Bilingual is Better

SB Dads

Editor’s note: We’re spending this week celebrating dads raising bilingual kids with guest posts written by them in honor of Father’s Day. We love having the dad’s perspective and hope this series encourages other papis to share their stories with us. 

I am a bit protective of my daughter’s developing bilingual—but especially Spanish—proficiency. Perhaps this is because, as I mentioned in a previous post, I learned Spanish as a second language, and I am the only Spanish speaker on both sides of my family. As such, my wife and I are following the one-parent/one-language (OPOL) approach to raising our daughter bilingually.

When using the OPOL approach, each parent is responsible for providing genuine experiences in his/her designated language (in my family, that means Spanish for me and English for my wife). This approach is not for everybody, and it is certainly not always easy—especially for the non-English model. It is up to me to provide daily experiences in Spanish, including reading books, singing songs, and talking about our daily events. I know that there will be times when I simply cannot provide the same native-like experiences as others might be able to do. Discussing mundane activities is not a problem for me; rather, it’s engaging in conversations that involve specialized language, such as science talk or sports jargon, that initially pose a challenge for me.

Sure, she’s only 16 months old, but she is beginning to articulate the sounds of each language that she hears on a daily basis at home and at school. Hearing “¡Ma!” or “Amá” for más, “Dis” for this, “Ete” for éste, and “Awa” for agua makes me melt. I want to continue to foster her language development so that she has the opportunity to flourish as a Spanish speaker, and as a bilingual.

Here’s what we’ve done so far to develop and encourage the use of Spanish in our family:

  • My wife and I enrolled our daughter in a bilingual childcare that continues through preschool, and the quality and level of bilingual language use is excellent.
  • Luckily, because we live in the bilingual city of Miami, I am sure to interact in Spanish with others in the community when we run errands.
  • I engage in daddy-daughter moments when we play silly sound games, name the animals we see on our walks, pretend to talk on the phone, use Face Time to call Grandma and Grandpa in New Jersey, and discuss the day’s events (some of my most prized experiences as a father!).
  • I am lucky to have a wife who realizes the reality of the power of English in this country, so she typically uses a few phrases in Spanish every day such as ¿Quieres agua? ¿Tienes sueño? or ¿Dónde está Papi? to show that Mommy also understands and can speak some Spanish. Showing interest in and respect for each language that children are learning is a key component of fostering bilingualism.
  • Read in Spanish. We already have a growing library of books, and we’re always looking for more! I have asked colleagues, neighbors, and former teachers for recommendations for original Spanish-language children’s literature.
  • Listen to music in Spanish. José Luís Orozco has some wonderful versions of traditional Spanish and Latin American nursery rhymes and canciones de cuna.

Here’s a list of what we plan to do in the future in an effort to continue to encourage the use of Spanish in our family:

  • Enroll our children in Spanish-language summer camps. In Miami, there are several Spanish camps throughout the year.
  • Travel to Spanish-speaking countries so that our children have monolingual experiences in Spanish. I studied in Madrid while in college, and I am fortunate enough to have a Spanish host family that we talk to via Skype and who has invited us to visit.
  • Continue to read in Spanish. I will also have to begin to read more adult books in Spanish to model for my children.
  • Watch television and movies in Spanish. We watch TV in our family. It is by no means a replacement for genuine interaction (talking with your children), but it is a reality. That said, there are many Spanish language TV stations, and DVDs often have the option of choosing the language in which to view the movie.
  • Continue to listen to music in Spanish. As children grow, it is important to search for music that is appropriate for their age. Again, I will turn to friends, colleagues, and neighbors for help.

{Photo courtesy of Ryan Pontier}

Ryan W. Pontier is the proud papi of a curious and babblingly loquacious 16-month-old bilingual daughter. He grew up in Central New Jersey as an English speaker and excitedly learned Spanish as a second language after years of classroom foreign language study and a life-changing year in Madrid, Spain. A former bilingual elementary school teacher, Ryan is currently a Ph.D. student studying language and literacy learning in multilingual settings at the University of Miami.

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