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Starting a bilingual household - too late to learn Italian?
I am Italian and unfortunately my two kids - 9 and 13 - don't speak Italian,
and barely understand the basic phrases. I understand they will never be
fluent and will always have an accent, but I wonder if it is not too late to
start speaking to them in Italian (will have to figure out how to make the
transition). I am the main caretaker, and my wife speaks the language
pretty well. Any advice and suggestions on how to make this happen will be
very appreciated. Grazie!
Un papa italiano
I'm not sure about best advice for your situation but I
wanted to say it's not too late for them to become fluent
and without an accent. My mom took us to her native country
for about six months when I was nine. Within a couple
months I was speaking fluently and people thought I was from
that country. No accent. I have an accent now when I speak
in that language and my vocabulary is that of a kid, but I
never forgot it and feel very lucky to have learned a second
language this way.
Take your kids to Italy for the summer!
I am Italian too...have a 14yr old and a 12 yr old....they
were both fully bilingual until they started preschool and
by kindergarten it became harder and harder. I'd like to
return to speaking more Italiano and keep hearing that the
trick is to get a peer group for the kids....not easy.
Also, I think that developing an ''ear'' for the language
via videos, music, etc. is helpful.
in boca al lupo!
I can't offer specific advice on your situation, since my
kids are much younger (2 years) but I too am trying to raise
them bilingual with Italian.
I can, however, recommend you come to an Italian-language
learning play group called Bambini Ciao at the Columbo club
in Oakland. We have been going for a year and love it.
There is one group for young kids (2-5) and another for
older kids (6+).
Many families who come have one parent immigrated directly
from Italy such as you, and the sessions are run by a native
It's every other saturday. email firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.
Hope this helps! Know that there are many others nearby in
a similar situation!
un altro papa'
I don't think your children are too old to learn a second
language at all, and become fluent and speak without an
American accent as well. I know people who became fluent
at college age so the younger the better.
never too late or early
Although our son learned two languages (English and German)
from his start at a childcare center at the age of 13
months, I might have a few suggestions how you can manage
with your older kids:
1.) Talk to them about their wishes - If they are both
interested in learning Italian, that's a good start! If they
are not, try to understand their concerns and take them
2.) Be consequential - After you made the decision to switch
to bilinguality and discussed this within your family, you
may not switch back to English again. That's really
important. If your children are supposed to learn from you,
you should try to speak as much Italian as possible. Try to
say everything in Italian first, and only if they don't
understand, repeat in English.
3.) Don't push things - E.g., if they don't want to answer
in Italian but understood you, be happy and don't force them
4.) Make it fun - Invent some games to improve language
skills or watch your kids' most loved movies in Italian.
5.) Find other people - If your children see that they are
not the only people on the planet speaking Italian, they
might enjoy it more.
Congrats to your idea and good luck! Although your kids
might not know it yet they will be very grateful later that
you helped them to learn another language - it's a real
I don't think it's ever too late to learn. That said you
need to be realistc about what that is going to require on
I am from France and my husband doesn't speak French. Our
7 year old is bi-lingual and people always assume it's
easy since i speak it and i say it's hard work.
I only speak french to him and i do some ''homework'' with
him. We also watch TV in french. But the biggest
difficulty you are going to encounter is making it worth
it for them. A language is nothing without a context and a
reason to learn it. What seems like a wonderful
opportunity to you, seems pointless to them. We go around
that by visiting every year (and therefore never taking
any other kind of vacation), attend every french related
event/class we possibly can, meet with other bi-lingual
families so that our son knows it's not just him and it's
not weird, he takes a private class every week and of
course i only speak french to him.
I am not saying it's not possible. I just think you need
to be very clear on what this is going to require. I find
many local families have a very romantic idea of what it's
like to be bilingual but don't realize that's an adult
pespective and not kid one.
NO, it is not too late at all, Papa! Please teach your
children how to speak Italian. I so, so wish that my mother
had taught me Spanish. I feel like an idiot to this day that
I am half Mexican and cannot speak Spanish. In high school I
learned ''French'', like I am really going to use that
everyday! I think that if you sit your kids down and tell
them that they are going to learn just a little Italian
every day, and then do it, they will in the future have this
gift from their father, which they will never regret. It
would be wonderful gift from you, and it is within your
control now, since they are still living at home. If they
don't want to learn, can I come to your house and learn?
kidding, but teach them!
Good for you for wanting to share your language with your
kids. This was such a great question, I posed it to our
resident linguist and expert on childhood bilingualism at
InCultureParent.com, a website for parents raising little
global citizens. We talk a lot about raising bilingual kids
on the site. Here was her helpful response:
Best of luck!
Maintaining Spanish in a Bilingual Home
Are there any families out there that have had success maintaining Spanish in a
bilingual home? Our oldest is starting to resist communicating in Spanish even
though mom only speaks Spanish to him. What worked for you?
Dear bilingual mom/dad,
I have 2 teenagers 17 and 19. My husband is American but always supported
my efforts to keep our household bilingual. My kids are both fluent spanish
speakers. What worked can be resumed in one sentence. Do not give up,
always talk to them in Spanish, even if they respond in English.
Encourage them, though, to respond in Spanish, repeat the words they said in
english, in Spanish. Give them instructions, orders, disciplining, praising, all
of it in Spanish. During the baby/toddler years I hired only native Spanish
Speakers with little or no English knowledge as nannies. My husband talked to
them in English with some Spanish in between.
We were also lucky enough to be able to travel to my hometown yearly for
one month, they had to talk to their grandparents, aunts and cousins in
Spanish. We still go there and they have made many friends and they can join
the teenage life there easily, speaking like locals teens. I also always read to
them in Spanish, always searching for good Spanish books in the era before
internet. For baby/toddler books I searched in Toys go Round, Goodwill and
such, but for better books and as they require more vocabulary, I'd buy them
at home every year. I read the entire Harry Potter series in Spanish to my son,
it was great because the language was quite sophisticated.Progress was slow
because I had to explain lots of new vocabulary. When talking to them, I never
used easy words, I said it they way it is spoken, and eventually they either
understood or asked me. We also always listened and sang along to spanish
kids music. My sister there always gave them music and books in Spanish
upon my request as Xmas/b-day presents. And we had a great selection, each
year changing to accommodate their age. Now they get spanish music from
their friends abroad and they know what's in by the time they get there. It's
really great because that is one more thing they can easily share over there.
In elementary school I tutored them and had private spanish tutors just so
they had a bit of grammar/spelling knowledge. And I required that they take
Advanced Spanish in high school
So it's not easy, it's work, lots of work. The key is that the native parent
maintains the language, if it is the mom, all the better. But if she/he gives up
now, it will be gone for good and you can never regain it because once the
kids know you are not serious about the language they will go the easy way of
always using English and your household will become unilingual.
I know families where both parents were native Spanish speakers but they
gave up speaking in Spanish to their kids early on (preschool). The kids don't
even UNDERSTAND Spanish now. A total shame !
How to help 6yo keep her German?
My family was lucky enough to live overseas for a few years, and during that
time my daughter attended German National schools. She is six and is totally
bilingual, but not yet reading German. Our family is now relocating to the US,
and as two non-German speaking parents, we're interested in helping her keep
her second language.
I have many German resources, such as children's books, movies, etc., and will
certainly try to find a native German speaker to keep her talking. However, I'm
concerned if this inauthentic experience is even a worth endeavor, and if there
are resources that I'm not thinking of that may support her if it is a good idea to
try to retain her second language.
I'd appreciate any feedback from parents who have had similar experiences,
either as parents or as children themselves.
There is a German School in Oakland that teaches both kids and
adults. They have some summer program as well. Here is the
My kids are bilingual (Hebrew) as well, and have no difficulty with the English
language. Perhaps there are events at the German-American school in Menlo
Park or the Goethe Institut in SF which you could attend that might help ? I'm not
sure why you'd refrain from encouraging such a useful capacity.
Please, check out our wonderful afternoon German program at:
kinderstube. Org/ BAKS +
For our first grade in the fall we have a couple of spots remaining and it
sounds to me that we would be a good fit to your child's skill level.
Heike (BAKS + Co-director)
You could enroll her in a German ''Saturday school''. There
are several around the Bay Area, and they serve both kids
who already know German and kids who want to learn. Here's a
listing of Bay Area German Schools on the German School of
San Francisco website:
There is also a program for fluent German-speakers called
BAKS+/Deutsche Sprachschule Berkeley
(http://www.kinderstube.org/plus/plushome.html), which is
what my son attends, but if neither you nor your partner
speaks German with her at home, then this program might not
be a good fit.
Have you thought about sending your child to school at the
German International School of Silicon Valley? The school
has three locations in the Bay Area: Mountain View, Berkeley
and San Francisco.
Single parent wanting to raise a bilingual child
I am a single mom (sole custody) and would like my baby to
grow up bilingual, as I did, in my heritage language. In
two-parent households, it is typical, I think, for one
parent to primarily speak each language. But how does it
work when there is just one parent? (I do not have local
family, and my heritage language is not one of the more
common ones in the Bay Area.) So far I primarily speak the
heritage language to my daughter, and her caregiver speaks
to her in English. But there are challenges, including the
fact that English is my primary language, and the language
that is more intuitive to me. Part of me would like to
speak English to my daughter some of the time, but I don't
want to do that at the expense of the other language.
I would love to hear from any other single parents out there
who figure out a way to do this. Has anyone done something
where you speak English and another language on alternating
days, or some other arrangement? How has it worked?
I am a single mom teaching my daughter our heritage language- Russian. I just
speak to her in Russian. Very seldom I use English words at home and only when
no Russian word exist for that. In school everybody speak English so she speaks
it fluently. She speaks Russian almost fluently with minor mistakes.
If she speaks
English to me at home I ask her to say the same in Russian please. It is not too
hard. Good luck to you!
I am a mother of a newly bilingual 5 year old (he was
monolingual spanish speaking before starting kinder) so I
have lots to say about this but I will try to keep it short.
Feel free to contact me offline through the moderator if you
would like to talk more.
You should absolutely only speak to your daughter in your
native language. She will pick up English - it is
everywhere and it will inundate her, even if you didn't want
It is worth the extra effort. I am similar to you in that
speaking Spanish requires much more effort for me than
English. Even though I am Latina, English is my primary
language. We have always only spoken to our son in Spanish,
only read him books in Spanish, only shown him videos in
Spanish, etc. He went to a Spanish-only preschool and has
many Spanish-speaking friends. He has been in Kinder since
Sept (in a dual immersion classroom) and has already picked
up so so much English from his new friends there is
absolutely no concern that he will be behind in English.
Because we live in a society in which English is the spoken
language, your daughter will learn it - no question.
The risk you should know about is that once she starts to
pick it up, at whatever age, she will likely to try switch
over to English. If you have firmly established with her
(as we have with our son) that we only Speak spanish
together, then this should be easy to stand on. But if she
is used to going back and forth with you, this will open the
window to her switching over to only speak English with you.
So in short, only speak to her in your heritage language -
always. She will pick up English soon enough.
