Bilingual is Better
Photo by gemsling

Photo by gemsling

We went to a friend’s party this weekend and I was interested in seeing how Vanessa would act around the children there. Namely, what language she would be using. We don’t get to see each other very often – mostly due to the distance between us – so it has been a good few months since Vanessa last interacted with my friend’s children who are being raised via the OPOL method by my Argentinian friend and her American husband.

I was interested in seeing in what language the interaction would take place for a few reasons.

First of all, for some reason, unbeknown to me, Vanessa has been using more English than ever. It’s almost as if she just discovered que puede hablar inglés! It all started about two weeks ago and the only thing it has coincided with is the fact that she is no longer attending preschool. I still haven’t figured out how these two events are related, but it’s the only thing different in her life. As you can imagine, I’ve accepted once and for all that my worries about her not understanding English – which I fretted about here - were completely unfounded.

Ironically, lately I’ve found myself taking my own advice – which I dished out here – with my own daughter. When she talks to me in English, I usually just tell her I don’t understand. I wonder how long that’ll work? I mean, she has to know that I do understand. She hears me speak it all the time with those who don’t speak Spanish. In other words, most everyone else in our lives.

Anyhow, going back to why I was interested in how she would interact with the children, the biggest reason for this is because we’re only 15 weeks away from Vanessa becoming la hermana mayor and I have started wondering how this journey of raising bilingual children will work out the second time around. A falta de hermanos, amigos.

I’ve heard it’s a little bit more difficult with the second (or third, fourth, etc) child. I guess it has to do with the fact that among them, children tend to chose the community language – in this case, English. It seems to be almost an automatic thing and when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. I mean, in our particular case, by the time BB2 (sorry, we know he is a boy, but we still don’t have a name) arrives, Vanessa will be just over three years old. She will have been going to preschool – albeit only twice a week – for a whole year which equates to being exposed to the English language for that length of time. Remember, we use the mL@H method. So we only speak to her in Spanish. Come September, she will be attending preschool three times a week, so her exposure to English will be even greater.

Besides, as BB2 gets a little bit bigger (i.e. when he can actually interact), and starts sharing experiences with her sister outside our home, I imagine he’ll just follow Vanessa’s lead – as most siblings do. Vanessa didn’t have that.

I have already started telling her que su hermanito “no speak English.” And she always want to know why. To which I respond, because like her, English will come later for him. I’m hoping that will work. Who knows?

The research I’ve read – and there isn’t a lot out there – talks mostly about families using the OPOL method and it suggests that parents tend to be less strict about using the method once a sibling is born. Since this is not our case, I don’t really know what happens in families using the mL@H method. I mean, we pretend to continue doing the same thing we’ve been doing all along, mostly because as I’ve explained in the past, it’s what comes naturally to us.

In terms of what happened at this weekend’s party, I had actually expected Vanessa to use mostly English. But I was happily surprised, again! She actually did her own share of code-switching between English and Spanish and for no apparent reason. I wonder if she’ll do the same with her baby brother? How about: will she correct and actually help her brother with his Spanish? One thing seems to be for sure, BB2 will get a lot more exposure to English – and may I add, much earlier – than Vanessa ever did. How much will that affect his Spanish?

Lots of unanswered questions…for now. In the end, I think it’s important to remember that we are all individuals and personality also has a lot to do with outcome, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

If you have more than one child, maybe you can enlighten me about what lies ahead for our family. Are things really different the second time around?

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