Bilingual is Better
Photo by -bast-

Photo by -bast-

We’re starting off the week on a high note with the addition of a new bilingual expert to answer the questions you send to our weekly series: Ask an Expert.

Lori Langer de Ramirez began her career as a teacher of Spanish, French and ESL. She holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is currently the Chairperson of the ESL and World Language Department for Herricks Public Schools, New York.

Lori Langer

Lori Langer de Ramirez, Ed.D

Lori is the author of Take Action: Lesson Plans for the Multicultural Classroom and Voices of Diversity: Stories, Activities and Resources for the Multicultural Classroom, as well as several Spanish-language books and texts (Cuéntame – Folklore y Fábulas and Mi abuela ya no está).  Her interactive website (miscositas.com) offers teachers over 40 virtual picture books and other curricular materials for teaching Chinese, English, French, Indonesian, Italian, Spanish and Thai.

She is the recipient of the Nelson Brooks Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Culture, several National Endowment for the Humanities grants for study in Mexico, Colombia and Senegal, and a Fulbright Award to India and Nepal. Her areas of research and curriculum development are multicultural and diversity education, folktales in the language classroom and technology in language teaching.

And now, she’s also part of the SpanglishBaby team of amazing experts. How lucky are we?

Which Language Should We Use for Learning Activities?

Today’s question was sent by a fellow mamá bloguera, Carla, who blogs at MamaHeartsBaby.

“My daughter is 21 months and we’re lucky enough to not need childcare. We love our time with her and have decided not to rush her into any kind of academic setting. We’re looking at starting to enhance the amount of toddler learning activities we do with her but aren’t quite sure how to incorporate our bilingual efforts into the mix.

Up until now, I’ve spoken just Spanish and DH does his best to use just Spanish but does use English once in a blue moon. Our daughter understands and responds in both languages, though seems to understand more in Spanish.

As we look at activities (some Montessori based and others just learning games), we wonder if we should each use one language when doing these activities. For instance, I would do the activity in Spanish one day and another day my husband in English.

Does anyone know if this would work? I’ve considered just doing it in Spanish since DH really wants to expand his own Spanish skills but I don’t want to deprive of her of expanding her English language skills.”

Hi Carla!

Bravo for all your efforts in raising your baby in a bilingual household! I have some personal experience in this area, and also some research to share with you on this topic.

First the research: If you are interested in raising a balanced bilingual (a person who is equally comfortable in two languages), it is best for parents to split the language workload. For example, in your case – one parent should speak consistently to the child in English, and the other in Spanish. It is recommended that the native speaker take the language in which s/he is more comfortable. Then you can decide which will be the common language (i.e., when mom and dad speak to each other, will it be in Spanish or in English?)

In my own home, I am a native speaker of English (although also fluent in Spanish) and my husband is a native speaker of Spanish (although also fluent in English). I speak with our son, Nikolas, in English and my husband uses predominantly Spanish. We also have a sitter who speaks only in Spanish to our son. Our common language is Spanglish! So far, Niko is dominant in English, but understands, reads, and writes Spanish very well.

There are some factors that have lead to this sort of unbalanced bilingualism in my son:

  • Most of the TV, movies, books in our home are in English. While we have a nice collection of Spanish language materials, Niko gravitates towards English.
  • Niko is highly computer literate and LOVES English-language websites like NickJr, BrainPop, and others. Since I am a self-proclaimed “computer geek,” and I am the English speaker, most of our time online is in English.
  • My husband is a very fluent speaker of English. He often slips into English when speaking with Niko. This is a very common problem and it takes a huge effort on the part of a parent to stick to the target language when the child is responding in another.

My advice for you, Carla, is to divvy up the languages (remember, it’s best for native/heritage speakers to choose their 1st language) and then make a commitment to that language from now on with your daughter. Try to find appropriate websites, reading materials, cultural events, and television shows in both languages to support equal acquisition of both. But above all, have fun with the languages and encourage your daughter in whatever words pop out of her mouth – whether they be English, Spanish, or Spanglish!

¡Buena suerte!

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