Raising Bilingual Children
I find it so amusing how you can read all the parenting books, get all the parenting tips (including the unsolicited ones) and even create the “perfect” parenting plan, yet still have no true idea of what you’re doing until you are all in and start putting all that “knowledge” into practice. One of my parenting goals, even years before I became pregnant the first time, has been to raise bilingual children so only speaking Spanish to my three and 2-year-old has been a constant since day one. As a Latina (Dominican and Salvadoran) who grew up only speaking Spanish until I was five years old) raising them proud of their native language is very important to me. Their papi who was born in Puerto Rico and exclusively spoke Spanish until he was six years old, on the other hand, absentmindedly speaks to them in Spanglish switching up to English a lot of times with me constantly repeating “en Español” every couple of minutes.
Growing up in New York and surrounded by English 95% of the time, my mission of raising them bilingual is proving much more difficult than I originally imagined. This is with us living in a primarily Latino community so I can’t even imagine how much more difficult it is for parents raising their little ones in communities where their native language is basically absent.
So far I have pretty much done everything the way I think I should to succeed in raising my children bilingual. I only speak to them in Spanish, I put together a collection of Spanish baby/toddler books choosing a different one to read every night, switched the TV setting to Spanish for the cartoons they watch that have that option and have even started looking into dual language daycare/pre-k programs where they can be exposed to more Spanish in their every day lives. These are some of the factors I have control over, the issue is that once they step into the real world, it’s a completely different scenario. Whether it’s at the park, walking in the streets, on the train or even at a birthday party, English it is.
Actually, another huge area we have to work with is how my husband and I communicate with each other. For some bizarre reason, this has been the hardest part for me. Only speaking to my children in Spanish is natural to me and I actually feel weird speaking to them in English but when it comes to Argenis, 90% of the time we speak to each other in English. I know, I know, we need to work on this starting today because truly thinking about it, it’s most likely what is holding our children back from effortlessly speaking more Spanish.
With all that said, it is not to even remotely say that my work has been in vain because they do both understand everything in Spanish. In the last couple of months they have started talking more Spanglish which I have read is normal in dual language homes. I mean, I have done this toda mi vida so I’ll take it over straight English, while they are learning, any day!
Through experience and what I have researched on the topic of raising bilingual children, I have learned that one of the strongest factors in making sure a child actually becomes bilingual is their peer group. If they have other kids around them who they can also talk to in Spanglish (or weave two other languages), the likelihood of them growing into bilingual adults is much higher. With really understanding this, I think continuing to solely speak to them in Spanish, motivating them to speak to me in Español and enrolling them in a dual language school is the way to go for us, for now.
Raising bilingual children requires a lot of intentional planning and a lot of added work but once that child grows up and is switching between languages como si nada, you will see it was all worth it and growing up in a world where knowing more than one language is so beneficial, they will certainly thank you for it as well!
Any advice or tips you can share on raising bilingual children would be highly appreciated! Gracias!!