Spanish. That's an obvious statement since I'm Peruvian, right? Well, is not that obvious when I'm living and raising my kids in the USA.

I met my now 7 year-old {step}son when he was 4, and although I tried to teach him Spanish, it was harder than I thought. Back in Perú I worked for a while as a Kid ESL {English as a Second Language} teacher. I thought applying some of the same methods would work. However that required a lot of commitment and, at that moment in our lives, I didn't have the time {I was working full time in the city}. So my Spanish-teaching intentions kind of faded away.

Two years later, since baby G was born I've spoken {and sung} to him only in Spanish {well, most of the time}. And there are four main reasons, in no particular order, for this:
- I want my kids to be bilingual. I firmly believe in the advantages of speaking more than one language and be immersed in a bi-cultural environment. I want my kids to have that opportunity and advantage.
- I'm Peruvian and so a native Spanish speaker. I want my kids to be fluent in their mother's native language and learn and live their mom's culture.
- I speak English pretty well, if I say so myself. I can communicate without problem. However no matter how fluent I am or what good vocabulary I have, I do have an accent and don't pronounce a lot of words right. I still have problems getting "J" and "G" and "Y" right! I don't want G to learn "that" English from me. L is old enough now and he helps me and corrects me when he notices I don't pronounce a word right.
- Last but not least, I want my kids to be able to communicate with their Peruvian family every time we go to Lima. At least once a year for now. All my family, but my dad, speaks English, and that has made things easier, especially with the mister and L who don't speak Spanish. But I want my kids to be able to talk to their aunts and uncles, play with their cousins, communicate in everyday situations. I don't want them to go there and have a language barrier.

 { image via babyology }
I didn't do much research about this topic before. I'd speak Spanish to G and his dad and brother would speak English to him. That's what felt natural to me. Without knowing we were following the OPOL, One parent One Language method, the most common way to raise bilingual kids. Ideally I'd love to follow the Minority Language @ Home method, because that way the mister and L would learn Spanish, too. But it's really hard.

Sometime ago I noticed I was not speaking "only" Spanish to G. I was switching to English when we were all together because it felt a little weird to speak Spanish just to G. I felt like I was isolating us from his dad and brother. Almost all the time, L would ask, what does that mean mom? I'd tell him and he'd repeat the word in Spanish. In a way, I thought it was a good way for L to learn Spanish. But still felt weird.

Also, when we started having social interactions, like story time and play dates, the same thing happened. It felt strange to speak to G in Spanish while everyone else was speaking English. Sometimes it was even easier for me to just keep speaking English. Sometimes I even switched to English without noticing. I started to wonder how my switching, Spanish to English, is going to affect G's speech. I read somewhere that bilingual kids most of the time, take longer to speak. Because they can get a little confused at the beginning, like associating two different words to the same object, but eventually they overpass that and become really fluent in both languages. I hope that's the case.

Some time ago I stumbled across a great website, Spanglish Baby. They've done a lot of research about how to raise bilingual kids in the US. They even published a book which I'm planning on getting soon, Bilingual is better, and offer a lot of advice and tips. I find this site really helpful and I'll definitely be checking it often.

I still would like to know from other moms out there that are in the same situation. How do you handle it? Are you bilingual? Do you speak to your kids in another language besides English? Lately I've been thinking if Spanish is going to be G first language, since that's what I speak to him? I still have some doubts and questions, but that will be another post. For now I just know that I want G to speak Spanish, yes or yes, and I know we have a long way to go.

3 comments :

  1. I told myself I would only speak to my baby in Spanish but I find myself speaking in English more often than not. I learned both languages at the same time when I was a child and want the same for her. I'm excited to check out that website and maybe the book.

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  2. It's a great website Erica. Tons of research and tips. Hope you find it helpful.

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  3. Hi Nadia,

    raising a child bilingual if you are the only parent speaking the other language at home is so hard

    I wrote about that a while ago on my blog. You'll see what happened to me: http://dagmarbleasdale.com/2011/03/raising-a-bilingual-child-you-try-it/

    Dagmar
    Dagmar's momsense

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