Bilingual is Better

I’m Albert and my couple is Claudia from Munich (Germany) and we live in Barcelona since april 2008. We have a daughter, Maria who now is six months old.

I speak Catalan as mother language, Spanish 100%, English very good and  no French or German.

Claudia speaks German, English and French very well, and now medium-level Spanish. She doesn´t speak Catalan and no intention to learn it.

We met in NYC and we spoke to each other in English until 3 years ago. When Claudia moved to Barcelona mid 2008 we still spoke in English, but then I began to spek to her in Spanish because it was the only way for her to practice, to help in her integrate in the Spanish society, friends and family, even though Spanish it is not my native language because I speak Catalan with all my friends and family.

I am full of doubts as to how do we have to educate our daughter and which language to speak to her, indlvidually and as a family

Claudia talks to her in German all the time, when they are alone and when I am in front (I do not understand a word). I speak Catalan to Maria when we are alone and also in front of Claudia, who does not understand. Should we speak to Maria in Spanish when we the three of us are together? (We would all understend each other.)

I am full of doubts, can you help a bit please?

Dear Albert.

Your situation is certainly complicated, so there is no simple answer for you.  I suggest that you keep in mind three main points about language development.

1.  The most important thing is that a young child depends on language to bond with and learn from her family.

2.  The child needs to develop a solid foundation in at least one language so she can learn concepts and information as she grows.

3.  You want to prepare your daughter with the language foundation she will need to succeed in school.

I can not observe your language, your environment or your daughter, so I can not tell you what to do.  I can give you some information to help you and Claudia decide.

If Catalan is needed for Maria to be able to communicate with her grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors, then that would be a good language for her to learn.  If she will go to a Spanish-speaking school, she should also learn some Spanish.  Many parents raise their children bilingual by deciding one parent will speak only one language and the other parent will speak only the other language.

It is not usually advisable for a parent to speak only the language for which they have a low fluency.  This is because a child depends on high quality, rich, interesting language input to develop their own language and literacy well.  Another concern is that it may be detrimental if one parent speaks a language with the child that the other parent can not understand as this could harm the relationships within the family.

Looking at the information you provided, one suggestion might be for you to speak Catalan with Maria and for Claudia to use Spanish or English.  Another suggestion might be for you to speak Spanish with her and Claudia could speak English and you could also teach songs and stories in Catalan and use Catalan when spending time with family.  Or you might try speaking English only when at home, and Catalan when visiting the family or when out in the community.

One thing seems clear: it would not be a good idea to proceed without some kind of plan.

With so many different languages available and so many different options, going back and forth among the different languages would be too confusing for the child.

Whichever languages you choose, be sure to use lots of books, stories, songs, rhymes, games and conversations in those languages to build a good, solid language foundation.

Best wishes!

Karen Nemeth, Ed.M.

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Karen Nemeth.- has an M.Ed. from Rutgers University with specialization in language acquisition. She is the founder and CEO of Language Castle LLC, featuring professional development, consultation, resources and teaching strategies for multilingual preschool populations at www.languagecastle.com. She is the author of Many Languages, One Classroom, and she is a writer and consulting editor for NAEYC.  Karen is a member of the executive board of NJTESOL-NJBE. She serves as the Dual Language Learning Advisor for Teaching Young Children magazine and she has presented at many early childhood education and language-related conferences.  Karen has worked with early childhood programs throughout the United States to improve teaching practices in preschools with multiple languages.

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