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Every Monday we bring you our Ask an Expert series where bilingual experts from various fields take their time to answer a question you have submitted. If you’ve been thinking about sending us your question, but haven’t done so yet, go ahead and do it now. Just click here.
We welcome back Liza Sánchez, founder and Board Chair 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. You can also find this mamá of four multilingual daughters blogging at Bilingual Talk.
My toddler only speaks Spanish. Will she miss out in the community?
Over a month ago Liza answered a question sent in by Blanca Pedroza about her concern that her daughter was not getting enough exposure to English. This is probably the biggest worry most parents using the mL@H method have.
Liza advised her to continue reinforcing the minority language at home because the majority one (English) will eventually come through exposure at school and such. Blanca wrote us again because she still has doubts that her daughter will be able to participate with her English-speaking community at this young age when she’s only been exposed to Spanish.
“As I’ve mentioned in a previous question to the experts, my husband and I only speak Spanish to our children (ages 4 months and 1 1/2). My one year old can talk up a storm in Spanish. She knows all her colors, can hold a simple dialogue with sentences and questions, and loves to learn new words. Others who only speak English would never be able to tell and they just comment that she seems “shy.”
I honestly feel she is very bright (not just because she’s my daughter) and I’m afraid that I may be doing a disservice for her socially because she is unable to communicate with others in the community who approach her in English.
Will she pick up on some English by watching educational television shows? Should I make sure she is exposed to some type of English? I know that when I asked this in my previous question to the experts I was advised to continue exposing her to as much Spanish as possible. However, my concern remains regarding her social skills that she is missing out on in the community (library, park, etc.).”
I completely understand your concern. Many parents, including me, have had similar concerns when it comes to raising bilingual children.
There is no doubt that in order for your child to become bilingual they will have to have as much exposure as possible to the home language. However, each family’s situation is different and what works for one child may not be best for another. Even children within the same family can respond differently to the same language exposure and can have varied experiences as a result. What this all boils down to is that there is no one correct way to raise your bilingual children and unfortunately, there is no one concrete answer to your concerns.
It sounds like you are comfortable with your daughter’s Spanish language acquisition and are now more concerned about her learning English. Should she start learning English now? It isn’t necessary. She is only 1 1/2 and still has many years before kindergarten. I think you will be surprised by how much she will know by that time. I really don’t think it is necessary to provide more English language opportunities at this time but you might want to reconsider this as she gets older. Again, it all really depends on each child and the amount of exposure they are getting in each language.
Will she learn English from watching educational TV? Yes, especially shows that are designed for preschool aged children. TV counts as language exposure.
Should you allow her to enjoy community events and trips to the park? Of course. You can only control the amount of Spanish and English she hears to a certain extent but you certainly don’t want to deprive her of having fun and getting to know the people in her community.
It may seem hard to believe now but she will be speaking English before you know it. Stick with it, raising bilingual children isn’t easy but it is rewarding. Your children will thank you one day.
Please write back to SpanglishBaby and keep us updated on her, and your, progress.
Is there any additional advice or words of encouragement you can give Blanca? She’s also asked to hear from parents like you who have had success raising bilingual children.
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