I would suggest getting a caretaker who natively speaks
the language you want your child to learn, and then
eventually look for a pre-school that might offer that
language too. This is what I have done with great
results. However, if the language you are speaking to him
is something not found commonly in curriculums (ie not
Spanish, French, etc) then your best bet is to stick with
your current plan! Raising a child bilingual is so much
work but it is a wonderful gift.
Well, there are two main approaches to bilingualism. One is
the One Parent One Language approach, which you mentioned,
where each parent speaks their preferred language to the child.
The other approach is Home Language Outside Language where the
minority language is spoken exclusively in the home, and the
majority language is spoken outside of the home. To be honest,
most bilingual families I know (including my own) do not really
have hard and fast rules about these things and tend to mix
approaches according to situation. What I would suggest is
speaking the target language as much as possible at home--
resist the temptation to speak English at least at home. Try
to find books to read in the target language, cartoons to
watch. I would also try VERY hard to save up the money and
vacation days to take a trip to a country where the target
language is spoken. For our daughter, one short trip abroad
made a HUGE difference in her speaking (and her willingness to
speak) the target language. It was a complete turn around for
her and, if at all possible, I would make every effort to do
I strongly suggest to keep speaking your heritage language exclusively. This
way it will become more natural to you, too, and your child will learn it first
hand. If possible, try to sing songs and nursery rhymes, find books and
music/children's songs CD's, and later kids' videos in your language. Maybe
somebody from your home country can send those. That's what I have done.
I personally think it will be confusing if the same person is alternating
languages. For now the nanny's English will be sufficient. Later your child will
be immersed more in an English speaking environment, probably attending
English speaking preschool and school. In any case your child will learn
English at some point. You would not have to teach that language.
But if you feel strongly about teaching your own language you will be the only
Pass down your heritage.
I am always amazed that parents worry about their babies' and toddlers'
English when they consider the bilingual and even trilingual issue. As an
immigrant (I came to this country when I was 11), I can assure you that
the English will fall into place by itself, because the ENTIRE world outside
your home speaks it. Children learn language by ''osmosis'' - they just
absorb it in a way that adults do not and cannot, and perhaps that is why
we worry so much. We imagine the language challenge for the babies will
be like it would be for us as grown ups. But the truth is that language
learning is a mysterious and very different process for anyone under, say,
10 or 11. I don't ''know'' how I learned English - I never took a single ESL
course. I just sat in on classes at school and had to interact with other
children and the adults in my new country, and it just fell into place. For
children under 5 that process is even easier and more automatic. The
biggest mistake parents make is not reinforcing the second language at
home, or doing so inconsistently. I know families from my country of origin
whose children never retained their parents' language precisely because
the parents did not speak it consistently at home. So in terms of practical
advice, I would say that if you really want your child to be bilingual, speak
the second language to her EXCLUSIVELY. She will not get enough of it
As a relevant side note, when my Chinese friend had a baby, she decided
to speak to her exclusively in Mandarin from birth. And I mean
exclusively. When she sent her to daycare, she sent her to a Chinese
immersion daycare. And three years later, the child is perfectly bilingual,
without ever interacting with her mother in anything other than Mandarin.
There really is no problem with this set-up, provided that it is consistent.
The child ''understands'' that when she is at home and talking with her
mother, they communicate in Mandarin. If I am there visiting, she
''understands'' that she needs to address me in English. At this late stage,
her mother is now able to say, ''today we will have a visitor and will be
Hurrah to bilingualism
My husband and I share a heritage language, but he did not grow up hearing
it or speaking it. So much of the heritage language fell to me, even though
English is my primary language.
One parent one language is one way to go about it, but that hasn't work for
us. Our daughter went to a school where they alternated languages each day
between English and Japanese. But that method also didn't work for us at
home, because it seemed way too artificial.
Instead, I've taken my cue from some European friends who explained that
they speak the language with their children that is appropriate for that social
situation. This way, the child learns not only that language is a means of
communication, but also the social cues for that language. For instance at a
playground, I was speaking Japanese with our daughter, and I realized that
the other parents were excluding me, not maliciously, but they probably
assumed that I couldn't speak English. Which in turn meant that I couldn't get
my daughter to play with other kids. So in those situations I learned to rely
more on English. Likewise, if we have Japanese-speaking friends and/or
relatives around, we speak in Japanese. I just keep on using the two
languages as I always have, situationally.
With that said, I try to be very careful about not mixing the two languages
together. My pediatrician pointed out that full sentences should be in one
language or the other, and not mixed together. That seems to be very sound
We supplement with lots of books in Japanese, a fairly sizable collection of
Japanese children's DVDs and song collection CDs. We're also able to go visit
Japan regularly, which is wonderful language exposure, but not necessary. If
you can find a playgroup in that language, all the better.
To complicate the picture, we also had some pretty significant speech delay
issues with our oldest child. If you want to talk more, feel free to contact me
off-line. GOOD LUCK!
Good for you for passing on your heritage language! But no,
you don't need a two-parent household to do it. Lots of
families speak only one language at home, and all the
exposure to English happens outside the home. As long as
these kids have someone to help with reading / homework /
etc, they learn English just fine. So having just one
language in your house isn't a concern. As far as your
heritage language is concerned, it will help your child if
you can set up a playgroup or other opportunities for her to
use the language and (also very important) hear you using it
with other adults.
I know bilingualism can be an uphill battle -- I'm a native
English speaker who is fully fluent in another language, but
when my kids were little and I was sleep-deprived, it was a
struggle to speak to them in my non-native language! And the
difficulties continued as my kids got older and started
answering me in English. But it is very much worth the
effort, so I encourage you to keep up the second language.
Full disclosure: I work in a bilingual school. On our web
site we maintain a page with links to information about
bilingualism and resources for bilingual families. You might
find some useful information there:
The book ''Bilingual Families'' is also quite useful: it has
lots of real-world case studies.
hi single momma,
I believe that the idea that each parent in a two-parent
household speaks one language is a myth. So, go forth and
speak what you want! My siblings and I were raised in a
two-parent household where both parents spoke both languages
- and there were no negative consequences. And I know of
many other families such as ours.
I'd say what's more important is the length and consistency
of the approach. How long will your child be exposed to both
languages? Do you give equal preference to both languages?
Will you use both languages for all topics? (Many latino
households use Spanish for emotions, feelings and
relationship-building, whereas English is the language of
business, school, facts. That leads to a certain kind of
bilingualism.) Will you have both child-, youth- and
adult-level books/magazines in both languages?
Your child is already lucky for having such a thoughtful momma!
I did not see the orginal question, so don't know what the
specific situation/concern was but want to throw my two
cents in about bilingualism about which I have very strong
Language besides a means of communication is far beyond that
also history and cultural and a way of being and a sense of
inclusion. I am a first generation Polish-American. As I
did not speak English, only Polish, when I first went to
nursery school (YEARS ago), my family began speaking English
to me to help me out (all very innocent). However, this
became an ingrained habit in my family, and while everyone
else spoke Polish to each other, they only spoke English
with me (from nursery school onward). And this was the
habit that was established between their Polish friends and
me as well.
At the time (I don't know maybe it's still the case with
immigrants) there was a sense of wanting the child born in
America to be fully American, so there was some of that too
in the language thing.
If your native tongue is something other than English, most
definitely speak it with your child and teach them to read
and write it as well. Because you are not only passing on
words, you are passing on culture, history and a sense of
belonging/connection with mother/father. As others have
mentioned your child/ren will naturally pick up English on
While I did not speak nor learn to read nor write Polish, I
can completely understand what is being said. (Such a
strange thing to be spoken to in one language and answer in
another.) My parents spoke French to each other when they
wanted me not to understand, so out of self-defense I
quickly picked up French (which was offered at my school at
the time - and eventually majored in it in college).
If the language you'd like to teach your child/ren is not
your native tongue, while they may be able to communicate in
that language with other speakers, which has a great value
in and of itself, they will not have any innate transference
of culture or history.
I'm no expert, this is simply my personal experience. I
feel that I missed out on a lot by being excluded from my
family's native tongue; perhaps the greatest loss was the
complete connection to my mother. My (Polish born) sister
has said many times how ''articulate'' my mother was. I never
got that from my mother, because her English was good but
rather halting. As a result, I feel that I don't have full
expression even in English.
Hope this is helpful in some way.
I speak Spanish to son but he always answers in English
I am Spanish native speaker and my husband is an English
native speaker. We speak in English between the two of us.
He speaks English to our 3-year old son, and I only do
Spanish. Preschool is in English.
Maybe it is no surprise to you that since most of his
communication is in English, he only speaks in English! We
are becoming worried that we are missing a key age-window to
have him be bilingual. This is not just because "it would be
nice, wouldn't it" but because half of his family only
Even though I only do Spanish - which he understands
completely - he always answers in English. For the last 4
months I have been doing the - exhausting but worth
trying - exercise of reminding him every 10' or so: "with me
you need to speak in Spanish" or "no te entiendo" (I don't
understand), or "how do you say that phrase in Spanish"C" - you
get the idea. It is not working!
What I am looking for is for suggestions about what have you
- or someone you know - done in a similar situation? We are
even thinking age-appropriate classes. Suggestions? Thanks!
Our child is bilingual, and also learned English first because most of the
environment is English. But I was very strict about using the second language at
home exclusively, including only reading books and watching videos in the
second language when I was the one reading to my child. I also never spoke
English when we were at the playground or at play dates. It worked although I
converse with my spouse in English.
Can you try to put your son in a Spanish speaking preschool? There are a few
out there, and it helps a lot even with children who only speak English at home.
Also, try to visit your Spanish speaking family regularly to expose your son to
people who don't understand him when he speaks English. It helped us.
Wish you success.
I have been exactly where you are. I am a native English speaker and my
husband a native Spanish speaker. We both learned the opposite language in
college and are now bilingual ourselves. Not sure if your husband is bilingual
but my first suggestions would be to get him on board with learning some
spanish too. Second suggestion I have is to be persistent. Even though we
ONLY speak Spanish in the household, my daughter was surrounded by
family and kids and TV and books in English and therefore same thing, only
spoke in English although she understands both wonderfully. As she turned
3 I got more and more and more worried about her not being able to SPEAK
spanish especially since that was my dream growing up (to have bilingual
kids, I'm half Mexican). At the time I started to push it more, we ended up
moving in with my parents who only speak English which meant less and less
Spanish at home. So i became more determined. Everything she would say to
me I would repeat it in Spanish and wait for her to repeat it to me but always
with a smile so Spanish didn't seem like a punishment. Then I'd REALLY
REALLY celebrate with her when she would use it. It started with something
she really liked....fruit. I would make her ask in Spanish by having her repeat,
not by saying ''tell me in spanish.'' Once she learned a few phrases, I did the
''no te entiendo'' thing. Then, once she would get through it in Spanish I'd
really celebrate with hugs and kisses and dances. Now, just a few weeks later,
she REGULARLY speaks to me in Spanish. I pick her up from the babysitter
and she immediately starts addressing me in Spanish. It just took a LOT of
patience of repeating every little thing she said to me back to her in Spanish
without showing frustration. I wish that I still lived in the immediate Bay Are
because I would say 'let's get together!'' but unfortunately I'm not there, but
that would help too. It really helps if you can find other spanish-speaking
kids (I''ve heard) so your child doesn't think that isn't just ''mami's language.''
good luck, and be patient and persistent!
