Bilingual is Better

read in spanish to a child

Recently, I’ve been thrilled to notice an increase in Marisol’s Spanish vocabulary. Now, this doesn’t mean she is fluent in Spanish —we are most definitely raising Spanglishbabies in our family. It’s been a challenge to even get this far because I am the lone Spanish speaker in the home, and I’d call myself fluent only in limited settings. I am most definitely fluent in “baby Spanish:” Vamos a comer. ¿Quieres leche? ¿Dónde está el gatito? ¿Tienes hambre? But ask me to talk to you in Spanish about my work, or about the economy, or about anything really complicated and my vocabulary fails me.

I wish I had the time to take an advanced Spanish course or even to read more in Spanish, but I don’t. Like most moms, I am overwhelmed as it is! My husband understands some Spanish, but speaks very little. It’s been the best I can do to make Spanglish the family language.

I had started feeling really disappointed in our language adventure a few months back when I started noticing how many truly bilingual families there are around us. I saw these parents conversing in fluent Spanish with their kids and felt like a failure. But then, I decided to stop being sorry for myself, and let myself instead be inspired by these families to become proactive about exposing the girls to más español one way or another.  Since then, I’ve done a few simple things that have made a big difference. For those of you with modest aims, I thought I’d share these small changes that have made a big difference in our Spanglish family.

1. Enlist help. When we hired our current babysitter, we emphasized the importance of speaking Spanish with the girls. In Los Angeles, it isn’t hard to find a Spanish-speaking sitter. What can be a challenge, particularly with college-age sitters is ensuring that they speak Spanish with the girls. We were clear that we really want the girls to hear Spanish and our lovely sitter not only speaks Spanish with the girls, she also brings Spanish music to share with the girls and teaches them songs. Each week, Marisol has new words to share with me that our sitter has taught her. If you can’t hire help, it would be worth it to ask for free help from family or friends who speak Spanish and are willing to visit or be visited regularly. Unfortunately for us, most of our Spanish-speaking family and friends are far away.

2. Música! In addition to many great bilingual records out there, we have found other sources of música. The girls are both in love with all things musical right now. We’ve discovered that free music services like Pandora and Spotify have good selections of música. In Pandora, I’ve only been able to find rock en español, and not children’s music, but Spotify offered me dozens of CDs to choose from when I searched for kids music. [Note, this is not sponsored content, just my two cents.] As silly as it seems, even just inventing little songs in Spanish as we go through our day has enticed the girls to speak Spanish much more than otherwise.

3. Libros. We haven’t made as bold a move as Suzanne did by donating all her English books, but we have made an effort to buy and borrow more books in Spanish than before. This is just as good for us parents as it is for the kids. I’ve learned many new words by reading them to the girls.

4. Amigos y Amigas! We had our first bilingual playdate with two other families just one week ago, so I can’t say that there have been huge changes, but I can say it was fun! It was nice making new mom friends who are similarly imperfect in their Spanish prowess, yet are making the effort to pass the gift of Spanish on to their children.

5. Take a Clase. We took a free children’s Spanish class and even though I didn’t love it enough to enroll, it did give me some ideas that I could put into practice. In the long run, getting a small taste of Spanish in a classroom did renew my commitment to searching for a bilingual elementary school for the girls. In the interim, the preschool Marisol will be starting next week (did you just hear my heart breaking?!), is a Spanish-friendly place, although not bilingual. The teachers and director there incorporate Spanish organically into the day using music and conversation. I’m hopeful that learning and playing in Spanish will give Marisol an even greater confidence en español.

So those are my small changes that I have been able to commit to. I’d love to hear any other tips or tricks you have found for weaving español into the fabric of your family life!

* Photo by Simon Blackley

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