This week’s Ask an Expert question was sent by Blanca Gómez Anaya.

“I am concerned that my five-year-old daughter is losing her Spanish skills too quickly since starting English-only kindergarten. We spoke to her primarily in Spanish since she was born. Now that she is in kindergarten in an English-only school district, she is speaking very little Spanish. My husband and I had decided to have him speak to her in Spanish and I would speak to her in English. However, I am concerned that the Spanish is losing out. My older daughters understand Spanish and can speak it when needed. We would like for our youngest daughter to be more fluent. Should we both speak to her in Spanish?”

Dear Blanca,

Language loss is a common pattern that we see when children start school in a language other than their home language.  This is especially true for younger children in a family who have older siblings who are fluent in the school language.

What we know about language is that language input drives language output.  In other words, the amount children hear a language generally matches the amount they speak that language. If your daughter is speaking English all day at school and in after-school activities and play dates with friends from school, she is clearly spending a large part of her day speaking English.  If you want her to speak more Spanish, I would recommend increasing the amount of Spanish she hears.

I think you have a good plan—that both you and your husband speak Spanish to her.

Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Bilinguistics, Inc.

Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D, CCS-LLP – A bilingual (English/Spanish) speech language professional who earned her Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from The University of Texas at Austin. She earned her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology and her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish at The University of Texas at Austin. She has provided bilingual Spanish/English speech-language services in schools, hospitals, and early intervention settings. Her research focus is on the acquisition of semantic language skills in bilingual children, with emphasis on assessment practices for the bilingual population. She is the President of Bilinguistics, which is “dedicated to enhancing speech and language services for Spanish-English bilingual children, enabling those children to achieve their highest communicative and academic potential.” You can read her answers here.

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