BTW, As I type this, my daughter is playing with her toys talking to herself in
Spanish. The sweetest sound I can imagine!
I am sending my daughter to Escuela Bilingue Internacional
for day camp this summer. It is a Spanish immersion camp.
There are also some places that have after school
programs. If you husband speaks Spanish I might also speak
only in Spanish at home. BTW it is very common for
bilingual kids to speak the dominant language (in this
case English) at this age when they know someone
I am raising a bilingual son as well (English/Russian), in a
similar situation to yours, although we have a grandma at
home who only speaks Russian. Perhaps thanks to her
presence, my 2.5-year-old speaks Russian to her and to
me, and English to his dad and at preschool. I keep
expecting though that he'll revert to only spoken English
and passive Russian... which is not the worst thing in the
world. I've heard that kids who grow up with understanding
(but not speaking) the ''other'' language can start speaking it
fluently on very short notice, within a few days, once they
are in an environment that requires it. In your case, dealing
with family members who only speak Spanish is likely to
force spoken Spanish out of your child. Classes may help
too, but not language classes, more like a playgroup or
preschool setting where only Spanish is spoken by adults
and children. From what I've read on the subject, peer
influence is more important than anything adults can do; if
your child plays with kids who speak Spanish, he will speak
Spanish - at least to the playmates. He may always prefer to
reply in English to you, knowing that you understand it
perfectly well, but I wouldn't worry that he's losing a chance
to be fluent in Spanish. Just be sure to continue speaking
Spanish to him and trust that it will all work out!
I'm in a somewhat similar situation, but am having pretty
good success with my 2 1/2 year old boy. I know many folks
who have reported the same problem - that the child will
understand what you say in the other language, but will not
speak back in the target language. My son *is* speaking back
to us in Spanish when we use Spanish, so I'd love to talk to
you off-line about my approach. I also want to suggest a
good book on the topic: 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual
Child, by Naomi Steiner. Also, there are some great videos
out there by a company named Whistlefritz. Check out ''Los
Animales'' and the other ones. We also use You Tube a lot -
basically ONLY in Spanish. Anyway, me encantaria charlar
contigo - favor de escribirme un email.
We have a very similar situation in our bilingual home. My
husband is the native Spanish speaker, and I while I am
fluent in Spanish, I am the native English speaker, so I
mostly speak English to our 4.5 year old girl. At 3 yrs,
our daughter also always answered in English, and just now
she's starting to answer/speak more Spanish. One of the
preschool teachers suggested that we make Spanish ''fun''
and incorporate it in fun ways; playing games that include
vocabulary building, etc. She suggested ''Spanish-only''
times - meals, or mornings or weekends, etc. Papi reads
her books in Spanish. We always get new ones from the
library. Daughter does NOT like it when I read in Spanish;
she usually demands English reading from me, which is
disappointing, but then again, it makes sense. Her dad
reads beautifully in Spanish and she totally accepts it
when he reads to her in Spanish. She also loves Dora and
Diego, so we play those shows/dvds in Spanish whenever
possible and she enjoys it just as much as English. We've
also tried Plaza Sesamo, though she's not a big fan. We
put on Despierta America in the mornings before work.
She's learned the phrase ''echate pa'ca'' (ha) and loves the
joyful dancing the hosts do every morning. And Obama was
on the show recently and had prepared a great message en
espanol. Our daughter was facinated (she loves the
president). I said, See? Even Barack Obama knows Spanish,
isn't that cool?? She loved it. I want to show her that
being bilingual is wonderful and great and all things
positive (never a ''chore'' or something arduous or
negative). We want her to be bien bilingue and proud of
her Latina heritage. I would love to meet new families in
our situation. Feel free to email me if you're interested
in getting together or just want to share more tips on
There are some great programs in the East Bay that might
support your son speaking Spanish. Lango
(www.langokids.com) has weekly classes for young kids-
that may be a fun way to get him speaking Spanish with you.
If you live anywhere near this preschool you should learn
more about it!! Las Semillitas, is an amazing Spanish
immersion preschool in the foothills of Oakland.
Las Semillitas Cooperative is a group of bilingual
English/Spanish speaking families working together in the
creation of a unique preschool. My niece and nephew
attend/ed and both are fluent in spanish and have lifelong
friends they have made at this preschool, that help keep up
their spanish. Even if you arent interested id suggest you
call and ask these parents what they are doing right because
the children are extremely well educated AND speak
incredible spanish!! I highly recommend it.
Maria, te escribiria en espanol pero muchas mamas no van a entender. I have
two kids now 16 and 14 y/o. Spanish is my native language, My husband
speaks some Spanish, understands much, but mostly speaks to our kids in
English. Today my kids speak mostly in English but are fully bilingual. Here is
what I think. The most important role for you as a giver of the second
language is to NEVER, i truly mean N-E-V-E-R fail to speak to your child in
Spanish, all the very little things that happen everyday at home: meals, play,
bath time, reading, discipline, jokes, everything... no matter in what language
he responds, I never said ''I don't understand'' or ''try that in Spanish'' or ''how
do you say that in Sp.'' When they were very young we read only in spanish,
this is before amazon etc. so i had to search hard for Sp. books of quality
writing. We only listened to kids music in sp. (music from my own childhood
that I loved and was very familiar with) and we would learn the lyrics, sing
and dance together. For presents, I asked my sister to give them sp.
books/music. And they loved it. She still gives them hip music in spanish
that the load in their ipods. Also, I only hired native sp spakers who spoke no
English. Slowly I had to switch to Eng. for school homework, etc.
If possible take him to your family -hopefully to your native country- it will
be a revelation for him. don't translate for him. My kids traveled every year
to their grandparents/aunt from age 8 and 6 respectively and spent lots of
time alone with them. A couple of times I signed them up for school there
even though they were just visiting for 2 months for them to make friends
They learned the slang, swear words, jokes, etc. and these days they have
quite a deep understanding of the culture and language.
But back to your baby's age, I spoke, directed, explained and disciplined
them in Spanish even in front of English speaking parents, grandparents,
aunts/uncles here. Sometimes people whine about how they did not
understand what it was being said... but I was talking to my kids not
them...One important thing is for your husband to be fully supportive, even if
he does not understand at the moment (you can explain to him later), if he
doesn't your son will be the only one who loses. He will lose his mother's
language. It was a lot of hard work, but I love the results. No dejes que tu
hijo pierda tu idioma, seria una pena.
I missed the original post but wanted to add our story. We
are raising our kids trilingual. The key for us is that
each parent speaks to the children in their native
language ALWAYS, without fail regardless of where we are.
This indicates the importance of the language & the
necessity of it to communicate with us. We initially did
play dumb when he tried to speak English to us. Now, he
definitely is aware that we speak English but rarely tries
to speak to us in English (occasionally a word here and
there). We, the parents, speak to each other in English.
We have as much of the other languages in the environment
as possible (TV, books, music). In fact if we couldn't
find it in our native languages we wouldn't let him watch
it. Playgroups in the other languages help tremendously
too. If possible, occasional trips to your motherland or
somewhere where they speak the language. Also, daycare in
spanish (also important to demonstrate importance outside
of the home) and now my oldest (5.5yo boy) is in a public
school which is Spanish Immersion (Melrose Leadership
Academy). Our biggest fear was that we would put in all
this effort all for him to speak to us in English once he
hit Kinder. Luckily our fears were not realized. He
currently is speaking all 3 languages successfully,
learning how to read in Spanish & his English is getting
better. It is a lot of work & requires determination but
it is well worth it. Good luck!
Bilingual Toddler-Rearing - Spanish/English
I have a two-year-old who I started out speaking Spanish to as a
baby, but it seems that as he gets older I've been doing it less
and less and speaking/reading mainly English. So he is now quite
proficient in English and understands a little Spanish but only
speaks a handful of words of it. My question is how I can get
back to a solid Spanish language influence with him? I was
raised bilingual but honestly my Spanish is not so great anymore
after a long time of disuse, so it doesn't come so naturally for
me to speak Spanish with my son. And my husband speaks only a
little Spanish which he learned in school. However, I'd love to
hunker down and raise my child to be bilingual. Any tips for
getting back in the groove, books on bilingual learning, dvds,
etc. much appreciated. Gracias!
What about a bilingual daycare and ask them to speak only in
Spanish that would do it.
I met a family recently who was raising their toddler to be bilingual. They said that
most of the exposure in the non-English language was through books. Get a bunch of
Spanish-language books from the library and read/talk about them as you would the
English books. That way the vocabulary/syntax is provided for you and you don't have
to worry about your rusty Spanish. It probably isn't enough exposure to make him
completely bilingual, but even in very dedicated ''biingual: households, English seems
to prevail eventually. It's a good start. Buena suerte.
Hi, you sound like me with my limited Spanish.I've been
speaking Spanish and English to my children,(my Spanish
vocabulary is very limited),my children also attend''Viva el
Espanol'', classes in Lafayette,twice a week, which is a Spanish
full immersion learning center, which helps tremendously. I can
recommend checking out www.professorpocket.com, they have an
assortment of Bilingual CDs that are fun for the whole family.
And if you are able, La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley has
shows for children/families on Saturday mornings around 10:30am
that are occasionally in Spanish.I often go to book stores and
can easily locate Spanish/Bilingual books for all ages.What I
find is helpful are the books with the CDs, so at least when
you follow along with the book, you can hear the correct
pronouciation of the Spanish words. Hope this helps...a mom of
two Bilingual children
My husband was raised bi-lingual (spanish/english) and I studied
spanish in school and speak a little, but not enough to try to
speak to our child in spanish. From my limited research on the
subject, one parent is to speak only one language to the child,
and the alternate parent only the alternate language. From the
time our son was born until 4 years old, he only had spanish
speaking childcare, and we would ask the childcare provider to
speak spanish to him. He is now in a bi-lingual pre-school. My
husband's father only spoke english to him, and his mother only
spoke spanish. He still is equally fluent in both languages.
Even though my husband knows he should speak spanish to our son,
he is not consistent, and does not require him to speak back to
him in spanish. Where we are now, is our son completely
understands spanish, but chooses to speak only in english. We
have to bribe him to talk to ''abuelita'' in spanish. Hope that
helps, it is not the perfect solution, but we are coming along.
I will probably incorporate spanish tutors, or summer spanish
camp until he is old enough for spanish classes in school.
also want a bi-lingual child
I initially didn't respond because I thought you would be
overwhelmed with the amount of responses but I was really
surprised at how few there were.
I'm raising my children bilingually-English/Spanish. My husband
speaks English to them. I speak Spanish to them. Spanish is not
my first language. I have a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old so I'll
speak to my experience with the 5-year-old more.
My biggest advice is don't underestimate how much your child gets
exposed to English and how little they get exposed to the second
language. If you really want them to be bilingual--you have to
expose them to a lot more of the target language than you think
you should. As soon as you put them in a English-speaking
preschool (or even a bilingual one where most of the children are
Englsh speakers) they will start relying on English more and
pretty soon, they're going to lose a lot of their language
proficiency (particularly around language production--getting
them to understand it is the EASY part).
