Bilingual is Better

“My husband and I are expecting our first child in May 2010. My husband’s native language is Spanish, while mine is English. We mix the two languages all the time at home–often in the same sentence. Although I speak Spanish and am fairly fluent, I think I would prefer communicating with my child mostly in English. I am a little worried though that our child would not hear enough Spanish if only my husband speaks in Spanish. Also, if we mix the languages at home, I wonder if that will confuse our child.

I’ve browsed the site and seen references to a few different types of models. Where are the best resources for beginning to educate ourselves as to these models and other relevant information?

Thanks for your help!

Jana”

Dear Jana,

Congratulations on thinking ahead! This is definitely the time to be educating yourselves. Your best resources for it are right here:  books like mine, Raising a Bilingual Child, to let you see a range of experiences, and a website like Spanglishbaby with timely advice and a way to hook yourself up with other parents with similar needs and interests.

With your language background, you have your choice of the major household strategies: You could do “one-parent-one-language.” You could continue to mix languages and both speak in both languages with your child.  Or you could both speak only Spanish at home. How will you decide what’s best for *your* family?

First let’s set aside your worry that your language mixing will confuse your child.  Mixing is probably the most widespread “system” in the world, and there is no evidence that it is confusing for children.  Your child will likely not mix more than you do, or if so, only for a short time.  So, a household with mixed languages is still in the running. On the other hand, you feel you’d rather speak mostly English with the child. So, you need to look for who else could help with the Spanish end of things if you don’t.

I think you need to look further than just you and your husband. In my book (pages 159-160), I present a questionnaire to help you evaluate *all* your language resources.  What other speakers will there be in your child’s life?  grandparents? friends and visitors? household help?  Are any of them monolingual (in Spanish)?  Are there any bilingual schools in your area?  Do you anticipate being able to travel or make long visits in another country? and so on.  Fill out the self-evaluation questionnaire and then see where you stand.

It will help your child choose to speak Spanish, if at least some of the time it’s the only choice.  So, find some monolinguals.  Even if you decide to join your husband in speaking Spanish with the child (my personal preference), you’ll still want to create a broader community for yourselves and your Spanish. Monolingual speakers will help you, too.

You could use the time now, even before the baby is born, to search out as many sources of Spanish as you can.  Sounds like fun to me.

Feel free to contact me if you want to throw around some more alternatives ….

Best wishes,

Barbara

Barbara Zurer Pearson, Ph. D. – A bilingualism expert with over twenty years of research experience in the fields of bilingualism, linguistics, and communication disorders, Pearson is the author of the informative and extremely useful book Raising a Bilingual Child. She is currently a Research Associate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her pioneering work on bilingual learning by infants and children and on language assessment has been published in scholarly journals and in the book Language and Literacy in Bilingual Children. You can see her answers by going here and follow her work through her blog.

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