“Hola!!! I’m a Spanish mum, mother of a beautiful one-year-old girl. We live in a bilingual community, where both Spanish and Valencian (a dialect from Catalan) are spoken. At home, my husband and I speak Valencian. My family are Valencian speakers as well, and my in-laws speak only Spanish, but they can understand Valencian. So, in this environment, we are sure that our daughter will grow up being bilingual too.

My question is whether I should speak English to her instead of Valencian. I am quite proficient, even though it’s not my mother tongue, so my phonetics and grammar are good but not perfect, and sometimes it can be very tiring for me to do it. But still I would do it gladly if I knew that it would be good for our baby. My husband understands English quite well but he has some trouble speaking. The only native input my daughter would get would be on TV, computer, music, etc. Please help me! I don’t know what I should do. Thank you so much.


Dear Mamen:

What a wonderful way for a little girl to grow up – surrounded by different languages and parents who are so motivated to fill her world with all the richness of the different languages they can offer.  I think it is important that your daughter grows up fully able to communicate in Spanish and Valencian so she can learn and communicate in her family and in her community.  Whether or not you decide to add English to her language experience is purely a personal choice.

One of the books I recommend most often is Dr. Barbara Zurer Pearson’s Raising a Bilingual Child.  She summarizes research that shows a child needs to spend about 50% of their waking ours using a new language – not just hearing it but conversing, singing, and producing it – to become fully bilingual.  Some children do grow up speaking more than two languages but they may not speak all three languages equally.

If you speak only to your daughter in English, she will surely learn it.  Hearing it on TV is not going to contribute much to her learning because she needs to talk in English to really become fluent.  If she is not going to encounter many people in her environment that will encourage her to speak English as a child, then she is not likely to become as proficient in English as she is in her other two languages.  With that in mind, you might not get as much benefit as you are hoping for with all the effort you would put in to try to speak only English to her.  I’m not saying it is a bad plan.  I am saying you shouldn’t feel that you have to do it. Research has shown that children who grow up bilingual have an easier time learning a third language than monolingual children.  So, you might start teaching her English later if you wanted to.  Learning English at some point would certainly be an advantage for your daughter.  It is not necessary for her to learn it from a native speaker, and it is not necessary for her to learn it from the beginning.  She will already have all the advantages of being bilingual, so her English proficiency will just be an extra ability.  It is up to you to decide how much time and effort you want to devote to adding English as a third language.

I wish you all the best on your language adventure!

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