Adjusting your family’s language policy – part 2 (Family Fridays)


 (Photo via Carissa Rogers, Flickr CC)

¡Feliz viernes, amig@s! Today I’m excited to bring your part 2 of a special installment of Family Fridays: adjusting your family’s language policy. (You can read part 1 here.)

Three multilingual blogger mamás share their experiences with making a changes to their home language plan. We’ll first hear from Jen, who you may remember from this past Family Friday interview; Becky, who lives in Texas with her husband and five children; and, Maria, trilingual mom living in France.

If you and your family are considering adjusting your language plan, I hope you will find helpful advice and encouragement from today’s moms.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Jen Casado from Sra. Casado Teaches Bilinguals  –
espanolita bilingual parenting bilingualism spanish language children

What was/is the change? Why the change?

When my eldest son turned four and was taking Kindergarten admission tests, we decided to change the language policy from minority language in the house/majority language outside to “one parent one language” (OPOL).  One reason was that we felt that our son’s opportunities were being cut short due to limited English knowledge.  He was one of 10% of applicants to qualify to attend the second round of a very prestigious school, but the tester told me that he nearly didn’t pass the test due to limited English vocabulary.  We believe that, in the end, he was not accepted due to this.  New York is a very competitive city and we were concerned that he may not be accepted into other programs for the same reasons.

At the same time, and just as important, I had been feeling like something was missing.  I was not able to read stories that I grew up with to my boys.  I couldn’t sing them songs from my childhood.  They often did not have the same cultural knowledge as their peers.  I felt that I was sacrificing the majority culture to teach them the minority language.

What has been a challenge since implementing the change?

A few weeks ago, I was going through old videos and I was a little sad that their perfect Spanish accents are now gone.

My husband works long hours and the boys do not receive equal exposure to Spanish and English.  When homework is done, I often play games or read in Spanish to them, but not as often as I would like.   I wish there was more time in the day! To adjust for this, the year we made the change to OPOL, we enrolled the boys in a Saturday Spanish program where they are immersed in Spanish language and culture.  They learn songs, dance, do science experiments, put on plays, play soccer, etc. all in Spanish with kids their age.

What has improved, been the benefits for your family?

The change has been bittersweet.  While their Spanish has suffered, I cannot imagine trying to help them with their homework and reading for school 100% in Spanish.  I also see how important it has been for me to pass along my childhood memories to them—I cannot imagine what things would have been like if we had not made this change.

We are lucky in that even though there has been some resistance to speaking Spanish at home, both of the boys LOVE their Spanish school and look forward to Saturdays.  Interestingly enough, the fact that they know that mommy did not grow up speaking Spanish has been an inspiration to them.  They think it’s cool that I learned and now teach Spanish.  They know that learning a second language can be challenging at times, but it’s worth the hard work!  There are times that they do not want to do their Spanish homework or would rather read a book in English, but they hang in there because they know it is something that is important to our family.

Advice for other multilingual families in the same situation?

I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your end-goals in mind.  Children are constantly growing and changing, and the specifics of what is important today, may not be five years from now.  However, by thinking about the big picture, you can adjust and tweak what is not working as your needs change.

For us, it is imperative that our boys communicate in Spanish and English.  After all, half of our family only speaks English and half only speaks Spanish!  It is also important to us that we have a strong family unit and the boys understand where they come from—on both sides of the family.  Since we don’t have any family nearby, this history must come from my husband and me.

While the boys could certainly have more exposure to Spanish at home, I feel that their level is more than sufficient.  They are confident in their speaking abilities and not afraid to talk to anyone in English or Spanish.  They are learning about their roots on both sides of the family.  They are doing well in a very challenging school.  They are happy.  We are proud of them.

 Becky Morales from Kid World Citizen – 

bilingual parenting bilingualism language policy espanolita multilingual

What was/is the change? Why the change?

We began with “one parent one language” (OPOL) with my husband speaking Spanish and me speaking English. But, the problem was that he works late and [our children] weren’t getting a lot of input. We changed [our family policy] to “minority language at home” though I will say that it was hard for me to get into that new groove of changing languages.

What has been a challenge since implementing the change?

