(Photo via Carissa Rogers, Flickr CC)
Amig@s, it’s wonderful to be back again with another installment of Family Fridays. For those of you first-time readers, this is a series in which a different multilingual family from around the globe shares their experience with parenting in more than one language.
Today, I’m eager to introduce you to fellow bilingual mamá and blogger, Stephanie, from Casa Watkins. She shares both the joys and challenges of raising children in more than one language. It may not be easy to help children grow up in two languages, but it sure is worth it, especially when the reward is an unexpected “te amo, Mommy.”
Be encouraged, friends.
Give a brief snapshot of your family’s language dynamics and your family’s language policy (what language(s) do you speak, who speaks what with whom?).
It is a difficult task teaching my children Spanish as the only Spanish speaker in my home. My husband is monolingual and therefore speaks English to the kids. My step-daughter has very basic Spanish skills learned from school. I would like to speak solely Spanish and have my husband speak solely English, but it’s just not possible. So, we rely on a blended version, Spanglish, for the time being. I am beginning to translate my sentences in the alternate language when speaking with our children. Especially, when it comes to our totschool learning activities.
What prompted your decision to raise your children bilingually?
I have always assumed that my children would learn to speak both languages. In my eyes, there was no way around it as many of my family members only speak Spanish. I wanted to maintain the cultural aspects of my Dominican heritage as well as to preserve the language when raising my children.
What positive growth or results have you witnessed in your children/family because of their multilingualism
The cultural aspects have been a blessing to our family. My husband enjoys learning Spanish and using it with his children. I know that he wishes he could speak more, but he is gradually picking it up. He has attempted to complete the Rosetta Stone program, but unfortunately has not had the time to dedicate to its completion.
I think that the benefit of learning Spanish would definitely be a benefit when the children grow up. Additionally, our step-daughter is also able to incorporate the Spanish skills she has learned and apply them to her home life. I’m just happy to witness them speak any Spanish and use it when communicating with our family members.
What challenges have you faced or are you facing with language rearing and learning? How do you handle them?
My children are still quite young. “Nugget” is 3 and “Chi-Chi” is 2. Right now, Nugget is learning the names of objects and forming basic sentences in Spanish. His English language skills have dramatically improved. I only spoke Spanish to him until the age of 1.5. Around that time, we were witnessing a language delay and I decided to concentrate on one language and gradually introduce the Spanish. Now, he is well above the set milestones for his age and is even reading English. His Spanish is not that strong, but I am confident he will be able to integrate more Spanish soon.
I tried to avoid a delay with Chi-Chi and I started speaking English with her. Unfortunately, that didn’t work and she also has a major language delay. At age 2.5, she still hasn’t increased her vocabulary past 20 words or formed 3 word sentences. I have learned not to compare them, though this is ultra difficult at times. Chi-Chi will learn to speak in her own time. I continue to emphasize English with her so she can continue to hear the same words used from my husband. There are words and phrases that I continue to keep solely in Spanish to maintain consistency when I speak with Nugget.
Can you talk about the cultural aspect of bilingual parenting as it relates to your family?
I understand that the cultural aspects that are tied to my heritage are just as important as teaching the Spanish language. I include a variety of Dominican foods, we celebrate the typical holidays the way I experienced in my family, and include sentimental phrases/words that I grew up hearing.
Share a memorable moment you and your family experienced with language learning, something that shed light or taught you a lesson about bilingual parenting.
One of my most cherished moments was when Nugget started saying “Te amo Mommy.” I love every moment that Nugget speaks to me since it wasn’t too long ago when he wasn’t speaking much. However, that moment was so special because he said it on his own and unprompted. My most memorable moment with Chi-Chi was when she started naming her colors in Spanish. She doesn’t say too much, but it was amazing to see her correctly identify her colors. What was even better was that she said them in Spanish! I was so proud. I really have made extra efforts to make activities that are Spanish centered and share them on my blog to help children learn the language.
How do you involve your family, community, school and/or world at large in this bilingual adventure?
My family is an integral part of my bilingual adventure. I always encourage my parents to speak only Spanish to the children so that they get that full immersion. The kiddos also get to go to a half day learning program where they also include some basic Spanish. For their age, it is a good start to learn some basic concepts in Spanish. I also teach my children preschool level concept using both languages. I encourage anyone that completes home tot- schooling and homeschooling to utilize bilingual teaching resources at home. I have found that my children, especially Nugget, have definitely benefitted from the bilingual learning activities.
What advice or encouragement can you share with other families raising their children bi-/multi-lingually?
Definitely persistence, perseverance, and have fun. Persist in your bilingual teaching endeavors, persevere when it looks like all your teachings are not working, and have fun when you see that your hard work has paid off.
Freebie! Anything else come to your mind about the issue of bilingual/multilingual parenting?
I am a strong advocate of bilingual/multilingual parenting when one or both of the parents speak another language. I have spoken to so many adults that have had parents who are able to speak at least two languages but never taught their children. They tell me they wished they had learned the language. I applaud any parent/guardian who decides to raise their children bilingually and aren’t bilingual themselves.
As a Latina mommy, I have the responsibility of teaching my children all about their heritage including learning to speak Spanish. I dedicate at least 30 minutes three times a week to Spanish Tot-school, where we do play activities that focus on improving their bilingual language skills. I encourage all parents to spend at least 30 minutes of focused play time. You will definitely see an improvement in your child’s language skills. Please stop by my blog if you need ideas and are interested in Spanish tot-school activities.
Thank you so much for allowing me to share a little about my bilingual home! I am so honored.
Muchas gracias to Stephanie for sharing her family’s journey through bilingual parenting. If you, too, are interested in sharing your adventures in multilingual parenting here on Españolita…¡sobre la marcha!, please contact me!