Bilingual is Better

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,
Davina

Hi Davina,

How great that you are starting your daughter early with exposure to a variety of languages. I like seeing how many early childhood programs are incorporating multiple languages into the curriculum.

I am also glad to hear that you are driven to improve your Spanish vocabulary.  One of the things we know about language is that language input drives language output.  In other words, if you are using a very limited vocabulary with your daughter in Spanish your daughter will have a limited vocabulary in Spanish.  You want to consider the richness of your language as well as creating a bilingual experience.

One situation I encounter frequently is families who have chosen to use only English in the household despite having quite limited English proficiency.  I argue that a rich language model is more important than a second language.  You mentioned that you have near-native proficiency but also that you feel like you are using the same simple constructions and the same vocabulary over and over.  Those two statements seem far apart.  I don’t say that to discourage you, instead so that you consider the quality of the language input.

Ways to improve your level of Spanish proficiency:

  • There are a number of computerized language programs available these days
  • Many libraries host conversation programs for people learning English as a second language.  Find someone who speaks Spanish and set up intercambios where you speak English one day and Spanish another day
  • Check out Spanish children’s books from your local library
  • Write down all of the actions, objects, and descriptors you want to say during your days with your daughter.  Look them up at night and make cards to tape onto objects
  • Go volunteer in a young bilingual classroom
  • Immerse yourself in the language in a Spanish-speaking country (wouldn’t we all love that!)

The same rules apply to you as to your daughter–input drives output.  The more Spanish you hear and read, the more your vocabulary will grow.

Best of luck to you!

Ellen Kester

Do you have a question for the bilingualism experts? Submit it HERE and get free advice!

Recent Posts