Bilingual is Better

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AnaGloria and her OPOL family

AnaGloria and her OPOL family

As promised yesterday, the following is a guest post by AnaGloria Rodriguez-Wilkinson, one of our loyal readers and the founder of my bilingual playgroup. Many of you who are just starting your bilingual journey have asked if the OPOL method actually works. Read on for proof that it does!

I knew I didn’t want my children to be “pochos”.  A “pocho” is a Mexican-American who doesn’t speak Spanish and who appears to have little pride in being a Latino. Though I was born in Mexico I have spent the majority of my life here and even when I was younger I thought it was so sad and such a shame that a child of Spanish-speaking parent(s) didn’t speak Spanish. Now that I’m older I understand some of the U.S. politics that made that possible. Still, this is now and I was not going to raise my children without them learning their Mother’s language and knowing their Mexican roots.

Funny, but I ended up marrying a “pocho” (FYI, this term is not always used pejoratively.) My husband’s mother is a first generation Mexican-American who stopped speaking Spanish to her children because of McCarthyism. My father-in-law is as Anglo as they come, but a sweet man nonetheless. So my husband grew up without learning Spanish until college and he’s still learning, so in our home we use the OPOL method to raise bilingual children.

I knew it was totally possible and “easy” to raise bilingual children because my siblings and I are all bilingual. Specifically, my youngest sister was born when I was 12 years old and I observed how she learned to speak Spanish in our home. She didn’t learn to speak English until she was 3 years old and started preschool.  She never appeared to have any problems with language. And in fact, in high school she was an honors student and has since earned a Master’s degree.

I also saw my friend Ana raise two bilingual children before I had my own. She was the one who recommended I read “Raising Bilingual Children.” When I was pregnant with my first child that was exactly what I did. I love that book because it made me aware of some things I hadn’t considered, like having songs, music, and literature in my language. The book also asks you to think about what you would consider success in raising your child(ren) to be bilingual. And I also enjoyed the case histories of different families, which gave insight into “successes” and “challenges.”

When I was pregnant, I knew that talking to your baby in vitro was a good thing, so I would talk to my baby a little bit–in English. Then I thought, “If I want this baby to speak Spanish, I better start getting used to it and start now.” I mean, even though Spanish is my first language, English has now become my dominant language, though after speaking only Spanish to my daughter and son for the past 4 years and making Latina friends through my Bilingual Tots Meetup, I now find myself thinking in Spanish again.

I decided that as soon as my children were born they would only hear me speaking Spanish to them. And that’s how it’s been for the past four years.  I am happy to report that my children are comfortable speaking both languages and easily code switch appropriately.

AnaGloria and her bilingual children

AnaGloria and her bilingual children

I knew my daughter, Penelope, was bilingual when she was about 2 years old and she was talking to her Papi on the phone. He asked her what we’d done that day and I told her in Spanish to tell him that we’d gone to the zoo to look at the animals. She turned to the receiver and proceeded to tell him exactly what I’d said but in English!  That was a proud moment.  My son, Gaspar, was also around the 2 year mark when something similar happened. He asked me to do something in Spanish and when I told him to ask Papi, he repeated the same thing in English. Awesome!

So, what have I done to be successful in raising my children bilingual?

  • I ONLY speak Spanish to them all the time.
  • I want my children to be literate in both languages and that is why I have so many books in Spanish (and why I became an Usborne Books Consultant).
  • In the beginning I ONLY let them listen to children’s Spanish music.
  • I drove 45 minutes to attend children’s Spanish music classes and to attend playgroups with other Spanish speakers.
  • I read somewhere that children will speak the language of those they love, and because my family lives in another state, I started my own Bilingual Tots Meetup so that we would have more people to love who spoke Spanish.
  • I NEVER worry about being rude to others who may not speak Spanish when speaking to my children because I AM SPEAKING TO MY CHILDREN.  It is only rude when you are purposefully trying to exclude someone from a conversation.
  • We hired a Spanish speaking au pair when Penelope was 13 months old and she stayed with us until Gaspar was 6 months old.  Since then, we’ve had a Spanish speaking nanny.
  • We learned ASL so that the family had one language in common.
  • I buy videos with Spanish language tracks so that they can watch movies in Spanish–most of the popular children’s movies have it.

Other things to keep in mind:

I know some people worry that they’re leaving the other parent out of a conversation, but I don’t and here is how a conversation around the dinner table with my family would go:

Me: Niños, platíquenle a Papi lo que hicimos hoy.
Penny: Daddy, we went to the zoo today.
Gaspar: We went to the zoo, Daddy.
Daddy: What did you see?
Penny: Mami, que vimos?
Me: Se acuerdan que vimos a las jirafas y había una bebe jirafa muy chistosa.
Penny: We saw the giraffes and the baby giraffe was running and he was so funny.
Gaspar: Jirafas were running.
Me: Corbett, you should have seen the baby giraffe, it was so cute!!!
See, no one being left out of the conversation even though I only spoke Spanish to the children.

I don’t like to let them watch tv without listening to a real voice in the room. I provide, or have the nannies provide, a running commentary in Spanish.  I especially do this when they are watching English programming. Example:

Diego on tv: Where is baby jaguar?
Me: Donde esta el bebe jaguar?
Kids: ¡Ahí! There!
Diego: There he is.
Me: ¡Miren! Ahí estaba detrás de ese árbol escondiéndose.

Most importantly, not only am I only speaking Spanish to them, I converse with my children A LOT and always expand on their prompts. Example:

Penny: Mami, ¿qué vamos a hacer hoy?
Me: Bueno, podemos ir al zoológico o a un festival de arte. ¿Qué les gustaría?
Penny: Quiero ir al zoológico.
Me: Si vamos al zoológico. ¿Cuáles animales quieres ver tu? ¿Cuáles quiere ver Gaspar?
Penny: Quiero ver los osos.
Gaspar: Quiero ver las jirafas.
Me: ¿Cuáles osos quieres ver? Hay tres tipos de osos en este zoológico: los osos de anteojos, los osos café (marrón), que en inglés se llaman “grizzlies” y los oso polares.

Looking to the future…

I hope to send both my children to a bilingual school once Gaspar is old enough. For now, I will continue speaking only Spanish to them, finding them Spanish speaking friends, reading Spanish books to them, and basically carrying on our life in Spanish while including our English speaking Papi and other friends.

My advice is to be conscientious about only speaking Spanish to your children all the time and to talk with them A LOT. If they are hearing English from other sources, then you have to talk with them even more. I never worry that my children won’t be succesful with English since Spanish is their first language. It was my first and only language until I was seven years old and I’ve always been succesful in school to the point of earning post-graduate degrees.
Most importantly:  Don’t ever give up!!! ¡No se rindan!

To win today’s copy of Dr. Naomi Steiner’s book:

So, what do you think? Have any other tips for successfully raising bilingual kids? Go ahead and leave us a comment whether it be a question, a concern, a challenge, a tip, pros/cons, an anecdote, anything that will add to the online conversation about this topic.

We’ll be giving away one copy of the book per day and you can enter once per day. Today’s giveaway will end tonight at midnight EST. Make sure you’re subscribed either by RSS or email so you don’t miss out on this highly informative and useful OPOL week.

Giveaway rules.

We’re almost done with our OPOL week. Hopefully you’ve been learning as much as we have. If you missed any of our earlier posts, you can go here, here and here to read them. Tomorrow we’ll bring you our final post: A list of resources/articles/websites compiled specifically for those of you using or thinking about using the OPOL method. Plus, your last chance to win Dr. Naomi Steiner’s book, 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child.


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