bilingualism obstacles

Photo credit: fazen

Last week we posted the following question on our Facebook fan page: “What has been your biggest obstacle in raising a bilingual child?” Within minutes, we had tons of answers explaining all kinds of different obstacles. But soon it was clear which were the most prevalent (in no particular order):

#1 You’re the only one who speaks Spanish at home (or the OPOL method is hard to do)

I’ve always kind of silently envied those who use the OPOL method — even though we could do this in my own home (except that it just wouldn’t be natural) — because I’ve always felt like these are truly bilingual children from the get-go. Yet, I’ve also always heard that in order for this method to be used successfully, there has to be a huge commitment from both parts, but specially from the part that will be taking care of the minority language. The concerns of the three moms in the comments above is pretty common… and with reason! But the main thing to remember here is that if both the father and the mother are committed to raising a bilingual child, then there has to be an understanding from both parts that one of you might not be able to understand or be a part of the conversations happening in the minority language. Or, your spouse could also look at it as an opportunity to become bilingual himself too. It is inevitable that if he is surrounded by another language when you’re all together, he will pick up lots of words, especially when you consider the limited and simple vocabulary we use with young children.

For a great read on how to successfully use the OPOL method taking into consideration the fact that your husband is monolingual, I suggest you read this informative guest post by AnaGloria Rodriguez-Wilkinson which is full of real-life anecdotes and tips you can actually put to use. By the way, AG — as we like to call her — is the founder of the bilingual playgroup my kids and I belong to. So, I know for a fact that she only speaks to her children in Spanish regardless of who’s around and I also know that her beautiful kids are truly bilingual because of her immense effort and commitment. She’s truly an inspiration!

#2 Lack of exposure to Spanish

This can come in the form of living far-removed from a Latino community or from your Latino family which could help you reinforce Spanish. Or, it might also have to do with not finding enough opportunities/venues for your children to speak Spanish outside the home.

This is definitely a tough one to tackle, especially if you have no family nearby or if you live anywhere where Latinos have not yet left their huellas! I’m thankful every day that my whole family lives in the same city, but I tell you, if they didn’t it, I would still have mi familia postiza: my bilingual playgroup! And you can too!

I’ll never get tired of saying how very important this is. We joined ours almost three years ago, when Vanessa was barely 2 years old. I never in a million years imagined I’d find soooo many moms who, just like me, are raising their children bilingual in Denver, especially because I moved here from Miami! But, I did and our group is strong and awesome. While I don’t get to see them as often as in the beginning because I now work full-time, every time our children get together, I’m filled with joy to see the friendships they’ve developed IN SPANISH!

For more ideas on how to expose your children to Spanish around your neighborhood, including some you probably haven’t even considered, check these posts out:

5 Ways to Promote Language Learning Outside the Home

3 Overlooked Ways of Exposing Kids to the Minority Language

#3 Your own limitation when it comes to Spanish

Several of you pointed out that Spanish is not your first language while some others said that while you know Spanish, you’re not totally fluent. First of, give yourself a big pat on the back for raising your children bilingual, despite your lack of fluency. I don’t know how you do it and you need to be commended for your commitment and perseverance!

I really wouldn’t look at this as an obstacle because what you’re doing is amazing, but I can imagine how taxing it must be to always try to think in a language not your own. As some of you might remember, I am attempting to teach Vanessa a third language, French, but while I speak it myself, I’m definitely not fluent to the point of being able to have full-fledged conversations with her.

Here’s what I would suggest:

First, don’t be so hard on yourselves. You’re already doing something amazing for your kids.

Second, when you don’t know how to say something in Spanish, just be honest and tell your kids you don’t know. Say the word in English and when ever you have a chance, you can both look up the word in Spanish and learn it together.

Third, try to improve your own Spanish as much as possible by reading, taking an on-line course, or ask your own bilingual friends to only speak Spanish to you. The more you use it the more your vocabulary will expand.

#4 You don’t have the support of your family and/or community

This might be due to ignorance, misconception or simple discrimination. We tend to be afraid of what we don’t understand. This might also have to do with the fact that there are no affordable options in terms of bilingual education so that the Spanish you’ve taught your children at home can be taken to the next level.

The only way to combat ignorance is to replace it with education and information. Same thing with myths and misconceptions. If your family members don’t agree with your decision to raise your daughter bilingual because they fear she might get confused or she will suffer some kind of speech impediment, we hope you know you can find tons of information right here debunking those and many other myths surrounding bilingualism. We’ve also written extensively about the abundant studies that have been done lately regarding the benefits of growing up with two languages. A quick search will do.

In terms of education, I know exactly how that feels because I’m right there with you. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently came to terms with the fact that, at least for now, my daughter will not be going to a dual language school. But here’s a post about what you can do if there are no dual language options in your city.

#5 You find it hard to be consistent in your usage of Spanish

It’s hard to admit it, but — as in many other areas of our lives — we tend to be our biggest obstacles. Raising bilingual children is possible, but not without effort from your part.

If this is something you’re dealing with, it might be time to stop and re-focus. You may need to take a closer look at what you’re trying to accomplish, why and how much you’re willing to put into it. Maybe you set expectations that were too high and following through has been killer? It’s totally okay to readjust what you’d like the outcome to be as you travel the bilingualism road. I always think that there’s no sense in lamenting something you should be doing, if you’re not willing to make it happen.

If at the end of your retrospective session you decide that you definitely want your kids to be bilingual and that you just need to stop slacking off, you might want to check the following posts for ideas on how to make it a less of chore and more of a fun experience:

5 Ways to Enrich Your Bilingual Child’s Vocabulary

How to Turn Any Event into a Learning Opportunity

Can you relate to any of these obstacles? What are your own suggestions for dealing with them? Do you face any other obstacles, not mentioned here?

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