Before I was even pregnant, I knew I’d raise my child bilingual. What I didn’t know is how well it would actually work! At two years old, Daniel is talking up a storm. He’s surrounded by Spanish speakers so he’s speaking mostly in Spanish, but he understands everything I say to him in English and responds accordingly. It’s been a hugely gratifying experience so far, and here’s how I’ve done it:
I only speak English to him: I’m embarrassed to say that I learned this technique not from some bilingual resource book or website, but from Tiger Woods’ ex-wife, Elin Nordegren! Seriously! I read some gossip magazine about how she only spoke Swedish to their kids, while Woods only spoke English, and the kids grew up speaking both languages. (I’m guessing they know how to say, “You cheating bastard!” in Swedish, too.) So from the time Daniel was born, I’ve only addressed him in English. Sure, he hears me speaking Spanish with his dad and other relatives, but between Danny and I, it’s English-only.
Read Related: Apps to Help You Read, Write & Speak English Better!
I make him respond in English: Daniel likes to answer with “Si” every time I ask him a question in English. Do you want yogurt? Si? Are you ready for bed? Si. But, I insist he answer me in English, even if it’s just a “yes.” That way, he can distinguish between the two languages, and he can’t get away with being lazy.
I translate for him: Though I’m not as diligent as I should be, whenever possible, when Daniel is introduced to a new place or idea or object, I make sure he knows what it’s called in English, not just in Spanish. Now that he is repeating everything (even the stuff we don’t want him to repeat!), it’s getting much easier to do these mini-lessons.
I expose him to English whenever possible: I have several friends in our town who are native English speakers. When they or my American relatives come visit, everyone seems compelled to try to speak Spanish to Daniel. “Speak English; he understands!” I always implore. A few times a day, our little kids’ cartoon channel plays cartoons in English, so we try to tune into those, and he and I read books in English. The Spanish books I leave for Papi.
Little kids’ brains are like sponges. It’s much easier for them to learn a second, or even a third language than it is for an adult to start learning. The sooner we expose them to bilingualism, the better their chances of growing up fully bilingual, with a mother-tongue mastery of both languages. And I have to confess: Daniel will start English classes here is Spain once he gets to elementary school. I can’t wait for him to run rings around his English teacher!
[Mamiverse’s Bilingual Plus is an online channel devoted to bringing parents and educators the bilingual learning tools they need in the form of digital picture books, sing-alongs, and free curriculum-based family activities.]