For us, being around other children that spoke the language
exclusively made a big difference. That's when my son realized
''this is not just mommy's language. It's cool!'' Other advice: If
you're the Spanish-speaking parent, do NOT speak English to your
child. Read lots of books in the target language. If you're
watching movies always put the dvd to the target language. Your
caretaker should speak the target language and make sure that
they do not speak English with your child. Even babysitters who
speak English very poorly surprisingly will try to speak a lot of
English with their charges. Your child needs to know that
everything they want to say can be said in the target language
but if you can only be affectionate in English, or be fun in
English, or play games in English, then why would they want to
interact in the target language? Find/Start a playgroup in the
target language. As often as possible, put yourself in an
environment where that language is exclusively spoken (travel to
home country, family events, volunteering/socializing in the
community where language is spoken). Carry around a dictionary
everywhere so when necessary you can look up a word (so you don't
have to insert an English word). Lastly, keep going. It is so
easy to give up, especially when your child is speaking English
back to you and it's easier to communicate in English but
(hopefully) your child will thank you eventually for your diligence.
Japanese bilingual-ism for kids- how to keep up?
We are in need of advice regarding how to keep up with Japanese
bilingual-ism. Some parents are more diligent with speaking in
different languages at any time, but we are not. I am Japanese
but we predominantly speak in English at home, and our daughter
now goes to a Spanish-English bilingual daycare. We're thinking
of sending her to Sycamore or Pan Pacific school so she gets more
Japanese exposure. We actually would like some advice on options
in Japan. I hear some people actually go to Japan, and kids
attend some camps or preschools for several weeks. Is it really
possible? It seems like the best way to learn the culture and
language and given that all my family is in Japan, such
arrangement is definitely possible for us. Please let us know if
you know of any school you can just attend for a month or so.
Lastly, we're pretty disconnected from the Japanese network in
Eastbay. If there is such a thing as Japanese-based play group,
we'd like to find out about it. Our daughter is now 2years old,
and another one is on the way.
Hopeless japanese mom
Look into bilingual Japanese schools: Global Montessori
International School (Berkeley) or Pacific Rim International
School (Emeryville). There are many families that are native
Japanese, but others that are not (like us). Our son
speaks/writes in Japanese, as well as Chinese and English (they
are a trilingual schools).
Hi, I recommend Sycamore Preschool stronly! My child attended
three years there and just graduated. It was the greatest place
to learn Japanese culture and keep up with Japanese events of
the seasons. Also, you get to know many Japanese mothers and
families who go through exactly what you go through. It is a
great support. I suggest you go visit the school. They will be
happy to have you visit any time!
In terms of sending your children to school in Japan, I know
some families who have done that from Sycamore. I have heard
that in some areas, public schools allow you to come in for a
month or so, and in other areas, only private school would allow
I hear your frustration wtih your children losing Japanese. All
of the mother have the same problems. The only way is to keep on
talking to them in japanese and reinforce them to respond in
Japanese. It's a work and takes a lot of patient. Many parents
give up. It is easy to give up but I know so many grown Japanese
American saying they wished their parents sticked with it. It
gets harder once they hit Kindergarten, so I recommend you to
enjoy the luxury of having your children speak Japanese at
school while you can.
I can't give you any advise on school/preschool in Japan since I
haven't done that, but I'm with a Japanese moms' playgroup in
The kids' language(s) is our great concern, so we talk about it
often. I think it helps a lot if you talk to Japanese moms since
we're in the same boat.
If you're interested, let me know. I don't know where you live,
but I used to go to the one in the Berkeley area. Although I lost
in touch with them, someone in my group might know about them.
I came to US form Japan 15 years ago and have 2 children who were
born here in Bay Area. My husband is also Japanese. I did send
my older daughter to the local elementary school at my parent's
area in Japan for a few weeks before their summer break started
when she was 7. That was an only occasion. It was a great
experience for her. The arrangement itself was very easy. My mom
talked with the school and that was it. I am not sure about the
preschool, but I think it is worth to ask. Nowadays, many
Japanese or Japanese -origin children live abroad and many
schools are very open to it, especially in big cities. However
you need to keep in mind that that is more for children's
experience, not for their language skill. That will "stimulate"
your child's language skill, but learning language does not come
for a short period. It has to be consistent and every day thing.
The institutions such as Japanese-speaking schools can be your
help, but you are the one who really work for it. Also it depends
on children. Some kids, like my daughter, love it, but on the
other hand, the others feel burden. (My younger son is not so
eager for learning Japanese and I have also seen the case in
other kids). I guess the good way to start for your family is to
set up "the realistic goal" for your child(ren) in a long term,
especially you are in a bi-cultural family and your daughter has
not been exposed to Japanese much. I believe that being Japanese
or keeping our culture does not only come from speaking the
language. More importantly, it is how to understand, accept and
accommodate our culture. I see it in many Japanese-Americans who
barely speak Japanese, which, I think, is wonderful. If you have
any questions, I am happy to answer by email.
I can relate your struggle... I am Japanese and my husband is American. We speak
English at home most of time and I have been trying to speak Japanese with my
daughter, 18 months old. I do not know many Japanese family in the area either. I can
speak to her in Japanese all day long, but I think it is important for her to hear
conversation in Japanese. I work everyday from 8:30 to 3:30. I have been looking for
playmate/ activity after 4:00 p.m. If you would like to get together, please e-mail me.
I am available on weekends as well.
Bilingual families and language exposure
I have a toddler who is about 2.5 years old. I am bilingual
(english and spanish) while my partner only speaks english with
some high school spanish inermittently.
I mostly (90% of the time) speak spanish to our daughter since
we want her to also grow up bilingual. She appears to
understand everything I say but will always repeat things in
english. She has been attending 1/2 day pre-school where the
teachers and students communicate mostly in english. My partner
also speaks english to her and she has stayed home with her.
Our plan was to transition her into a full day spanish speaking
child care provider this school but just found out she will be
Our options are limited. There is a great pre-school nearby but
it has no spanish language exposure. As she is developing her
language skills she is also excited about the recognition she
is making of the meaning behind language. She is quite
communicative and many people comment on how vast a vocabulary
she has. She seems to be confused at this point and needs more
exposure to other people speaking spanish besides me.
I guess my questions are these:
Is it enough exposure to only have myself speak spanish to her?
Is it necessary to try to find another spanish speaking
Does anybody know of spanish playdates or groups for kids her
age for mixed or inter-racial families?
What other ideas do people have outside of expensive basic
lango type classes? (She knows basic identification of colors
and such as I have several kids cd's)
Any ideas would be helpful.
I have a friend who raised her two kids to be completely
bilingual in Swedish and English, but she is mostly a stay-at-
home mom who never veers from speaking Swedish to them (reading
them Swedish books, watching Swedish kids' films etc.) and
expects them to answer in Swedish. And their Dad is a fireman
and so is often not home. But both kids attended English-
language preschools and schools, there is virtually no Swedish-
language stimulus in the environment (unlike Spanish and
Chinese, for instance), and still they speak fluently. Some of
the key factors are my friend's unswerving dedication to
speaking Swedish with them (even sometimes when English-
speakers are present), her husband's acceptance of this, and
yearly, long visits to Sweden. I think that it can be done,
but probably you will need to teach your daughter code-
switching -- that is, she answers you in Spanish when you speak
to her in Spanish, she learns who in the environment speaks
Spanish and speaks Spanish with them. I do know of some
basically bilingual people who answered their parent in
English; they developed superior facility with understanding
the language when they encountered it elsewhere, but sometimes
had difficulties in speaking and certainly difficulties in
writing. Good luck with your efforts, bilingualism is a great
I don't think it's enough for only you to be speaking the
language. I know many kids who grew up w/ parents that don't
even speak english. And while they can understand the language,
they will always answer in english and barely speak the language.
Listening and speaking are two different skills. You will
have to insist on your child speaking back to you in Spanish and
expose her to as many other people who needs her to speak the
language on a day to day basis. English is the main language
here and w/o that constant exposure, the language skills will
erode over time.
Try meetup.com. There are several playgroups out there, usually
based in Oakland, for inter-racial kids.
Ours is a bilingual home, too, and it seems to be working out
alright with only one parent speaking the ''minority'' language,
and the outside world speaking the majority language. I am
working on an MA in TESL right now, and a lot of the research
seems to indicate that if your child is in, say, a
French-speaking environment 50% of the time, that's going to
improve their French a lot more than if they were in a
French-speaking environment 10% of the time. In other words, it
all depends. But if you're providing 50% exposure to your kid,
she should be fine... don't be surprised, though, if she decides
to simply not speak Spanish if you're the only one speaking it
to/with her. The way to counter that possibility is finding
other native speakers to interact with her.
I would bet that there are people on the BPN who have
connections to pretty much whatever target language group you're
after, and they will probably offer some advice; that said, I
would imagine that the majority of BPN members are native
speakers of English; the messages are all in English! (Some
industrious person should make a BPN en Espanol!)
We're a trilingual family. I speak Spanish exclusively to my kids
and my husband speaks only French to them. Our 4 yo speaks very
good English and Spanish, and also French although not quite as
fluently. Our 2 yo speaks very good Spanish, some French and only
a little bit of English. That will probably change soon.
My recommendation is that you speak ONLY Spanish to your child.
No English at all. And that you're adamant that he/she speak
Spanish to you. Otherwise, the tendency will be to speak English.
Of course, the more exposure to Spanish the better.
If you have more questions, or you would like to hang out so that
our kids can speak Spanish together, send me an email.
Languages are an asset.
No se donde vives, pero te puedo sugerir que investigues la
Casita Bilingue en Pinole. Los precios son rasonables, por medio
dia yo pago 708/mes. Todas las maestras hablan espanol, y les
hablan a los estudiantes en espanol. Nos. hablamos los dos
idiomas, y mi hija habla muy bien el espanol, somos de Centro
America. Si tienes algunas preguntas me puedes mandar un correo
Hi, I, too, am in your situation. I'm bilingual (although my
first language is definitely English) and my husband speaks no
spanish whatsoever. We have no friends who speak spanish so I'm
basically on my own. Although my kids completely understand
spanish and respond to all requests, etc. in both language, my
oldest (4 yo) would only respond to me in English and, frankly,
still mostly does but we're making progress.
This is what has worked for us so far.
First, I employed a spanish-speaking nanny and two things
happened a) my kids started understanding and speaking more
spanish and b) my spanish improved so much that I'm speaking even
more than before. This has helped a lot since the nanny didn't
Second, and what had the greatest impact, was that I took my kids
to Argentina (where my family is from) for 5 weeks and I put my
oldest in camp there. (I know this isn't feasible for most
people but I can work from anywhere). Being surrounded by so
much spanish with everyone speaking spanish made the biggest
impact. He went from speaking no spanish at all, to speaking it
much more. So, if you can find a spanish-immersion
daycare/school, it will help a lot.
Third, I repeat what he says to me in spanish and then he'll
repeat it back to me. I even sometimes tell him I don't
understand him and to say it in spanish and he will. I think
this really helps but I admit to not being very consistent with it.
although I don't know of any spanish playgroups for kids your
age, you are welcome to contact me to see if we would be a match.
