Raising Bilingual Kids: What We Have Learned
Since Monkey was born, we have worked hard to raise him to speak both English and Spanish. My husband speaks to him only in Spanish, and I speak to him only in English, a method known as One Parent, One Language. (For more on the most popular methods, read this post on teaching your child a second language).
For a very long time, I have skated by on the fact that my husband is a native Spanish speaker. I could boast about my son’s bilingualism, all the while having a very easy time speaking to him in my own native language, surrounded by other English speakers. Too bad for others that didn’t have this advantage, but how nice for me!
Yet here we are nearly three years into our “experiment” – as we affectionately call our son 🙂 – and I have to face the fact that raising our kids to be bilingual is going to require a lot more work on my part.
Monkey’s comprehension in both languages is high, but since we live in an English-speaking country and he spends most of his time with me, Monkey speaks mostly English.
As a stay at home mom, I consider Monkey’s education to be part of my job description. So just as I have been systematic about teaching him numbers and letters in English, I should be doing the same in Spanish if I expect him to have an even somewhat comparable level of comprehension.
I am proud of all that we have done with Monkey so far, but of course there is a lot of room for improvement. And now that we are starting the process all over again with Baby, it is a good time to take stock and make some changes.
Here are some things I wish we had done differently:
- Spanish at home: I think it would have helped tremendously if my husband and I had spoken to each other more in Spanish. It would have greatly increased the amount of Spanish Monkey was exposed to on a daily basis, and it also would have helped him to hear more conversations between Spanish speakers (instead of just hearing his father speak to him in Spanish).
- Other Spanish speakers: We have a number of dear friends that speak Spanish, and they are great about speaking to Monkey in Spanish. Unfortunately, things are so busy that we don’t see them as often as we like, so I wish we had made more of an effort to be around them. Also, with Skype it is so easy to chat with family in Costa Rica, which is great not just for Monkey’s language development but also for building his relationship with relatives so far away.
- Spanish immersion: We have made several trips to Costa Rica, including one three-week visit last year, but because of the distance and expense, it is difficult to do this often. But you don’t have to travel to find opportunities for language immersion. I wish I had made more of an effort to find a Spanish playgroup for Monkey when he was younger or gotten involved in local cultural groups. I am pleased that he has just started a Spanish class, conducted by a close friend from Mexico who is a former preschool teacher. I can’t wait to see what comes of this!
- Spanish language media: One step that would have been so easy to take would have been to make better use of Spanish language media. Living in California, it is so easy to find Spanish cartoons on TV, plus there are so many DVDs available to rent or purchase. When Monkey was younger he loved watching the Pocoyo cartoon, but after he got bored of that, I didn’t make much effort to find another Spanish program. I also wish I had looked into the great programs out there specifically designed to help youngsters learn another language. One that I have come across recently is Little Pim. This is a really well-done program to teach Spanish and other languages. It is fun for kids to watch and makes it easy for them to learn. The little panda is adorable, and Monkey loves watching other kids. Each segment is relatively short and teaches a number of related vocabulary words, with a review at the end of each. The DVD we have focuses on eating, so kids learn words for common foods as well as associated terms like fork and spoon. I was so pleased to hear Monkey repeating after the video, since he speaks Spanish so infrequently. My only regret is that I didn’t start him with this at an earlier age. Although the video says it can be used up to age six, I found that it really seemed designed for younger children. It reminded me a lot of some wonderful baby sign videos we watched when Monkey was much younger. He loved those at the time, but lost interest by about age two. Still, Monkey will watch this Little Pim video occasionally, so it does help, and I am glad to have it for Baby Monkey later on! A friend was experiencing a similar problem with her four year old losing interest in the Little Pim DVDs and so came up with these great activities to reinforce the DVDs. Will have to give these a try!
As with anything in parenting, raising bilingual kids is a learning process. I am happy with what we have accomplished so far with Monkey, especially because it was all done in a loving, stress-free way. Ultimately, helping our sons gain a love of both languages is more important than exactly how much they speak one versus the other.
How has your parenting changed as your kids have gotten older? What do you wish you had done differently?
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival.
Disclaimer: We were provided with a free copy of Little Pim’s “Let’s Eat!” DVD for purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.