I grew up monolingual. Even though I took several years of Spanish in high school and in university, I was nowhere close to being able to hold a conversation with a native Spanish speaker. I only became bilingual once living in Honduras for four years and my Spanish is still nowhere near perfect.
My husband, on the other hand, grew up in Honduras learning Spanish as his first language and English as his second. He is so bilingual, in fact, that he often teaches me English words and rules. However, once in a blue moon I catch him misusing a preposition, allowing me to be the English genius for a moment, even if it is for a fleeting moment, I take it!
Language has always been at the forefront of our relationship. One, because communication is so necessary for any relationship, but vital when you are long distance as we were most of our dating and some of our married life. Two, because although he came into our relationship speaking both English and Spanish fluently, I was much more… basic. We knew to actually get to know his friends and family as well as having a better understanding of his culture, speaking Spanish was a must. So I was determined to become bilingual!
Learning Spanish did not come easily to me. It took me about two years being totally immersed in Spanish to really be able to speak with some fluidity. I still, after almost 10 years of being exposed to Spanish daily, am learning a lot. Then again at 31, I am still learning a lot of English words daily.
Since the beginning of our relationship, my husband and I knew we wanted our children to be bilingual. Once we had our daughter, we realized that trying to raise a bilingual child in a very monolingual country has some interesting obstacles. However, I am grateful that Spanish is considered the second unofficial language of the US and that more and more families are interested in raising bilingual children. This has eased some of the obstacles that we face.
In our house, my husband speaks only or mostly in Spanish to our daughter, while I speak English. Since I stay at home with her and my husband has some pretty crazy hours at work, I end up speaking a lot more Spanglish than I had initially planned.
She is in the midst of a language explosion, which has been so fun, but it has also caused a bit of a panic in me to make sure that she is being exposed to enough Spanish. I have reminded myself on a daily basis that parenting is all about learning as you go. So here I am, trying my best, to raise my daughter to be bilingual!
Below is a list of ways I try to incorporate Spanish into our daily lives:
1 – Verbally Labeling – I am not much of a talker, but I feel like I am constantly talking with my 17-month-old. Pointing out new things in both Spanish and English, feeling like a broken record at times. However, it’s working! Not only has she started repeating words in English, but in Spanish too! I have also learned my fair share of new Spanish words, thank you Google translate! In the future, I plan to have written labels in Spanish and English as well.
2 – Books – My daughter loves to read, making my job a bit easier since I have found some great books in Spanish from the Indy Public Libraries! There are also quite a bit on Amazon and in local bookstores. “Oso Pardo, Oso Pardo” (“Brown Bear, Brown Bear) has been a book on repeat for several months now.
3 – Music– To be honest I have sung a lot more English than Spanish songs because it is just what I know off the top of my head. However, the more I research, the more I find great Spanish kid songs on Spotify, YouTube FiestiKids and even by just asking Alexa. It has been fun to learn alongside my little one, although her daily song requests consist of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “One Love,” so hopefully with time, we will find some Spanish favorites too!
4 – Socializing with Spanish speakers – We value building relationships with people who speak many languages, but we love being able to socialize with other Spanish speaking families not only so can we have exposure to the language, but also celebrate the many wonderful aspects of the Hispanic culture.
5 – Family (Facetiming and Visiting) – Many of our Spanish speaking family members live in other countries, which is why we are so thankful that technology allows for us to stay connected when we can’t be together. We also try to make it a goal to visit our family in Honduras once a year.
6 – TV/Movies – Our daughter does not watch TV or movies yet, but this will change at some point, and Netflix has the fantastic ability to have most shows or movies in Spanish. I hope that most of the programs we watch in our house will be in Spanish, but we will see once that time comes!
7- School – With the increased interest in children learning more than one language in the US, there has also been an increase in dual language programs and language-specific schools. We hope that our little one will be able to attend a Spanish preschool and elementary school. Since there is so much exposure to English in our daily lives, I would love there to be a large portion of her day to be in Spanish.
This is the beginning of our bilingual journey with our daughter. It has been fun and a bit intimidating at the same time, but I am so excited to see where this takes us. Any other families out there have advice for raising bilingual babies?