Nowadays being bilingual is extremley important. By the time Annabelle grows up it will probably be a deciding factor when fighting it out for a job. When I interviewed for my first teaching position being fluent in Spanish is what got me the job during a hiring freeze. I’m lucky to have been exposed to so many languages throughout my life. My parents are European, my dad spoke to me in Italian and my mom spoke to me in German, not always, but regularly enough for me to pick it up. English is my parents common language so that’s what we speak at home as a family and it’s what I would consider my first language, the language that comes most easily to me. I grew up in the Dominican Republic, having moved there when I was 1 I was immersed in Spanish and am fluent. French was mandatory at my school from 6th-9th grade and I continued taking it throughout high school so although I’m not fluent and have a terrible accent I can hold a short conversation if I need to and I can certainly understand more than I can speak.
I consider myself very lucky to have all these languages. The question is, how do I pass them on to Annabelle? My husband speaks English and has the usual repertoire of Spanish curse words along with a few words here and there from high school Spanish class. I used to tease him and tell him that I would speak to our children in Spanish so he’d have to finally learn. That hasn’t happened. Even though I speak Spanish daily it’s not natural for me to parent in Spanish, no matter how hard I tried. There are plenty of couples who speak different languages to their children and it works perfectly so I tried to force myself to do it but it didn’t feel right.
Since the early years are critical for language development I did some digging and spoke to a Bilingual Speech Pathologist. This is what I learned:
You should parent in the language that comes most naturally to you, whatever it may be. So if you are more comfortable speaking Spanish and your huband is more comfortable speaking French those are the languages that you should parent in. Why? Because the most important thing to do is build a strong language base and vocabulary. Without a strong language base it will be more difficult to pick up another language. If you’re speaking in a language that feels forced or isn’t second nature you simply won’t use as wide a range of words as you would in your primary language.
Use learning a second language as a fun bonding time for you and your child. Sit and read books together, sing songs, play games. Never make it be tedious, it should be fun and exciting.
That’s exactly what I’ve started doing. Singing songs in the car, reading books and rhymes. I hate to admit that I don’t do it as often as I probably should but I feel good that at least I’m exposing her to a very good English language base and she’s being exposed to Spanish regularly. Annabelle is also lucky enough to get the benefit of Italian from my dad and German from my mom and she hears those plenty even if it is on Skype.
I’d love to hear how bilingual parents out there are handling second language learning. How about parents that only speak one language but still want your children to learn another language. Has anyone used a bilingual daycare facility or school system? What are some ideas you’ve found most useful?