However, my youngest is only 18 months and my oldest is in
school during the day.
Bilingual kids -- one parent = one language?
My mother language is English, and my wife's is German. We want
to raise our daughter bilingually, and my wife and her friend
insist that we must use ''one parent, one language.'' My
instincts tell me that this is just an expert's opinion -- and
experts opinions change every few years. Anybody out there have
success (or failure) with two languages with or without ''one
parent, one language''? Advice? Tips? Articles to read,
websites to peruse?
I don't believe one-parent, one-language to be the only way to do
it, although it would probably work in your case. We have the
same issue at home, and since English is everywhere, we have
chosen to speak the one ''foreign'' language at home by both
parents. It has worked out fine, and given the pervasiveness of
English I think it is better to make the home have the other
language as dominant. This is especially the case if it is the
father who's native language is the foreign one -- since moms
tend to typically spend more time with the kids than the dads,
even today. I am the mom, English is my native language, and I
speak the other language with my kids. Yes I make some
grammatical and pronunciation mistakes, but it is not a big deal
and at least the kids are bilingual -- which is wonderful.
There are many ways to bring your kids up speaking more than one
language, just remember that English is pervasive and don't do
anything that would ruin your kids' chances of being totally
bilingual. I hear lots of parents that moan about their kids not
speaking back to them in the foreign language (which does happen
with virtually all older kids, but not the little ones), when it
is the parents fault for not putting in enough effort when they
I am French and speak ONLY French to my child. My husband is American
and speaks English to him (my husband doesn't speak French at
all). Our son is now 3.5 and is speaking to me more and more in
French. If he needs to repeat what he told me to his dad, he'll
automatically translate it with no effort. Our son wasn't speaking
much French for a long time so I was wondering if my dedication was
going to pay off. At some point, I suggested that he asks me for
anything he really wanted in French. That put him on the path of
making entire sentences in French, and speaking French to me happens
now more and more often. I don't correct his grammar because that
might inhibit his efforts at this age, but I do buy DVDs of cartoons
in French, and often will tell him how to say the same word in French
and English. He recently understood that speaking another language is
something special, and even if he rebels against it -like most
bilingual kids seem to- I'll be there to remind him now is the time to
learn this, and he'll be happy to have this knowledge later. If you go
to your local library and type in ''bilingual child'' you should be
able to find books on the subject -I did find good books this way, but
can't remember their titles.
During the day my 2.5 year old is cared for by my parents who
have been speaking Chinese with her. My husband knows only one
language which is English. I can manage some Chinese. It
didn't take long for her to figure out that daddy doesn't know
Chinese. After getting blank stares from her father, she only
uses English when speaking with him. She will use either one
with me depending on her mood. And she speaks Chinese mostly
with my parents as they actively discourage her use of English
with them. We expect her opportunity for daily Chinese use
will decrease once she starts preschool.
Personally I think the one parent one language idea is good.
However, if you are also fluent in German I would recommend
speaking German strictly during the first two years. Your
daughter will most likely have more opportunities to pick up
English than German as she gets older.
I too have often heard that one parent/one language is the way to
go. My daughter attended a Spanish immersion public grade school
and they taught that way with very good results; the children
only heard Spanish from their primary teacher, and went to
another teacher for their English time. And I had a friend in her
fifties who was raised in Mexico. One parent spoke English, the
other Spanish, and my friend was beautifully fluent in both.
We were in the same position - I am German, my husband English. We
really liked this book: Growing up with two languages - a practical
guide by Una Cunningham- Anderson and Staffan Anderson. A really
useful guide by parents for parents.
Re. one parent one language - some 4 years ago a researcher from
Canada gave a talk at UC Berkeley (may be someone remembers the
name?)and basically said that there's too little empirical evidence
supporting OPOL, other ways work too. We started with OPOL, but when
we decided for our kids to go to an English speaking pre-school, moved
to speaking German at home,because we wanted more exposure to the
''minority'' language. We also stocked up on German DVDs, which helps
since we don't do TV. If we have visitors, we switch. This seems to
work fine for us and our kids. I think the most important thing is
that both parents support the idea. It is more work, but don't give up
and be prepared for the ''your child will be delayed talking''
Kevin, we are in the same boat.
I speak English and my husband speaks Tibetan to our
2-1/2-year-old son. But we are having a very difficult time
making him SPEAK Tibetan. He understands it fine, but he simply
refuses to speak it.
I have heard that this is common among bilingual families here.
The kid is immersed in American culture and English-language TV,
books and radio, 24 hours a day, so you have to really persist.
So be prepared -- be sure he's around as many German speakers as
possible, and really be proactive about it.
When our boy is older around 6 or so, we plan to send him to a
Tibetan school in northern India for 3 months of language and
cultural immersion. You may want to search out similar immersion
training for your child!
Lisa in Oakland
We are raising a trilingual kid. I speak ONLY to my son in Spanish & my husband
ONLY in his language. He then gets English from everywhere else and he hears us
speak English to each other since it's the only language we (the parents) share. He is
also in a Spanish daycare. In addition, we have the family on board. They speak
whatever they are fluent in to our son. We've been doing this since birth and he is
3.5 now. It has been fantastic. He totally speaks all 3. He naturally switches between
languages depending on who is speaking to him. I highly recommend it! Language
is such a gift.
here are some resources:
Whatever you decide, just be consistent! Good luck!
Studies and personal experiences have proven that the expert
advises of using the ''one parent=one language'' approach is right.
In our family I only and exclusively speak German with our two
children and my husband ONLY speaks English with them. Both kids
are bilingual, switch easily between the two languages and have
never even thought about talking to me in any other language then
German. For them it is natural that Mami speaks one and Daddy
another language. At the dinner table the spoken language is
English while questions addressed to me or conversations between
the kids and myself are in German. If I need Daddy to understand
what we talk about I make an exception and switch to English.
I am part of a large German speaking mother's group/playgroup
(does your wife know the East Bay GerMOMs?) in which many mothers
of new babies have asked the same question and were unsure what
language to use with their baby. Most - if not all of them - now
use the ''one parent - one language'' parenting style and it works
like a charm - if you are consistent. I have a friend who
switches between German and English when talking to her boys,
with the result that her kids prefer to answer in English and
have a much larger vocabulary in their ''strong language'' while
they try to avoid the weak one. Make sure your daughter is
exposed to other sources of the German language (books, CDs, DVDs
and even German playmates) so she gets a positive feeling for the
language and understands that her mother is not using some kind
of ''secret language''. Their is plenty of literature about ''how to
raise a bilingual child'' (i.e. ''Language Strategies for Bilingual
Families: The One-Parent-One-Language Approach'', check out
www.biculturalfamily.org/may06/bookreview_opol.html) which might
be interesting for you to read ... Viel Glueck!
My BIL is english speaking and his wife speaks spanish. They
each speak to my nephew in their native tongue. By 3 he was
conversing in both languages, but sometimes he forgot and would
speak spanish to Dad. By the time he was entering grade school,
he could tell the difference between both languages and converse
aunt of a genius
What's the best approach to bilingualism in any given
family/situation can vary. I recommend the book ''The Bilingual
Family: A Handbook for Parents.'' Part of the book is a bunch of
anecdotes about all the different ways that different families in
different contexts have approached bilingualism. My husband is
German; I am a native English speaker, but can understand and
speak German at an intermediate level. I speak mostly English
with our two-year-old son (and three-month-old daughter); my
husband speaks German with them. One important factor is to what
extent the child gets equal/varied exposure to the two languages.
German is definitely the ''underdog'' language in our case: (1) we
live here, in an English environment, (2) my husband and I speak
English with one another, and (3) I'm home with the kids all day
(speaking mostly English) while my husband works full-time
outside the house. Thus, our kids get exposed to a lot more
English (and more varied sources of English) than German. So, I
speak German with the kids when I can muster my brain and mouth
to do so, and I take them to play with a playgroup of German moms
and kids weekly. In that sense, we are not strictly one
parent/one language; our strategy is more one of trying to
increase exposure to the underdog language as much as possible.
The balance of English and German may be different in your
family, which will affect your approach. Another important factor
is how each parent responds to utterances in either language. In
our case, neither of us ''forces'' our son to respond in a certain
language; my husband does not feign incomprehension or refuse to
talk with our son if our son replies in English; he just keeps up
his half of the conversation in German, regardless. We feel that,
ultimately, the relationship between parent and child, and making
our kids feel loved and valued, is more important than pushing
the bilingual issue. So far this is how it's turning out in our
case: our two-year-old understands both languages very well
(i.e., is ''receptively bilingual''), speaks English very well, and
usually responds to German with English or a mix of German and
My wife and I are also raising our daughter bilingually, and have
never stuck to the rigid ''one parent one language'' rule because
we love both languages. Both of us are fluent in each other's
native languages, but since we live in the States, we have
decided to use the foreign language as our ''home'' tongue,
(although we often end up speaking English anyway). The upshot of
this is that, so far, our 20 month old understands the 'foreign'
language about 20% better than English, but for the most part
understands both pretty well. Her speech is a little behind other
toddlers we've seen, but we've never worried because, hey, she's
learning two languages at once! She IS learning, and delights in
speaking both words for one object.
When one of us reads to her, the other will often translate, and
she loves this. We also purposefully switch languages sometimes,
so that she doesn't associate one language with one parent - in
order to teach her that both of us are comfortable in both
Our goal is to have her, like us, switch easily between these
tongues (and any others!).
In any case, the best advice I can give you is to do what feels
most natural, because you won't stick to anything else. Also, we
believe living in the other country is in fact necessary, so we
recommend you spend as much time in Germany as possible with your
child. It's hard to do, what with jobs and all, and is expensive,
but utterly worth it. You're giving your kid a priceless gift!
Whatever Works For You
A friend of mine has raised her child speaking Hebrew, Dutch, and
English. I haven't seen them in a long time, but by the time the
child was two, he could speak and understand large chunks of all
three languages,though English was dominant. Boy, was I impressed!
My husband is turkish speaker and he speaks mostly turkish to
I speak severeal languages, but when we decided on languages we
decided on only two. English and Turkish, because in the family
communication I speak Turkish and English addition to other
languages and my husband speaks Turkish.
My daughter turned out to be bilingual. She is 6 now.
Speaks both languages.
From the point of ECE/ESL teacher I tell you no matter how many
languages you expose your child to, he or she will get all that
you give him or her.
Early language exposure is very important to the life of the
infant. They develop cognitive skills in both languages and
results are wonderful.
You may contact me for more information if you need.
I have to agree with your wife. Unless you speak German and
then i would say you should BOTH speak to your child in german.
I am French and my husband American. I have always spoken
french to my son and i am a stay at home mom. At 15 months you
don't see yet how much the environment is affecting her
language skills... was a huge surprise to me. Even though i
only speak french to my 2.5 year old and even don't have
english speaking toys in the house he has learned an AMAZING
amount of english words. He understands both and knows the
words her knows in both as well...yet he often choses to start
in english even with me. The environment is overwhealmingly
english because that's what she hears outside and she need as
much reinforcement as possible. He goes to a french daycare two
afternoons a week and yet the kids speak english to each other.
