I have been in awe and wonderment as my own children have developed so naturally with both English and Spanish. When they were very little, my husband and I spoke almost exclusively Spanish with them. As they have gotten older we have instituted certain routines and rituals into our daily lives. We have meals in Spanish, bath time in Spanish, and bedtime stories in Spanish. That is not to say that throughout the day we don’t communicate in Spanish, which we do often. We have just decided to make particular times of the day Spanish only, and we encourage our children to communicate and develop their vocabulary. When we travel to Mexico or visit our relatives, my children are able to communicate effectively and effortlessly. It is amazing to watch their development, as they just absorb and retain the language. As parents however, we need to make an conscientious effort to keep the language alive, so that the children do not fall into the rut of answering in English. As a teacher, I have seen so many children that fully understand a second language, but are not able to communicate because it was never enforced that they answer in the target language. Being bilingual is such an incredible gift, and although it may take some family effort and participation, encouraging your children to speak and practice will pay off in the long run!
Raising bilingual children often comes with some triumphs and blunders. My children’s personalities are very different and their learning styles were very different. My daughter merely absorbed the Spanish language and was speaking and understanding both languages well before she was 2. She also had the unique insight to know who spoke English and who spoke Spanish. She was very precise in who she addressed and in what language. My daughter also could easily switch from one language to another with an understanding of the difference between English and Spanish. My son, whom we affectionately refer to as ‘ el tremendo’ was and is a different story. Most of his first words were in Spanish and he understood commands and discipline very well in Spanish. I was not surprised at 16 months, his babysitter asked for ‘cheat sheet” of Spanish phrases that she could post on her fridge. I was so excited that she wanted to communicate with him and thought perhaps she wanted the basic ( colors, numbers, greetings, food). But no, she was interested in how to say ” get down, no climbing, no throwing, be careful, etc”. Apparently since we had not been disciplining him in English and he just didn’t respond to her! My son also spoke to whomever he wished in Spanish, seemingly having no clue if they were Spanish speakers or not. I often had confused looks from the nursery workers in the church as I dropped him off and heard him shouting ‘ pelota!”. Just as the language develops, everything begins to fall into place. Now at age three, he clearly understands the difference between Spanish and English and will respond appropriately when asked in each language. He still does respond better to discipline when spoken to in Spanish, but maybe that is because he is ‘el tremendo’.
Why did you decide to expose your child to a second language? Are you having success? Are you having problems? Do you have any funny stories to share? Do you have any questions about bilingual development? I would love to hear stories, suggestions, feedback about your experiences.