This week’s Ask an Expert question was sent by Katherine Chavez.
“Hello. I am a Hispanic mother who lives in the USA. My husband and I speak Spanish at home, and I heard that teaching Spanish as a first language is convenient for my 2 year-old daughter. They said (friends of ours) that she will learn English at school. Since I am a Spanish journalist I have a passion for the language. I am trying to teach my toddler to be very precise and broad using Spanish, but I am also afraid that this could become a problem for her development when she starts school. What is the best for her success in both languages? I do not want her to learn some kind of “spanglish.” Thanks, and best regards.“
Many parents share your concerns that their child’s languages will become all mixed up and turn into a hodgepodge of words that no one else can understand. But these concerns are not necessary. Children are built to learn languages and they can identify different languages with ease. From a young age they will learn to speak Spanish with their abuelita and English with their teacher at school. They may make a few mistakes as they learn to sort out the languages. Even monolingual children make mistakes when learning to speak. Bilingual and trilingual children do the same thing but are actually learning more than one language simultaneously.
The most important thing is to be sure that your child is hearing the languages they are learning mostly from fluent and native speakers who speak correctly, without an accent, and have a rich vocabulary. Your child is most likely to develop strong language skills by hearing it used by native speakers. They pick up on the vocabulary, idioms and the grammar they hear so you want to make sure they have good language role models . As a parent you want to be sure to use your strongest language for most of the communication between you and your child. That way they can learn the richness of the language you speak best. And yes, they will learn English very quickly. As I have said many times, you may realize soon that your biggest challenge is in keeping them speaking Spanish.
Best of luck to you and your bilingual child.
Liza Sánchez – A bilingual education specialist who received her MA in Education at UC Berkeley and has spent many years teaching in both public and independent schools. She is the founder ann Director of Admissions and Outreach of Escuela Bilingüe Internacional (EBI) in Oakland, California. EBI is the first independent school in California to offer a Spanish-English dual language program, extending from pre-K through 8th grade. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area and is fluent in Spanish and English, speaks conversational German and can understand quite a bit of French, Portuguese and Italian. You can read her answers here.