Fact: the earlier a child learns another language, the better. In addition to little kids being sponges, they have fewer inhibitions and are far less worried about pronunciation and verb tenses than older kids are. They learn faster and are less afraid to make mistakes.
I didn’t take Spanish until 9th grade and I truly regret not having been immersed in the language sooner. This is why it’s been really important to both of us to raise Maya bilingual from the start.
The only problem is, we have no idea how it’s supposed to be done — we’re just trying to speak to her in both languages as much as we can: Daddy in Spanish (and English); Mommy in English. All we can do is hope we don’t screw up our child as we speak to her in two languages. I have hope: Luis turned out OK and he speaks three languages — but he only spoke Spanish at home and English and German at school (he graduated from the German School in San Salvador).
What’s hard is in our nearly 11 years together, we’ve only ever spoken English together — even when I lived in El Salvador, it was just more natural for us to speak English. We met here in the U.S., speaking English. It doesn’t feel right to speak Spanish — and we’ve tried. We’ve just always reverted back to English for ease.
Which means my Spanish pretty much sucks right now because the only practice I get is when his mom comes to visit or when we visit family in El Salvador. That said, I’m hoping my Spanish will improve as Maya gets older and absorbs more and more of Luis’s native language.
Which brings me to this exciting news: This weekend, Maya said her first Spanish word!
It wasn’t the word we assumed it would be (“hola,” a word we use all the time) but rather “papa” — as in, potato. I thought Luis was kidding with me when he told me, but he was totally serious: she showed me the bag of potatoes under the island in the kitchen and said, “papa” clear as day, pointing at them.
This is excellent news because on Thursday, we head to Mexico City for a family wedding and it’s my hope that she comes back with one more Spanish word 🙂 Perhaps we’ll get an “hola”? 🙂
Thing is, I don’t know how this whole bilingual baby business is going to go … will she get terribly confused? Will it cause a language delay (I’ve heard it can with bilingual children; we’d cross that bridge if we came to it). Or will she be able to handle learning both with ease? I know it can be done but sometimes I worry that being spoken to in both languages/asked to communicate in both might stump her — especially now when she is at the beginning stages of verbal communication.
Then again, I should have faith in her. Luis is speaking to her more and more as the days go by and we have lots of Spanish books we read to her (including some that are the same in both languages). Her comprehension of what we’re saying seems good. She repeated “agua” in the pool on Saturday (though I wouldn’t necessarily say she knows what it means quite yet). She knows how to point to her eyes, hair, nose, ears, mouth and tongue in Spanish. She understands, “Venga” (come here) and “Un beso para Daddy/Mommy?” (A kiss for DaddyMommy?) and “Abre la boca” (open your mouth). And if you ask her “Cinco?” she shows you her open palm with five fingers.
She is definitely learning/absorbing but my fear is that she might end up confusing her English words and Spanish words, or only knowing one version of a word. I don’t want her speaking Spanglish!!
So I am asking you, the blogosphere and my readers for help. We are open to learning from people who have been there/done that. We want to know — how do you not confuse the hell out of a toddler just learning to talk? Do you have one parent repeat the word in one language and the other in the other language? Do you speak one language at home and another at school? What’s the best way for a child to learn?
I know there’s no right answer and what works with you might not be what works for someone else, but we are willing to listen to any advice.
How about you? Were you raised in a bilingual home? What worked for you? Are you raising your kids to be bilingual? Any tips welcome!
ETA: Loved watching Bethenny last night; she took Bryn to Spanish class 🙂