On a side note, my mom is visiting and now that there are
language reinfrcement in the house (she doesn't speak english),
his french is taking over. SO i would say yes to the system
your wife says...but if you speak german speak it to
her...trust me she will learn english no matter what if you
My husband and I speak both Spanish and English and we have
spoken to our two year old in both languages. I am not sure what
the ''experts'' say, but I can tell you that my daughter knows how
to use both languages, she speaks spanish to grandma and uses
both languages when she is with her mommy and daddy. I find that
it is better for a child to learn both languages as infancy is
the BEST TIME to learn to speak, why not two languages. think
about how hard it is to learn a language at our age? Check out
this website, there is tons of information that will help you
make a decision, this is to their pros/cons section.
Reading in non-native language
There have been a couple of posts about raising bilingual
children recently. I have a specific question that I'd like
your input to. I'm speaking in my native language (turkish) to
my 15 month old son almost all the time (except occasionally
when my in-laws are around or sometimes when he is playing with
other kids). I also translate all the english books when I read
to him in addition to reading him in turkish. Now that he is
getting more and more aware of the connection between letters,
words, and sounds I'm wondering if I should read the books in
their written language. Will it be confusing to him if I start
reading to him in english? or would it be better for me not to
read in english at all and leave that to my husband? Any
insight? Thank you
i went through the same thing with my daughter who is now 3
years old. i only spoke/read to hear in french when she was a
baby but then, as the books became more sofisticaded, i found
it hard and tirying to constantly be translating. it makes for
a much less fluent story and you can't always translate all the
subtlilities, like a joke or an expression. BUT, BEWARE! once
you start doing that, your child will make the connection
between you and speaking english. when my daughter started
speaking her first words and not quite yet making sentences,
she spoke 99% french. as i found myself reading/talking to her
in english once in a while (for the sake of playmate or other
mothers in the room), she slowly started speaking english as
well. it coincided with the time that she entered pre-school
and within weeks i could see (hear!) all the french words
dropping out of her vocabulary as she constructed her sentences
in english. now she's 3, she understands everything i say in
french but can't speak it anymore, and it brakes my heart! my
advice: stick with YOUR language, (i know, it's really hard at
times) and very early on require that your kid answers to you
ONLY in your language and pretend not to understand her when
she speaks english. but do it early on, don't wait for her to
start connecting the dotts in her mind. i have another
daughter (8 months old) and i will definitely use this method
on her this time around! good luck.
My advice is: Keep reading and speaking to your child in
I am Dutch and I am married to an American. I speak solely
Dutch to the children (2 and 5 yrs old) and my husband speaks
English. I also translated books from English into my native
language and I believe that it only made my daughter become
better at speaking both languages. Both children are now bi-
lingual and I believe that it has everything to do with the
fact that I exposed them as much to my native language as I
About half a year ago, my 2-yr old went through a phase where
he started talking to me in English. I never told him that he
couldn't do that, but I did always repeat it back to him in
Dutch. This lasted maybe 2 weeks and then he automatically
switched to speaking Dutch to me and English to my husband. The
same happened to our 5-yr old and she is completely fluent in
I have several Dutch friends who were less adamant about their
child speaking our native language and none of their children
will speak Dutch. They completely understand it, but will only
reply in English. I never make my children feel like they did
something wrong when they speak English to me, but I will
ALWAYS repeat what they say in Dutch.
I heard that children sometimes get embarassed about being
different and as a result will refuse to speak their 2nd
language. My daughter is extremely proud of the fact that she
is bilingual and her environment (friends and family) are very
supportive and compliment her about it.
I am now teaching our daughter how to read in Dutch. There are
many differences in sounding the letters, but she is doing a
great job. I never ask her if she wants to learn to read in
Dutch - she asks me! I think, of course, that she is a very
bright child, but to be totally honest; she's a normal child.
She isn't an Einstein, or something.
So keep up the good work and in a couple of years you'll be a
super-proud mommy (like me!) of your bilingual child!
Keep reading and speaking to him in Turkish. Having spent three weeks in Turkey
earlier this year, I found Turkish an incredibly difficult language to speak and
understand, so learning it now will make it easier on your child. The best time to learn
a language is when a child is young. Your child will go off to pre-school and then
kindergarten and can learn English then
My son is 10 and I have only just started last year with reading
him books in English because it becomes too difficult to
translate. Because we live here, and he goes to an English
speaking school, English is his first and primary language. His
level of fluency and comfort is in this language, even though he
speaks my native language (Dutch) fluently. It is very easy to
loose the second language. Even now I find myself speaking
English to him when I am frustrated and I am suprised how easy
it is for him to communicate in back in English. If I would
speak only English from now on, his Dutch would dissapear very
quickly. Therefor it is extremely important to have a very
strong foundation in your native language, where you read and
speak to him in that language. He gets enough English around him
as it is. This is such a gift you can give your child, keep it
My two-year-old daughter currently spends three days/week being
cared for by a bilingual babysitter who speaks Spanish to the
kids. My husband and I are both native English speakers, and I
speak fairly decent Spanish (and he speaks a little). My
daughter is somewhat bilingual, though her English is miles ahead
of her Spanish. This fall she's starting preschool and will no
longer have any regular exposure to Spanish. I try to speak
Spanish to her some, but truth be told it's not that much (and
she'll only speak English back to me). I strongly value
multilingualism and would really like to encourage and develop
her Spanish. I'm trying to figure out what I can do that will
keep her from forgetting everything before she starts
kindergarten. It's easy to get her videos and books in Spanish,
I can try to speak it with her some, but I doubt that's enough.
I know that she needs to spend time around monolingual Spanish
speakers, but how? Unfortunately I work very long hours (medical
resident) so I can't just hang out at a park in Fruitvale until I
start meeting the moms. Anyone out there have any success
maintaining a language learned from a caregiver after the kid
left that person's care? My husband feels much less strongly
about this than I do so I don't think he'd go for a bilingual
school or preschool. Specific places and times of
toddler/preschool activities in Spanish would be particularly
There is a new pre-K through grade 8 bilingual Spanish/English
private school that is currently being organized in the East Bay.
They plan to open in fall 2006, and I believe they are looking
for a site in the Berkeley/Albany/Oakland area. I personally do
not know a lot about it, but you can check out their website:
With all due respect, but what is your goal? If you want your
child to be truly bilingual, then it takes a commitment- it
takes classes, friends, schooling, time.
From your posting, it sounds like this ''My child has been
playing the piano for the last two years, but now we've gotten
rid of the piano. I don't have time to take her to piano
lessons and my husband doesn't really support piano playing.
Given all these obstacles, what have others done to make sure
that your child learns to play the piano?'' If this is truly
your situation, then wait until your child is a little older and
enroll her in a private school or excellent public school which
has Spanish classes. Kindergarten is not too old to start
learning a language and there are many good immersion programs
around the Bay Area. You can do what you can with books until
then, but don't worry about what she loses, she can get it back.
If, instead, your goal is to really work more toward
bilingualism now, then I have lots of suggestions, but I don't
know where you live (and given your tight schedule and the
distance this network covers, knowing that would be helpful).
Most important to her language development, however, is your
language development. So, attending activities is so less
important than your interaction with her. You should do your
best to speak and read Spanish to her and to improve your
skills. Practice on the job with other native speakers and
you'll feel more confident to bring that home. Bring out those
old dictionaries, conjungation sheets and high school workbooks
and build her vocabulary through your re-learning.
Just trying to be realistic not negative- smile.
I am native Italian, and my children (4 and 6) barely understand it and don't
speak it at all.
Now they seem interested in learning and I am looking for some help.
Other then speaking Italian to them, what should I do?
I know it is not too late, and this time I really would like to be rigorous!
Do I need books, videos, classes (if any available), etc... Thanks.
I am italian and I have a 6 y.o. practically bilingual
daughter. Please contact me directly, if you wish, for
I am completely bilingual, and so far I have managed to keep my kids bilingual,
though they both lean heavily towards English. When I was growning up, my
parents spoke ONLY Japanese in the house. It was a strictly observed rule. I speak
only Japanese to my kids, and they are supposed to speak only Japanese to each
other. They have both attended and one still attends a native Japanese school every
Saturday. My older child started off speaking only Japanese, but now her Japanese
is starting to get iffy. I've known many kids who have two Native Japanese parents
that end up not speaking Japanese. Playmates that speak the language help a lot,
but most often when they start school, the kids start playing in English.
What I'm trying to say is, it takes real dedication, dicipline and conviction to keep
this language thing going. Keeping a language in a society with a different
language takes lots of work, though I wouldn't have it any other way. To me it's
worth it, but it only gets harder as the kids get older!
Also remember that once a child reaches 5 or 6, the language is never lost. Even if
the child stops speaking Spanish, when he/she decides to learn it again, what he
picked up earier will come back.
(to the native Italian parent) I am also native Italian,
with an American wife. She speaks Italian pretty well but
understandably prefers to speak English to the children.
My children are 3 and 9. Other than speaking to them
in Italian, I buy pretty much all of our videos from
www.dvd.it, and they are allowed to watch them with the
Italian soundtrack only. Books also work well until
about 6 years old, when they no longer need an adult
to enjoy a book. (I read a couple of Harry Potter books
in Italian to my elder daughter). Check out www.ibs.it.
Before 9/11 we had au pairs from Italy with 6-month
tourist visas. Now they don't give out 6-month visas
any longer and 3 months is a bit too short. But of
course the most useful experience of all is to visit
relatives in Italy---that's when they hear a lot of
Italian and switch to it pretty quickly. Each time I
noticed a large change after about 2 weeks.
I have a close friend who is a linguist specialized in language
aquisition and many friends and family members who speak to
their children in a language which is not the dominant language
where they live. My friend has told me that the key to
bilinguilism in these situations is for the mother (or father --
but because mothers usually spend more time with their children
it works better with them) to be consistent in using this second
language every time she addresses her child. It does not matter
that the child speak back only in English (in the US), because
the child is assimilating even without speaking. Consistency is
key. For some linguists, language aquisition takes place even
much after the age of four, so in their view older children can
become bilingual if exposed to another language later in
childhood. Another very helpful strategy according to my
linguist friend is to expose the child to videos and TV in the
other language daily or as much as possible. It is more
effective if the child is watching new programs or films as
opposed to the same 6 videos all the time. I have seen the
effectiveness of this strategy as well.
The best success stories of friends and family around me are of
mothers who are consistent in speaking the other language with
their children. They do this even when there are other people
around who may find it rude or weird, explaining their reasons.
One of my friends is American and learned Spanish as an adult
and has spoken Spanish consistently with her daughter since she
was born. Her 12 year old daughter speaks Spanish fluently.
I know Berkeley has at least 2 bilingual public schools (one is
Cragmont). On the other hand, children in my family who have
not had consistent exposure from parents do speak and understand
the second language, but with greater limitations in terms of
vocabulary, grammar and fluency.
