Being a working mom, I sometimes feel guilty to go on for a jog on the weekends and lose precious time with my daughter, so I’ll take her with me. Of course, I don’t really get in a good workout, but I’ve had some great moments outside with her.
One Saturday morning as we walked around a track she put her hand in mine and said, “Mami, do you speak Spanglish, like me?”
I stifled a laugh. Where did this come from? Who told her that she speaks Spanglish? I’m sure the family has brought it up at some point. The thing is, I couldn’t laugh, and I couldn’t even fuss over how cute it was, because her relationship with speaking Spanish seems tenuous right now. And I couldn’t mess with that. She is now realizing she speaks two languages, and sometimes, she refuses to speak Spanish.
Raising a bilingual child in Alabama is not easy! It’s not for the faint of heart. My husband grew up speaking Spanish from birth. I actually didn’t learn any Spanish until I was seven. My family moved back to El Paso near my mom’s family, and I learned by immersion. (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, I speak “todo mocho.” )
But we’re trying to teach our daughter Spanish without any inherent context. When I moved back to El Paso, if I wanted to get to know my abuela, I had no choice but to learn. There was also TV, and signs everywhere are bilingual, and people move effortlessly between the languages. We don’t have that here.
So the result has been hard work. I’m compiling what I put into every day practice to raise a bilingual child the best I can.
So here are my unscientific tips on raising a bilingual child:
1. Be consistent!
One thing I really try to focus on with parenting in general is being consistent. It’s very easy to slip into an English-only pattern. Sophia sometimes refuses to repeat words or ask for things in Spanish. Sometimes she pretends not to understand or know the words. I don’t force it, but I am consistent about trying to speak Spanish every day. I also ask my family to speak to her in Spanish. If she wants something, I hold out until she asks for it in Spanish or repeats a new word. I suspect that Sophia doesn’t like my American accent compared to the Puerto Rican accent of my suegros. Hardy-har. Which leads me to my next tip:
2. Be confident!
My Spanish is conversational. So what. That’s why I involve the rest of my family. My goal is for Sophia to speak an educated Spanish, and for that I plan to hire a tutor later.
3. Sing songs in Spanish
Because hearing your child sing “Los Pollitos” will melt your heart. We’re both prone to randomly burst into song and dance, so this is easy. If you don’t know or don’t remember the lyrics of songs, try the Youtube channel MrLearnSpanish and learn them together!
4. TV shows and movies in Spanish!
So I have access via regular cable to one channel in Spanish, Univision. Apparently they play something like Pocoyo at the crack of dawn on Saturday, and that’s it. This is one reason we were “cord-cutters” for years. All you have to do is take your child’s DVDs and actually use the language function. Sometimes Sophia complains when I put it in “Spanglish.” But for the most part she doesn’t seem to notice. She accepts both languages equally. She was excited to watch Frozen in “Spanglish” the other day, even though she has memorized the songs in English.
Hulu has a variety of kids shows in Spanish, all available via Hulu Plus (the subscription). Amazon streams Go, Diego GO! and Dora the Explorer free with their Prime membership. With a little creativity, at least part of your kids’ TV time can be in Spanish.
5. Buy books that are bilingual/en español
The amount of toys we have drives me crazy, and I periodically purge. But there is no limit on books in this house. I try to read at least one book that includes Spanish every night.
6. Seek advice online.
When Sophia first complained at my urging her to speak Spanish, I freaked out. But I felt much calmer after doing some online reading and understanding what is normal for bilingual children. Two of my favorite resources right now are De Su Mama and SpanglishBaby. SpanglishBaby no longer updates their website, but lives on in social media. They explain in their last post which you can read here.
When I’m teaching Sophia something new and she tries to give up, I tell her to keep going, and to do it con ganas! And that’s pretty much the route I’ll take for sticking with the program – it will take a concerted effort, but it will be worth it!