Raising a bilingual child

Source: themotherhood.com

Growing up, the walls of my apartment building swayed to salsa music pouring out from its windows. The air smelled of empanadas and arroz con habichuelas. And when I dreamed, it was in Spanish that I navigated my way through castles and foreign tunnels. A bit of this is what I want to give Chexie: wonderful access to a different culture.

As a second generation New York born Puerto Rican I grew up speaking Spanish at home and English at school. A format that worked for me (and I imagine many others) and will surely work to raise baby. The only problem is this. With my husband only speaking English, it’s going to be up to me to speak Spanish to the baby and that makes me a bit nervous. I don’t want it to learn the wretched bits I have in my head. These days my insecurity leaves me not speaking Spanish at all and quite rusty. I haven’t lived exclusively in a Spanish-speaking environment since I was eighteen-years-old. That was a long time ago.

I went to university in Virginia, where the Hispanic population on campus was about 2%. I fell out of speaking Spanish soon enough. And when you’re out of practice out of any skill you develop a sense of insecurity. When I call home I always reply in English when I’ve been spoken to in Spanish. I should be brave, speak Spanish, and accept help if and when corrected. But unfortunately I hate being corrected. I hate my mistakes being pointed out at me. Funny enough, when it comes to sewing I am more accepting. But that’s another story.

So I am thinking it’s time to finally start brushing up and be better prepared and focused when it’s time to start baby talk. I’ve been procrastinating re-familiarizing myself with the language for years.  It’s amazing that it takes a baby to make you want to grow and develop yourself to become a better parent and give it a better future.

I think I am going to start watching telenovelas. What better way to learn than from a good old-fashion soap opera?

Here are some useful links I found on raising a bilingual baby:

Ask Dr. Sears: Raising a Bilingual Child
Raising Bilingual Kids
Bringing Up a Bilingual Baby


12 thoughts on “Raising a bilingual child

  1. I don’t know where you live, but my friend used to teach at a Spanish-speaking nursery in London! I wonder if there are also Spanish playgroups if you don’t need a nursery? Meetup.com might have some (and that way the mums or dads might speak spanish too!).

  2. I was raised bilingual, in English and Spanish. Spanish was my first language, my mother is Spanish and my father American. As a baby my father would speak to me almost exclusively in English and my mother spoke to me in Spanish. To each other they mostly spoke spanish (my father is actually a Spanish teacher). So while I used Spanish the most as a baby toddler, when I moved to the United States when I was 5 I was fluent in English because I learned them both simultaneously. Then my parents continued to have Spanish be the language of our home when I was attending American schools. I plan on doing something similar with my child. My SO doesn’t know a lot of Enlgish, so I will try to teach baby English so he/she has a head start. I think it is great to expose children to various cultures and languages 🙂

    • Exposure to different languages helps a child grow in so many ways. I really am looking forward to seeing that growth. It’ll be hard to stick to Spanish only with baby but I think it’s doable. And if some English slips in here and there so be it. I know I was spoken both as a child, but used Spanish more, and I ended up understanding both fine.

  3. Good luck! My husband and I are both English-speakers, but my mother-in-law, who stays with the kids while we go to work, is a native Japanese speaker. She speaks mostly Japanese to the kids when she’s with them and by now they definitely understand even though my husband and I only speak English. They mostly often respond in English but I’m at least fairly confident that we’ve given them a good start and a leg up when I can finally put them in some formal classes in a year or two. We all just do what we can!

    • Thank you! I do wish my parents lived close by so they could be help me with the teaching. But I am sure with some will and determination the teaching process will go fine, for me and baby 🙂

  4. I think raising your child bilingual is a fabulous idea! But don’t be shy or nervous about it! My mum learned to speak English with non-English speaking parents, my grammar and enunciation were quite weak when I left UK to go to South Africa. The point is that it is tons easier to learn a language as a child and any short-comings are easily overcome at school going age.

  5. I was raised trilingual, as the result of having an American father, Dutch mother and mostly living in French speaking countries. My husband speaks French, too, but it’s Cajun French and I speak more of a Parisian French. Half the time Cajun people only understand one out of every three words that come out of my mouth and I get corrected a LOT on my ‘too perfect French’. I used to absolutely hate it, but that has faded over time to the point that I can now laugh about ‘my mistakes’. I think that it’s easy to feel like you’re on display when speaking a language or dialect you’re (no longer) fluent in, especially when people start to point out that you’re doing it wrong, but you’d be amazed how many praise you’ll get whenever you say ‘oh, sorry, I’m trying though!’

    Good luck with the telenovelas 😉 I always loved watching those, even though I never understood a single word of it :P!

    • You hit the nail on the head: “I think that it’s easy to feel like you’re on display when speaking a language or dialect you’re (no longer) fluent in”. I definitely feel vulnerable and silly when I am tripping over my words and such. But learning is all about getting corrected and such. I just need to brush off any angst off my shoulder and know that at least I will get better in the long run.

  6. My sperm donor (aka baby’s dad) is Argentinian and I would love nothing more than for her to be bilingual. Problem is, I only took 4 years of Spanish in high school and have forgotten a lot of it. Thank you for the links – I’m going to do my darndest to make sure this baby is bilingual!

    • I was looking on eBay for prices on the Rosetta Stone. It’s still a bit pricey here in the UK but maybe it’s more affordable where you are? I’m definitely keeping it as an option.

  7. What an interesting post! I’m loving this new blog, btw! I bet you’ll feel more confident in your Spanish when you’re actually speaking to the little one. I don’t have any kids, so I’m not speaking from experience, but I bet having a little one will remind you of your own childhood and you’ll be inspired to speak Spanish with Chex. 🙂

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