Bilingual is Better

This week’s Ask an Expert question was sent by Yaz who says she’s getting discouraged because she didn’t think it would be so hard to raise bilingual children. We’ve all felt that way at some point in our journey, Yaz! Please hang in there and know you can always come back to SpanglishBaby for support.

“I’m the mama of a very bright and sweet 19 months old. My first language is Spanish and my husband’s is English. We have a wonderful nanny, but unfortunately she only speaks English. I only speaks Spanish to my son, while my husband and nanny speak English. He goes to My Gym where he socializes in English. All my family is back in Puerto Rico.
Him and I watch TV in Spanish, listen to music in Spanish, I read to him in Spanish and even when we are out I still speak Spanish to him, I buy any and every bilingual toy, but it’s not enough. He say some words in Spanish, but he’s learning English way faster of course. Sometimes he even stops saying the word in Spanish and starts saying it in English. I tried having play dates with other Spanish speaking kids and mothers but it’s not always easy for me to do so.
I know I’m kind of rambling now, but basically I’m getting discouraged and very sad. I feel that what I’m doing is not enough and he won’t speak Spanish. I plan to visit my family in Puerto Rico as often as possible, but I can’t stay more than 1-2 weeks at a time. Also, I’m due in December with my second son or daughter and I wonder if it is going to be even more difficult. I must admit while I knew it was not going to be easy, I didn’t expect it to be this hard, at least for me.”

Dear Yaz,

I totally sympathize with you.  We all think it will be hard for someone else to raise their child bilingually, and are discouraged when it’s hard for us, too. Just think, though, how much English is in your child’s world.  Even if you are a hands-on mom, you are only one person in an ocean of English.

Reading between the lines in your message, I take it that it’s not hard for you to speak Spanish with your boy—and that he understands you.  I think that is a great foundation.  Reaching out to Spanglishbaby is a good step, too.

Pretty soon, when your son asks you why you speak to him in Spanish (and to everyone else in English), you can tell him you are looking forward to taking him with you to see your family in Puerto Rico. You want him to have the same good feelings about your home as you do.  So, you are trying to make sure he will be able to understand what is going on when he is there—when everyone is speaking Spanish.  It will be a good opportunity for you to tell him about all the people on your side of the family.  Showing him pictures–telling him who everyone is, and what it looks like down there–will make your reasoning real for him.

In Puerto Rico, when he’s with his grandparents and especially if there are cousins for him, he may want to speak Spanish with them.  Even if he doesn’t, it’s still better for him to understand them than to be lost and uncomfortable when he’s there.  That’s a gift you are giving him *and* your family.

As for the new baby, I found having two children two years apart was also harder than I thought it would be—especially at the beginning.  But it doesn’t sound to me that it will be more of a strain for you to speak Spanish to the baby, too.  This will be a time for you to shower the new baby with the Spanish that comes so easily and naturally to you.  Pull out those songs and finger games from when you were a child. The older boy may decide that the baby speaks Spanish and may speak to her or him in Spanish a little too.  But he may not.  It is not wise to push him.

The second child usually has even more English in his life than the first child—from the older brother and his friends.  But you can have the same confidence that you are preparing the little one, too, to come with you to visit your family and to receive visits from them.

We don’t know what will happen later.  But that’s later. This is now. First, I hope you will stop being sad or angry at yourself. You are doing what you can now, and you’re right. It’s not easy.  (That’s why I wrote a whole book about it!)

Keep us posted and best of luck,

Barbara

 

Barbara Zurer Pearson, Ph. D. - A bilingualism expert with over twenty years of research experience in the fields of bilingualism, linguistics, and communication disorders, Pearson is the author of the informative and extremely useful book Raising a Bilingual Child. She is currently a Research Associate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her pioneering work on bilingual learning by infants and children and on language assessment has been published in scholarly journals and in the book Language and Literacy in Bilingual Children. As Project Manager, she contributed to the creation of the innovative DELV tests, culture-fair assessments of language development published by The Psychological Corporation. You can see her answers by going here and follow her work through her blog.

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