Finally, since I am bilingual, I would just like to add that
acquiring a second language with no effort as I did with
exposure from an early age is priceless. It has opened doors and
affected my life in so many respects, it would be impossible to
list all of them (professionally, travel, friendships etc). If
anyone can give this gift to your child, by all means make the
effort to do it and you will not regret it.
I am a native Italian mum with two mainly English-speaking kids (well, the second
one does not really speak yet - but i know he'll speak English first...). Here's my
advice, for the Spanish speaking mom as well: I have found that the most important
thing is one's own commitment to speaking (and reading, and watching movies
etc..) the foreign(native) language. I ALWAYS speak Italian to my daughter. She
almost never replies to me in Italian, and I never push her to do so. She is exposed
to way too much English to ask her to do such an effort. But she does understand
Italian perfectly, and will in fact look at me amazed if I talk to her in English. I have
come to accept the fact that maintaining her ability to understand Italian is the most
important thing I can do for her, without forcing her active involvement. And from
time to time she surprises me by trying to answer in Italian, or by quoting by heart
the Italian books I read to her. When my mother comes visit, my daughter realizes
that my mom does not understand English, and makes a big effort to speak Italian
to her, and actually manages to communicate. I am sure that when she will be old
enough (she is 3 1/2) to spend some time in Italy with the ''nonni'' and her cousins
she will end up speaking fluent Italian. To the Spanish-speaking mother I
recommend trying to keep a level of consistency in her speaking Spanish to her
child, as well as of course finding other Spanish-speaking activities (I am sure you'll
get a lot of answers about that).
As for products, groups etc. in Italian, there are groups of Italian parents meeting
regularly at Royal Caffe, in Rockridge, and there is a Friday morning child-care
program for Italian children starting this fall.
As for products: I have lots of Italian DVDs and books, you can easily find a DVD
player that reads European DVDs as well, or use a european computer. She does not
watch a lot of movies anyway, but it's a start. We also (my boyfriend is trying to
improve his Italian too) read them books in Italian, play Italian kids' songs, etc.
I know of a company called ''Professor Toto''' that has very good educational DVDs in
Spanish, French and English, and will soon have an Italian version.
You can email me if you would like to have more info on that. Good luck to both of
My husband and I are expecting our first child (a girl)! I'm
wondering if anyone out there has advice about how to raise a
child to speak two languages. We speak English in our home,
although my husband is fluent in Spanish. (I understand a lot of
Spanish, though am not always comfortable speaking it.) His
parents speak only Spanish. Mine only English. We feel it's
important that our daughter be able to communicate in Spanish
with her grandparents, and to be fluent in Spanish. But I also
worry that trying to teach her two languages at once may be
confusing for her and delay speech, and since she'll have to be
in day care before age two, I worry about her not being able to
communicate. Does anyone have any experience with this
firsthand, or recommend any research or books on speech
development in bilingual children?
Your daughter is very lucky to have a chance to become
bilingual. I'm a mother of four bilingual (English/Finnish)
children. I strongly feel that the best gift I've been able to give
my children is their bilingualism/biculturalism. Kids are
amazing....they are not limited to learning one language. In
most of the world, children grow up with more than one
language. And your second one being Spanish....what
better combinaton in California!
Children may mix-up languages at the beginning...but figure
the separate systems out quickly. The mixing is the result of
using everything they have in their possession to
communicate; and lucky them...they have two languages to
use. Your job is to provide your daughter with enough input
in each language. Luckily, with Spanish that is easy. Make
sure your husband will start speaking Spanish from the
moment your daughter is born....or even before (songs,
books). According to some research, the auditory maps of
babies are completed by the time they're 6 months old, so
you want to make sure all the sounds necessary for the two
langauges are included for her. You will also benefit from a
Spanish-speaking daycare, play groups, etc. Excellent
books, a newsletter, etc. are available from Multilingual
Matters. I have been writing an ongoing 'process'-article
based on my experiences for years; I can send it to you if
you're interested. Feel free to get in touch!
Good luck! Buen suerte! Sirpa
PS. A bonus: most bilingual children become multilingual
adults, due to their interest and ease of adding other
For the mom who comments ''But I also worry that trying to teach
her two languages at once may be confusing for her and delay
speech'', I would like to say that, outside the US, all over the
world, people routinely learn at least 2-3 languages as children
with no ill effects whatsoever. Though I was born here I was
lucky (or curious) enough to have learned 4-plus, and although
this flabbergasts many folks here it is quite routine elsewhere.
I can't express what a joy it has been to speak other languages
well. It has made my life far more interesting. Probably the
best method is for each parent to speak his/her native tongue,
and encourage the child to learn a third in school, such as
French. I discovered that once I got Spanish and French under
control by studying (and only a little of this was in school),
it was not much more work to understand Portuguese and Italian,
Catalan, and Provencal, and even a bit of Romanian. The thrill
of being able to understand so many people is absolutely
indescribable, ecstatic. The history of the world is embedded in
language in ways you could never guess. Good luck and keep your
kid going with languages without fear!
berkeleynurse at earthlink
I am now working on raising my third trilingual child. My oldest is 13 and is
quadrilingual. She speaks Spanish at home, French at school, German with one
grandma and English with everyone else. She is at the top of her class and has
never been confused. My other children are not confused either and none were
delayed in speaking. In fact, they are incredibly verbal. I know plenty of
monolingual kids who have delayed speach. But really what does that matter if
in the end they are bilingual.
My daughter started pre-school speaking very little English but was managing
English quite well after a couple of weeks. She was 4 years old when she
learned English and just scored in the 99th percentile on her verbal English
score for sixth grade.
The benefits of being bilingual are numerous and yet many people seem to be
afraid that allowing their children to learn more than one language might have
some ill effect on them. Not only will your children not get confused or speak
late because of bilingualism, their verbal ablilty will quite likely surpass
that of their monolingual peers.
Your husband should definitely speak in Spanish to your child. You can also
participate by reading books to your child and learning Spanish children's
songs. I participate in a Spanish-language play-group which you could also
look for when your child is one or two.
One thing to note is that it is very hard to keep children speaking a language
that is not English. Even children who come from pure Spanish-speaking
homes tend to speak more English than Spanish as the result of the
overwhelming influence of our mass media and surroundings. Learning English
will definetly not be a problem, maintaining Spanish could be.
Speaking Spanish will give your child pride in their heritage and connect them
with their grandparents who could have a profound relationship with them.
Spanish will open doors to relationships that would otherwise be closed and
vastly improve their prospects of getting a job in the future. I hope my
perspective helps you and good luck with your new baby
I had the same questions as you regarding a bilingual
child/household. My husband and I are both Latino, but neither
of us was raised in Spanish-speaking families. My husband
learned Spanish in college and through extended work experience
in Latin America; I still struggle with decent comprehension, but
no confidence in speaking. We are raising our 1-yr. old with
100% Spanish from ''papm'' and 90% Eng./10% Span. from ''mommy.''
I worried that we were confusing our son when mommy says ''ball''
and papm says ''pelota.'' How would he know which was ''right'' when
learning to speak? All I can tell you is that our son's verbal
aquisition has been lighting fast. He clearly understands both
simple commands in English and Spanish. It's been truly amazing.
He has many words and very good comprehension for his age. I'm
just not worrying about confusing him anymore, and I would
encourage you to proceed with sharing both languages with your
child if that is truly important to you.
Please speak both languages to your child from day one! There is
absolutely NO evidence whatsoever that being raised bilingually is
confusing (in fact, this is a very monolingual belief; children
all over the world are raised bilingually, and in many cases,
trilingually). Brain scans of bilingual children show that they
have activated more of their brain than monolingual children.
There is a slight delay in speech production of bilingual
children, as they are working with two separate linguistic
systems; there is NO delay in language comprehension! Not only
are you passing on a language, but you are passing on a set of
beliefs, a culture, an identity, and much more. Finally, language
classes at UC Berkeley are filled with students whose parents
chose to speak only English with them, and now as young adults,
they are enrolled in Chinese 1, Spanish 1, French 1, and so on,
trying to reclaim a language that was never taught to them. Do
your child a favor, and speak in both languages. It is a plus for
everyone (including society as a whole).
Ph.D. in Linguistics and Pro Bilingual!
My husband was raised in a tri-lingual environment (English,
German and Spanish) and we are raising our children in English
and German. It's the best possible gift you can give them and
it does nothing but good for the child's development, not to
mention language skills.
I'm in the same situation as you. My husband is from El Salvador,
and his parents speak only Spanish. I think it's crucial that our
son speak Spanish well, but I am not comfortable enough in
Spanish to have it be the main language of the household.
Research on raising children bilingual shows that children
benefit from learning more languages at an early age in terms of
the neurological connections they make. They also begin with
muscles in their mouths that allow them to pronounce any
language, and the unused muscles disappear when they get older.
So the earlier, the better. One of the key findings is that
children learn the languages they NEED to learn. So many children
begin bilingual and then allow their non-dominant (not English)
language to become passive when they figure out that they can
answer back in English, even if they continue to understand the
non-dominant language. Plenty of exposure to the grandparents who
don't speak English will help with this, as will being in places
where Spanish is the dominant language. Some children speak a
little later when they are processing two languages, but then
manage them both well.
I've witnessed several approaches that seem to work. In one
family I grew up with, the father spoke to the children only in
French, and the mother only in English. They also took regular
trips to France. The children, now in college, speak both
languages well. One of my nieces speaks Spanish very well because
her mother insisted that she answer back in Spanish always, and
that is the dominant language of the household. My other nephews
and nieces don't do so well, as their parents, who both speak
Spanish, allow them to respond in English. Once there is more
than one child, it's also harder, because they bring English into
the house from school.
Our approach is to have my husband speak as much Spanish to our
son as possible, and for me to speak English. We also try to see
the Spanish speaking grandparents regularly, play Spanish music,
and are looking into Spanish speaking preschools for when the
time comes. I would encourage you to try to raise your child
bilingual as much as possible; the early years are not the really
tough ones, it's the later maintenance of the language that can
I am struggling as a Tamil-American parent to pass on the Tamil
language to our children. I am married to a Scandanavian-American
and we speak English at home. They know few words here and
there, but I would love to be able to immerse them somehow in
Tamil a few hours a day, but how? Any suggestions? Most Tamils
live in the South BAy, so, it would be difficult to go so far!
thanks for any suggestions!
My son who is seven now speaks very well in Hindi. But I have to
tell you that it has been a long hard road to get here. Specially
because everyone around him has been talking in English. I am not
sure how old your children are but between the ages of four and
seven is the best time to learn your native language. Later than
seven it is really hard to pick up tones. When my son was three
and someone told me this, I really got nervous and started right
away. The first rule is you always talk to them in Tamil, there
will be months when they keep replying back in English and you
will keep talking in Tamil and that is frustrating but slowly that
will begin to change. Children learn really fast and will be
really proud of themselves once they have learnt a bit. Listening
to songs and watching movies in the native language has helped us.
If you visit India often, that will make a huge difference. My
son just progressed by leaps and bounds once we started making the
effort to go to India often. Keep talking to them in Tamil and
they will thank you forever for it.
My one-year old is exposed to 2 different languages. My husband and I
have spoken and read to our baby in 2 different languages from birth.
