Sharing my Journey of Raising a Bilingual Child

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When I first got pregnant I had very few things clear about my parenting goals. However, there were a few things I was clear about. I knew I was going to leave my job to become a SAHM for the first few years; I wasn’t enjoying it anymore and didn’t want to spend more than half my salary on daycare fees. I knew I wanted to breastfeed for at least two years (he weaned himself at 15 months old). Lastly, I knew I was going to raise a bilingual kid.

My scientist self loves to research everything in my daily life: restaurants, products, and, of course, parenting, but I don’t know why, in the case of raising bilingual kids, I didn’t take the time to read any books or do thorough research online. I just stumbled upon an Instagram profile with a podcast. I listened to the first few episodes, and that was that. So, I can’t really write a research-based post but one from personal experience. From the podcast, I learned that there are different strategies to raise a bilingual child, the most common being: One parent, one language (OPOL), Minority language at home (MLAH), and Mixed Language Approach.

The one we’ve been kind of using is the OPOL, although my husband has been learning Spanish alongside my baby and tries to talk to him in the little Spanish he knows. I’ve been trying to speak to him mostly in Spanish since he was born, and because I stay with him during the day, he mostly hears Spanish. Other important tools we use are books and music. His abuelo (grandpa) has sent many Spanish books from the beginning, and we’ve also found good ones in the library; we play both Spanish and English songs at home and in the car. I also FaceTime with my mom almost every day, where we speak Spanish while the toddler requests tours of his Abu’s (grandma’s) home, and we’ve been going to Mexico at least once a year. The second time we went, he returned with new words in his vocabulary, like agua (water) and pulpo (octopus). The last time we went, he came back and spoke in more structured sentences.

We also try to attend bilingual events in the city. Through the podcast, I found a bilingual playdate that gets together every month where we read books and the kids know they are supposed to speak in Spanish. The Indianapolis Public Library offers bilingual story time at different branches; every year at the end of April, there’s an event in the Central Library called Día del Niño at Be My Neighbor Day, where they have bilingual activities and a Daniel Tiger’s meet and greet, and in September during the Hispanic Heritage Month there are different events that feature Hispanic music and foods around the city.

Now, after two and a half years, my baby speaks 90% Spanish; he recognizes both languages and requests one or the other while reading or singing. He knows that his dad speaks English and his mom speaks Spanish and sometimes translates some words he hears from us when we are talking. He knows his colors in both languages and counts to 10 in Spanish. He says hola (hello) and adiós (bye) to people in the street, and I try to translate so people say hi back, but that doesn’t always happen, and it makes me question if I’m doing the right thing.

Sometimes, I just want to translate everything and tell my husband to talk to him only in English, but it warms my heart to see how they learn Spanish together. Whenever I doubt, I try to remind myself that being bilingual will give him an advantage in life and will also give him the ability to communicate with members of the family who don’t speak English. I know once he starts school, he will start speaking more English, and at some point, he may get tired of speaking Spanish, which would be another obstacle to face.

Right now, I’m trying to work on verb conjugations because he says things like “quieres leer” (you want to read) instead of “quiero leer” (I want to read) or “te caiste” (you fall) instead of “me caí” (I fell). The next challenge will be to figure out how to teach him how to read and write in Spanish; this time, I may need to do my research. I’m also not looking forward to getting my English pronunciation corrected by my toddler, and I know it’s coming.

Raising a bilingual child is fun and stimulating, but like many things in motherhood, there are sometimes doubts and struggles. For now, I’ll try to keep having fun and enjoy my baby mispronouncing his first words in Spanish.


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