Bilingual is Better
Photo by Eleaf

Photo by Eleaf

We hope you all had a fun and relaxing Easter weekend. Camila got a hold of one too many M&M’s and now we know what a sugar-rush looks and sounds like! Nada divertido. Now back to business. Today, like every Monday, we invite an expert in bilingual issues to answer one of your questions. If you’ve never left one, go ahead and do it now by clicking here If you’d like to catch up on the advice our panel of experts has been dishing out, go here.

Liza Sanchez

Liza Sanchez

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. 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. Learn more about her here.

Will My Children Learn English?

This week’s question was sent by Blanca Pedroza:

“Hello! I am so excited about this website and that I have access to asking you a question. My daughter is 20 months of age and my son is two months of age. My husband and I only speak Spanish to them and we TRY to only speak Spanish to each other as well. We only read Spanish books to her. Should I trust that she’ll pick up on English when she starts school? Is this ok? Should we be considering the OPOL (One Parent-One Language) approach so that they can also start to learn English? I’m researching about two-way immersion programs for when the time comes to enroll my young ones in Kindergarten. Is this a good choice, or should I only consider enrolling them in an all-English school?

Thank you!”

Dear Blanca:

How wonderful of you to be giving your children the gift of bilingualism! They will thank you profusely in years to come. It sounds like your children are getting plenty of Spanish exposure. This is what they will need in order to stay bilingual. You are right in your thought that they will eventually pick up English, especially in school. In fact, they may eventually only want to speak English with you. A dual-immersion program can be helpful in reinforcing the Spanish they are learning at home. Also, remember that each child and family is different and that what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another. Two children within the same family can respond differently to the same language exposure.

So, remember that there is no one correct method but the ultimate goal is bilingualism.  However, keeping them speaking Spanish is generally the real challenge.

Here are some things you can do to help that have worked for many other parents:

1)      Only speak to your child in Spanish. I know that sounds obvious, but there are many parents who switch to English when they are around other English-speaking people. It may feel rude but a simple explanation to the people around you can go a long way.  If you feel uncomfortable, let the person or people around you know that you only speak to your child in Spanish and you don’t mean to be rude. Some parents also start to use English when their child’s English ability gains strength. They begin to worry that their child won’t understand them so they decide to use English. Of course, that is counterproductive and decreases the amount of exposure the child is receiving in the home language.

2)      Don’t let your child speak to you in English. This can be challenging. I mean, really challenging. The trick is to not respond when your child speaks to you in English. If she asks for a cookie in English, pretend you didn’t hear her, act like you have no idea what she is saying. Don’t be worried that she might not know how to say something. She’ll find a way to let her desires be known without using English. If you start this when she is young it will become second-nature as she gets older. Eventually, speaking in Spanish at home will become the norm. But you will really have to be strict for a while to make it that way.

3)      Provide lots and lots of Spanish language opportunities for your child. Be sure your child interacts with other Spanish-speakers such as family, neighbors and friends. Your child will feel better about and be more motivated to speak in Spanish knowing that speaking Spanish is normal and that they are not the only ones who speak it, especially if they are in an English dominant community.

4)     Reinforce pride in speaking Spanish. Remind them how great it is that they can speak two languages and how important it is to speak Spanish.

5)      Get her reading and writing in Spanish. Children need to learn to read and write in a language in order to obtain a more advanced level. Children who are only exposed to daily interactions in the home language have a limited vocabulary. Books are usually written with more eloquent expressions than what we use in our daily lives and cover a much wider variety of topics. This helps to expand their vocabulary and as a result, their language ability. And don’t forget that spending time on Spanish language literacy is not taking away from their English language literacy but strengthening it. Children who are literate in Spanish and English typically have a stronger English vocabulary, are better spellers and are able to analyze the structure of English in a way that monolingual students can’t.

Best of luck with your bilingual family and write back with any other questions.

If you want more info about bilingual education, you can also find Liza blogging about it at Bilingual Talk.

Do you have a question for our experts? Remember no question is too big or too simple. So, to send us your question, please click here or leave a comment below. Thank you!

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