Bilingual is Better

Hi, my husband and I are both monolingual but would like our daughter (27 months) to learn another language. We both feel another language enriches your life in many ways, and would like our daughter to learn Spanish as we are currently living in San Diego. We have enrolled her once a week in a two-hour class, but that is the most we can afford of outside help at the moment. When she is older (3 yrs), I am hoping to be able to afford to enroll her in two days a week. Otherwise, we are not sure if we are capable of helping our daughter learn Spanish. I have bought CDs and books, but am unsure of how and what I need to do to make it a success. I have read that it is not possible without lots of outside help from a native speaker.

Hi Gabrielle,

My first suggestion for situations like yours is always to hire someone who can come and play with your child, the more often the better. At this age, children don’t really learn much language in class and it is often better they have someone who plays and interacts with them on a one-by-one basis. So if you could hire someone – a Spanish–speaking person – to spend time with your child some hours a week, this would be the most successful strategy that I can think of. Be specific when you hire this person that you want her to speak Spanish to your child and not English. Barbara Pearson’s book “Raising a Bilingual Child” warns that many nannies end up using English with the children they watch, both because they want to practice English or because the child might speak English to them. You might want to be very firm and explain to this babysitter that you are specifically hiring her to teach Spanish to your child, and so that no English should be used. You might want to call her ‘Spanish tutor’ instead of babysitter to give her some clout.

Now, I am aware that this might not be an affordable solution (but do your math: how much does the class cost? How many hours of a Spanish-speaking person does it equate to?) If that’s the case, you can help your child learn Spanish by continuing her Spanish classes, by playing Spanish music and videos, perhaps by participating in Spanish-language play groups etc.  These activities won’t make your child bilingual but they will introduce her to the language, and therefore help her learn it later when new opportunities (i.e. Spanish immersion programs) arise. In fact, in the long term, if you are truly motivated to raise a bilingual child, you should seriously consider Spanish immersion programs. These are programs (often public) that can run from K through 12th grade and teach the entire curriculum in both Spanish and English. Children in these programs have to work harder but they end up truly bilingual and bi-literate. Check your school district to see if they offer any immersion programs. Glendale Unified School Districts in L.A. County offers many languages, including Spanish, Italian, German, Armenian, Korean and Japanese.

Simona Montanari, Ph.D.- – Assistant Professor of Child and Family Studies at California State University in Los Angeles. She is the department’s expert in early multilingual development and has a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Southern California. Simona is Italian and she’s also a mommy to trilingual daughters aged 3 and 4 1/2. In addition, she conducts a workshop titled: “How to Raise a Bilingual Child” in the LA area. You can read her answers here.

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