How do I build my own proficiency in my non-native language to help my daughter become bilingual?

My husband and I are trying the One Parent, One Language method with our 1 year old daughter in Atlanta. I speak to her in Spanish, while he speaks to her in English. She also goes to a trilingual (Spanish, French and Mandarin) preschool three days a week in Atlanta.

I consider myself a near-native Spanish speaker, having lived and gone to school in Spain and Chile for 8+ years while growing up. However, while my accent may be indistinguishable from a native speaker’s, my vocabulary is seriously lacking. I moved back to the states when I was 18 and really haven’t kept my Spanish up until now.

I find myself repeating the same things over and over to my daughter– using largely the same vocabulary and simple construction (like “kid” talk). Also, since I don’t have Spanish speaking adult friends, she doesn’t get the benefit of hearing me converse using more advanced vocabulary like she does when my husband and I speak to each other or our friends and family.

I’m taking an advanced Spanish course at work that is improving my ability to talk about the environmental field, which can be quite technical. What other resources can you recommend to help build my proficiency even more?

Thank you,

Dear Davina,

You are asking a wonderful question. It is such a benefit for your child to grow up bilingual. But – a child can’t develop true bilingual fluency unless they are exposed to rich, varied, interesting language through conversation, books, stories, songs, rhymes and games. I applaud your commitment to building your own language skills to be a good model for your child. Here are some suggestions that will help you build your fluency in areas that are relevant to your role as mom.

1. Get lots of children’s books in Spanish – also looking for chapter books that are a bit too advanced for your daughter and would help you learn vocabulary to bring her along.

2. Watch familiar movies in Spanish with English subtitles.

3. Read articles, and get ideas and activities at the bilingual literacy website,

4. Read resources for Spanish speaking early childhood professionals such as:

  • Tesoros y Colores – the Spanish language magazine for teachers of young children from the National Association for the Education of Young Children
  • The Office of Head Start from the US Department of Human Services

5. Most importantly, you need to USE your increased vocabulary if you really want to retain it. Try to find a Spanish play group or volunteer opportunity – some way that you could meet up with adults who will converse with you in Spanish.

Wishing you great success!

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