Additionally, we are planning on adding American Sign Language (as a
third language?) to give him another tool/means to communicate with
us. So far, he has been able to say only a couple of words. I am a
bit concerned that all this exposure may delay the development of his
verbal skills (due to confusion). Can this be too much for an
one-year old? Any suggestions or books/research on this matter?
First things first: congratulations on teaching your child
to be bilingual! I did some research in this area a while
ago, and now I find I've forgotten most of what I read.
However, I do remember reading that one way to help your
child become bilingual is to have one parent speak one
language to the child exclusively, while the other parent
speaks the alternate language. I think some theories
position that children are 'hardwired' to develop grammar,
and mixing up two languages can confuse their natural
grammar abilities a little (they hear two unique grammars,
and have a hard time understanding the rules of each as a
result.) Even if you don't feel like doing this, I would
think that the ultimate benefits of bilinguality (more
creativity, understanding of different cultures, not to
mention just knowing two languages) would outweigh any
possible delays. I am interested to see other posts about
this to know if I am correct.
As for teaching sign language as well, I'm not sure how
this would affect those grammar abilities. Signing is
unique in that you can speak english or another language
while you sign, so the languages are more simultaneous,
although usually it is impossible to maintain both ASL
grammar and another spoken language grammar at the same
time for long. I don't know how fluent you are, and if you
planned on using ASL grammar and not speaking while you
sign. As you probably know, signing with children is very
beneficial, and they can usually produce many signs before
they can say words. I will look into this more for you
(and for my own curiosity) but it may take some time, so
please email me and I'll let you know what I learn.
i think the more exposure to different languages now, the
better in the long run. boys tend to develop language
skills more slowly than girls anyways, so i wouldn't worry
about that yet. my son didn't utter his first word until
he was 18 months, whereas my daughter spoke before age 1.
both of them were exposed to 2 or 3 languages in infancy.
my son heard english and spanish and then mandarin. my
daughter hears english and mandarin.
Our family only has one language, however, I have
heard from bilingual families that it does take kids
exposed to multiple languages longer to start talking--
they understand both, but the talking part takes longer.
Once it clicks, however, they just take off verbally.
As for sign language, we taught our son some ASL
signs, and it was great fun. I used a book called
Signing For Kids, by Mickey Floodin. It's a beginner's
book, but has most of the signs you'd want for a toddler
and good, clear diagrams about how to make the
When we started, someone told me to start with just
three signs, use them over and over whenever I used
the word--you might want to the same sign with both
languages--and wait until my son was able to use
those three before adding more. To be honest, I didn't
want to wait. But it was good advice. Once he got the
three, it was clear he understood what sign language
was, and I was able to show him a new sign just a few
times before he learned it.
One more note, don't be concerned about your son
saying only a few words at one year old. That's normal
with only one language in the family and gives no
indication about his ultimate verbal abilities. So try to
relax and enjoy the next year as language comes
pouring out of you son!
The book _Bilingual Families_ gives good information on
language acquisition in bilingual and multilingual
households. It's clearly written, not preachy, and (I
believe) relatively easy to find.
It's pretty normal for monolingual children to speak only a
few words at one year, so I think it's too early to worry.
My older daughter wasn't saying anything at a year either,
and but these days (at 3.5) she can outtalk most of her
friends in English. For various reasons, her French
proficiency is about a year behind that.
I would like to hear about your experiences with children that grew up
with two or more languages. We have a 2 1/2 month old son and since
we cherish our mother tongues we would like him to master German and
French just like any native speaker. I try to talk to my son as much
as I can in German. However, when Daddy is close by, I often switch to
French which is our common language of communication. During the day,
my son is essentially exposed to English due to daycare now.
I am afraid that French might become the predominant and preferred
language of my son. This is of course not a problem, but I still would
like him to be able to talk in an accent-free German. I am wondering
which is the age when the kids are most open to learn a language
perfectly. Is there something like a preferred language? Might he
refuse to talk to me in German later if the family language is rather
French? Will his German be so so, spoken with a French accent if I
talked in French to him quite a bit? How important is bilingual
education at school and the environment in all this? Is it possible at
all that one can learn two or three true mother languages equally
At his baby age will our son be very confused to have to learn three
different words for everything? Could it be easier for him if he
associated the German word with me, the French words only with daddy,
the English ones with his nanny? Is it likely that he will talk rather
late due to such a complex situation?
I would very much appreciate peoples' comments and observations on
My son just turned three and he speaks two languages fluently. I started
speaking Dutch to him right from the start, and his father speaks English
to him. I never intermingled the two languages. I only speak Dutch to
him, even when we are in a large group of just English speakers. When he
just started saying some words, I would say at about 18 months, he would
mix them up. When he was about 2 1/2, he really knew the difference. He
would speak Dutch with me and English with everyone else. Now, he even
translates to me when someone tells him something in English. It is a lot
of work to teach your child another language when everything surrounding
him is in English, but it can work. The one thing is consistency. You
have to keep the languages separate and only speak one language. Once you
start mixim them together, your child will get confused. Also, keep
repeating everything your child says but then with the correct
pronunciation, instead of "correcting." When they hear it the right way
often enough, they take it over. My son is in day-care full-time now, so
it is more challenging than ever to keep up the Dutch, especially since
he comes home everyday with many new English words that he has not yet
heard in Dutch. But I always tell him, "this is the English word, and
this is the Dutch word for it." He does remember to say the word in Dutch
the next time. Once in a while when he wants to be silly, he talks to me
in English. It sounds harsh, but I ignore him until he talks to me in
Dutch. I know he understands. Once, I was not paying attention and he
asked me a question in Dutch, which I answered with "sure honey, just a
minute," when he told me (in Dutch) "mom, you speak Dutch with me." I
hope that he will always speak Dutch, but there might be a time that he
will refuse. But as long as I speak it, he will at least understand it.
It will be interesting to see the long-term results.
There is a very good book on the subject that might help -- it's full of case
studies of situations not unlike yours! The title is "The Bilingual Family:
A Handbook for Parents" by Edith Harding and Philip Riley, published by
Cambridge University Press. I ordered mine, but I think I saw it at Barnes
and Noble -- you might give them a call.
Hi! What I've heard is that when the two parents each speak a different language,
it's best to have each parent focus on their
own language with the child (whatever language is most comfortable to you). As for
learning without an accent, the accent usually comes in as a result of
learning the language after the critical period for language has passed
(ie around 10-12 years). Presumably, if your child hears your native
French and your spouse's native German (and everyone elses native
English), he will learn the languages without accents. A lot of it has to
do with hearing- a young infant makes all sounds possible to human
languages. By about 6 months, s/he starts making only the sounds that
s/he has been hearing ("cooing" vs. "babbling" I believe). This is why
it's so hard to learn accent-free language later in life- we have simply
lost the ability to make some of the appropriate sounds for the "new"
I think as long as the languages are natural to your speech with the
child (and not a drill to try to instill early learning), he will have no
problem learning to speak each. However, it is known to take a little
while longer! My partner is German and I am American- he speaks to our
son primarily (but not exclusively) in German, I speak primarily in
English, as do most other people he knows (I am learning German, so I
practice talking to my son in German, and I also know some French, so I
read him children's stories once in a while that are in French). Now that
Zak is 22 months (and we have both heard his father's German speech for
about the same time), Zak clearly understands much more of it than do I.
He is starting to talk, a little bit slower than some of his age-mates but
still within normal ranges, and uses both German and English words,
although at this point he has many more English words. I don't think
he'll necessarily pick up the French (especially since I'm not a native
speaker), but maybe it'll be easier for him to learn later if he chooses
to do so.
Good luck! In any event, it is definite that learning earlier is much
easier than learning later, so it's not going to hurt your son to hear
several languages, even if he chooses to express himself in just one of
them (he'll probably understand the others, if nothing else!).
Re: bilingual kids:Our son, now almost 3, has grown up speaking two
languages: Hebrew at home and with our family and English at daycare
and "around town". He speaks both languages well now, although he did
start to speak a bit late. Amazingly, he knows what language is the
"right" one for each situation and always answers a question in the
language asked. He does not mix languages often, even when he can't
find the right word. He usually resorts to a literal description
("that blue thing") as opposed to inserting a word in the opposite
My feeling is that he has picked up these two languages well because
they were being spoken to him constantly. He also hears songs in both
languages, and watches videos, and has books read to him, so that the
language goes beyond conversation. We have also begun showing him the
Hebrew letters as he is already mastering the English alphabet at
Sometimes I have the feeling that if someone spoke another language
with him, he'd pick that up too! It seems that kids at this age are
just sponges, soaking anything and everything up! Good luck! - Hagit
Does anyone living in a bilingual household where one partner speaks two
languages and the other only speaks English have any thoughts that they
could share with me about their experiences?
My brother is expecting a new baby. His wife is bilingual and he is not.
Several questions have arisen for him:
--what does hearing two languages from birth do for language and cognative
development? Can it delay learning english or does it enhance language
--how does the situation in which one parent and child speak a language
fluently affect the parent who does not have the same command of the second
language? What happens in the social dynamics of a family in this
situation? Is there the potential for exclusion and if so how can one best
( Obviously, the ideal situation would be for english-only parent to learn
the second language as well, but this is easier said then done, especially
when one is working full time and does not have extreme facility with
Any advice, personal experience or suggested reading that members of the
list could offer on the topic would be greatly appreciated.
My 19 months old daughter is growing up with German and English. My husband speaks English only, and I speak German with her and only English if someone else in the room needs to understand what I'm saying to her. She understands instruction in both languages and forms two to three word sentences in both languages. I have not read one book about how to do it right and I probably won't, because I don't have specific expectations about her mastery of German, as long as she can communicate her needs. Everything above is a bonus. So far, it has been a lot of fun, she seems to know that there are two words for everything. Often she will pick whichever word is easier to pronounce and sometimes she will say both words in both languages. "Two cars" she will tell me and when I say "Ja, zwei Autos" she will repeat "zwei Autos" with a big smile while pointing at the cars. I am not concerned about leaving my husband out, because I won't. He learns a little bit along the way, because he wants to understand every word she says.
As her communication gets more complex, I will simply translate whenever appropriate. However, I think it is important to keep in mind in which country the child is going to grow up and accept/ understand that the child naturally will and should give priority to the language spoken there.
Hi, I haven't been following the digest very closely lately
so I might have missed others' replies, but there was a discussion
recently on the child language acquisition mailing list*
on a similar question about bilingual households.
--what does hearing two languages from birth do for language and cognative
development? Can it delay learning english or does it enhance language
Yes and yes. It does temporarily delay learning English, BUT
in the long term (by school age) English is fine AND future language
learning capability, and other cognitive abilities, are enhanced.
You have to keep each language separate though, and the recommended
way is to have each parent speak exclusively one language in the presence
of the child. The point is to not model mixing languages up with one another.
There is a good and practical book but I don't remember
who wrote it, whose main idea is "one parent - one language".
There is also a book edited by Ellen Bialystok that might be useful.
I know less about the social aspects, but there is research on that too.
One of the world's experts on bilingualism (especially the social aspects)
is Susan Ervin-Tripp, a professor in UCB's psych dept, but I don't know if
she is retired now or not.
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