I have made several moves to guarantee my daughter learns Spanish and French. To start, when I was pregnant I made sure to only buy books in Spanish or French. I was also happy to accept hand me downs of books, toys, or clothes from friends and family. One of the large boxes of inherited goods included books – very exciting, until, to my dismay, I opened it up and noticed they were all in English! I decided to keep them because I didn’t have many books, but also because Sabrina was only 3 months old when I got them. Now that she is 1 ½ years old her vocabulary seems to be developing at a rapid pace and she is starting to label objects she sees in books, like globo, bebe, and mama. She is also repeating words we say to her or with each other during our day-to-day interactions.
While at a social gathering recently I met a parent of one of the bilingual students I have been in contact with as I have been collecting data in a dual language school. I complimented the parent on how well her daughter seemed to speak Spanish and English. Although I know a lot of what it takes to raise a bilingual child, I had to ask her, what have you been doing to guarantee she speaks both languages? She said that one of the things, other than speaking strictly Spanish to her, she and her husband (a non-native speaker of Spanish) have been consistent about is only allowing books written in Spanish in their home.
Within days I had grabbed all of the English children’s books I had in our home (none of which were purchased by me) and placed them in a bag to be given away. I thought to myself as I was carrying the bag to my car, “English books be gone!” I started thinking that maybe I was being a little dramatic and that it also felt like I was banning books – not really something I believe in nor do I want to instill a negative attitude toward English.
That being said, within days of getting rid of the English books I found myself at a local book store searching for children’s books in Spanish or French to replace the ones I had given away. Here’s my rationale for what could be interpreted as an extreme reaction. English is everywhere. Sabrina will learn to speak, read, and write in English. There is not a single fiber in my body that doubts this. As she develops her sense of language and as she goes through school we will be fighting for the consistent exposure of Spanish (let alone French) in her everyday life. Removing books written in English from our home is only one of the many, and I would argue smaller, battles we will face in our attempt to raise a trilingual child.
How have you created an environment for your child that supports learning a minority language? Would you go as far as getting read of all children’s books in English?
I too have an English-media only rule (although I just broke it by taking them to a Japanese-language movie!) I think it is really important in the preschool age, as there is not much you can do once they are older and earning their own money. My kids think I’m pretty strict but it’s important to me, you know?
Thanks for sharing, Medea. Yea, English just seems to slip so easily into our everyday so I want to continue to nurture a Spanish environment as much as possible for my little girl EVEN THOUGH I know one day she will rebel
I don’t have kids yet and I’m not sure I’d be quite brave enough to get rid of all the English books… but I definitely think I would try to focus on Spanish books, especially in the early years. Like you said, they’ll get plenty of English outside, and reading is such a great way to learn vocabulary!
I am a librarian, and although I have the privilege to have access to books in Spanish all the time, now that my oldest daughter is in Kindergarten, she started bringing books from her library school in English and want me to read those to her at night. Since I don’t want to go against her will, I do two readings at night, her book in English and one in Spanish. If it is a popular book (Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious or Mo Willems books) I try to find the Spanish version so we can read both together. She is also learning French at school but we don’t read in French. Besides the books, when we are selecting movies at the library, I am always sure that they have available audio in Spanish or French.
It’s so funny that I should read this today as my husband and I just recently made this decision, which was hard for me (hence why we didn’t get rid of ALL our books in English! blush). I posted on facebook that we were planning this and a few of my friends (kindly) commented that they thought this was a bit rash (even one friend who is also raising her children bilingually).
I don’t know if its rash. I think its just part of my goal of exposing her to as much Spanish as possible. I think what it comes down to is what your philosophy in raising a bilingual child is. People have their own definition of what it means to be bilingual. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Glad Im not alone in this crazy endeavor LOL
I haven’t banned them, but I do give them away. I keep some on hand for when my mom comes and stays with us. Some I will translate as we read them. A couple times I have even typed out the translation and pasted it into the book.
I do the same with media. All music and videos are either in Spanish and German (the language Papi uses with the boys).
I’ll probably allow some English when they are older, but for now, they don’t want it either. When I turned on the car yesterday the talk radio station that I was listening to came on and my 2 1/2 year old said to me, “No ingles mami, quiero musica en espanol.”
Ive thought about saving a few for when non spanish speaking people come over…in fact Sabrina has some English books given to here by some very special people. I haven’t thought about how Im going to handle that. I think I may just save them for her. It sounds like you have been successful in nurturing a positive response to Spanish from your kids…I hope to do the same
We started out with a Spanish-only rule — which is a good rule to have, I think — but we found ourselves reading the same books over and over and over again. We just didn’t have access to a ton of high-quality books in Spanish (hard to find), just the small shelf at the library. Plus, there are some really terrific books in English that I love myself (she is sooo into the Mo Willems books) so we do a mix now. I sometimes get the Olivia books in Spanish and read them to my daughter, and she doesn’t seem to notice the difference.
I guess the way I see it, my parents didn’t read to me in Spanish when I was little, and my fluency is just fine.
Yes, I know what you mean about high quality Spanish books BUT Im going to go the extra mile (if thats even possible over the net) to find and invest in some Spanish books. That being said, they’re certainly not as accessible as English books. Oh the challenges in raising a child with another language
Through my job I get to know a lot of bilingual people and many times it is a family business. I always wonder why some people are completely fluent and comfortable where a brother almost the same age or close cousin avoids the second language and feels uncomfortable writing in it. I guess my thing is to try and put the language into the child while he is little because I do not know how he will take to it.
Suzanne, I do not think your decision is extreme.
Although I have from the beginning spoken to our son in English, I truly predicted our son would be speaking mostly Spanish before starting school. He spends more hours with his father and Tia speaking to him in Spanish, and most of our life is in Spanish. Even around our neighborhood Spanish is the language most often heard.
I wouldn’t go back because my parents and my older daughter do not speak Spanish, and I wanted the baby to be able to interact with them directly from the beginning. However, it has surprised me how quickly and completely English has come to dominate, for him.
At this point he is 3-1/2, not in school yet at all, but we are having the problem that he stubbornly insists on speaking in English to his father, really anyone if he knows or suspects that person may understand him that way, no matter how that person may try to convince him to stay in Spanish. When we were visiting Mexico he spoke Spanish to his grandparents and younger cousins but refused to speak Spanish to his Tio who very strongly resembles his father or to his older cousins. He has got in his head that men and older kids understand English and then he insists on speaking to them in English (even if they actually DON’T understand).
I now try to speak with our son a lot in Spanish as well as in English. Emotionally, I am not prepared to give up “Goodnight Moon” in favor of “Buenas noches Luna”, and I know my daughter would miss being able “Goodnight Moon” to read to her brother. She was an older child before I even started learning Spanish, so that is just the way it is. But I do insist on reading to him in Spanish as well and I am more aware now that nothing about having Spanish be a part of his life is going to be automatic or can be taken for granted.
I am also rethinking our plan of enrolling him in classes for Mandarin when he is 4 (the minimum age for the classes). I have German coworkers, some of them good friends, have family in Germany, and even a friend whose son is bilingual in German thanks to his dad. It does seem like there will be so much more opportunity for getting our son a strong start in German at a younger age. So although I was leaning toward exposing him to a non-European language… we have no direct connection ourselves to Mandarin, and it is becoming obvious that we need to go with the one that will be easier for us to support.
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