The challenges come because I am not a native speaker of Spanish; although I speak and understand Spanish really well, if I am saying something very urgent or in a rush or giving detailed instructions, I sometimes switch to English without even realizing it. I just did it this morning as my one-year old was climbing the stairs and got twisted up: “Quick grab Mario!” And then sometimes I continue the conversation in English instead of reverting to Spanish. I know I need to work on this!! The other difficulty is that our kids almost always want to answer in English. This is a challenge a lot of parents face as their kids get into elementary school and converse in the majority language with their peers and teachers at school. It’s a work in progress and a practice in consistence on our part to remind them “otra vez” or “en español?”

What has improved, been the benefits for your family?

The positive change is that the kids hear more Spanish. They are in school and activities all day in English, so we only have a little time to add in the Spanish in the evenings and on the weekends. It’s great to have both my husband and I working together on the same language team.

Advice for other multilingual families in the same situation?

My advice in any multilingual family is just to keep at it. We’ll all make tons of mistakes, and you can change your method at any time! The important thing is to not give up. Don’t stop speaking, even if you only do breakfasts in the target language, or bathtime, or storytime. Pick something and then you can try to expand. That helped us: we started with both of us speaking Spanish at dinner time, and then gradually tried to use Spanish more and more.

Maria Babin, from Trilingual Mama

bilingual parenting bilingualism espanolita language plan language policy

What was/is the change? Why the change?

Well, we have actually experienced several changes. The first was adapting our “one parent one language” (OPOL) method to suit our family’s changing needs and you can read about it in more detail here. Basically we have been using a two-week rotation system between English and Spanish for the last 9 years while French is the community and majority language. The children also speak exclusively French with their Papa. However, in the past couple of years, my children and I have realized that Spanish is the weakest of the three languages.

The change we have adopted gradually over the past couple of years is extending our two-week Spanish period to 3-4 weeks at a time. We still spend two weeks speaking English together, but then when we switch to Spanish we stay in our Spanish period for a bit longer. For example, when we traveled to the United States two years ago, we decided to stay in Spanish the entire duration of our four-week trip! That was great because the children got great exposure to English but were also immersed in Spanish. They also got to practice Spanish with their Abuelito and Abuelita (grandparents).

What has been a challenge since implementing the change?

We haven’t felt it to be a challenge to implement this change as we just kind of follow our intuition. Normally on every other Friday evening, I’ll announce to my children that we’ll be switching languages the following day. If we have completed our two weeks in Spanish, I’ll ask my children (14, 11, 8 and 2) what they feel like doing. The older two usually take the lead and tell me that they’d like to stay in Spanish for one more week. We just kind of play it by ear. Sometimes I think we won’t use such a structured system anymore, but I think we all like the feeling of being able to attribute balanced effort to each language.

What has improved, been the benefits for your family?

I think staying in Spanish pushes us to higher levels of oral expression. To be totally honest, switching back to English, usually feels so good, like we can all of a sudden express ourselves a little more easily. Our Spanish weeks are challenging, expressing myself to the children requires more effort. It’s a bit like running a marathon. It requires a great expenditure of energy, stamina, endurance, but when you cross the finish line it feels so good. So I think it’s a really great exercise for us as long as everyone is a willing participant and so far, everyone is! I also love how invested my children are in their bilingual journey. It shows me that they truly understand and value their heritage languages and the benefits that being bilingual can bring them.

Advice for other multilingual families in the same situation?

You really have to learn to find joy in the journey. Learning a language should be a pleasant experience and families should create lots of happy memories in their heritage or target languages. So do what feels natural and comfortable to you. Also, it’s a beneficial exercise to examine your motivations for becoming bilingual as a family. To recognize your motivations helps to strengthen your efforts and helps you keep going when the going gets tough! One last thing, a family bilingual plan is something that is personal. There is no single right way to raise a bilingual family. The best way is the way that works for your family. Sometimes it takes some trial and error to find out what that way is. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Thank you so much to Jen, Becky, and Maria for sharing their adventures in bilingual parenting! Are you a multilingual family interested in sharing your story here on the blog? Please contact me. I’d love to hear from you!

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