Bilingual Musings: Raising Bilingual Siblings

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My son Santiago turned two a month ago and I am blown away by how his vocabulary has exploded. Like his sister, he was an early talker. But the real expansion in his repertoire of words has taken place in the last couple of month.

He loves music. Not only to dance to it, but also to sing it. Just last night, he was serenading me right before bedtime and even after I could hear him signing through the monitor for a good 10 minutes after we turned the lights off in his room. Some of his favorite songs are:

His sister Vanessa taught him the majority of these, which I guess is one of the huge benefits of having an older bilingual sibling.

Our nanny is also responsible not only for teaching him some of these songs, but also for his extended vocabulary. In fact, a couple of days ago he surprised me with his knowledge of several colors in Spanish.

All this got me thinking about how different things can be the second time around.

I clearly remember the real worries I had sending Vanessa to a parent’s day out program when knew practically no English when she was 2 years old. I wondered if I should’ve spoken to her in English to prepare her for the unknown territory into which I was making her venture. Time would prove that there was no need for me to worry, but – as many lessons in life – I could’ve only known this by going through the process.

When it came time for Santiago to follow in her sister’s footsteps in mid-August as the parent’s day out program got started, not once did I worry about how he’d communicate with his teachers as I had done years before with Vanessa.

While I wasn’t able to stay at home with my son as long as I did with my daughter, we’ve been blessed with two amazing niñeras who have definitely done their share to enrich his Spanish vocabulary. And for that, I will always be grateful.

Unfortunately, because I am more lax and have less doubts about raising bilingual children this time around, I’m embarrassed to say I feel like I’ve dropped the ball in one of the most important areas of language learning: reading. It’s not like I don’t read to him in Spanish at all, but how much I do read pales in comparison to what I used to read to his sister when she was his age. Santiago loves books – which he calls lolos – and this is one area where I have promised myself I will improve. It is only fair.

For now, the kids still talk to each other in Spanish, but that’s because I’ve told Vanessa that Santiago doesn’t speak English, which is the honest truth. As he gets a bit older and his exposure to English increases (he’ll be attending preschool three times a week next school year), I am imagining things will change.

Deep down inside, though, I hope I’m wrong. But I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Promise to keep you posted.

What are your views in raising bilingual siblings? Do they help each other out? What are your stories?

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