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?