How I’m bringing up my kids bilingual

I don’t remember finding it hard growing up with and learning to speak two languages.

Much in the same way that I don’t remember it being particularly arduous having a puppy at home at the age of eight. It just happened.

The realisation that not all was how it seemed comes with adulthood and once you have your own children, and your own pet dogs.

My husband (who is British) and I decided that from day one I would only speak to our soon-to-arrive baby in Spanish. Easy! Children’s brains are like sponges, I hear.

As soon as the baby could speak, the Spanish language would just flow…right?. Right, and as I found out, also wrong.

It does not come as easily as you might expect, and it does not simply involve you speaking a different language at your children. It’s a little more complicated – or at least it is for me.

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Before nursery the majority of my son’s vocabulary was, and I was proud to say, vastly made up of Spanish words. This changed dramatically once he started nursery at two and a half. I enthusiastically prepared a list of words my child spoke so that the teachers could understand him, most importantly his loo words.

I think that the list was probably used in the first few weeks. After that the sponge effect truly displayed itself. He was of course now surrounded by English for a large part of the day and he quickly adapted. A few months in and his ever increasing vocabulary was ever increasingly English.

I was not naive enough to think that this would not happen but I did despair when my son, when asked to say ‘thank you’ to me in Spanish, said ‘thank you’ (in English) with a decidedly ‘Manuel’ from Fawlty Towers accent!

Was he, at the tender age of three, winding me up?? It shocked me into asking another Spanish mother at nursery if she would like to go halves on Spanish lessons for our sons.

We tried it out and it was a disaster. Unsurprisingly the teacher spent most of her time telling them to stop running off to play together. We gave up on that tactic soon afterwards, but it did encourage me to learn more Spanish children’s songs to teach my little chorizo.

I do now make more of an effort, more than just simply speaking it. Pocoyo is a household staple, as is the film Frozen in Spanish, and my son can now sing ‘insy wincy spider’ and other nursery rhymes in Spanish too.

Small triumphs, but triumphs nonetheless. It takes perseverance, encouragement and a lot of patience!

His day to day communication is peppered with Spanish words. I feel so happy when he picks a Spanish language book to read before bedtime (life goals!), but he will still recount the story back pretty much exclusively in English.

At least he’s understanding it!

It’s a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, but this tends to be the case with big, important things.

We are lucky that we are able to spend all our summers visiting my family in Spain. This, together with my year-round input should help him to, in time, communicate in Spanish confidently if not fluently.

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I’ve come to the realisation that it’s not just about teaching my sons Spanish, it’s about them growing up with a strong sense of being a part of another culture.

I am proud of both my British and Spanish heritage and I hope I can pass that to my sons.

This is something that goes beyond language and is, I think, more important by far.

I want to show them that learning a language is so much more than using the same words as their mother or father.

What a gift we bilingual and bicultural parents can offer our children!

My top five tips:

1. Watch – Try to purchase books and download current favourites (Paw Patrol, Frozen, etc) in the other language.
2. Speak – Agree that the bilingual parent will always speak the other language to the child.
3. Play – Find local playgroups for parents and children who speak your other language using local websites/searching community halls etc. Encourage some games to be Spanish only – but don’t force it if they say no.
4. Sing – brush up those singing skills and teach your little one the songs you used to sing as a child in your other language.
5. Don’t lose hope and stop speaking to your child in your other language – it’s definitely going in! At the very least you’re helping them to in future (and in theory) find learning other languages easier.

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