Almost exactly three years ago, my husband Todd and I, learned the wonderful news that we were expecting our first child. I still remember our embrace that was met with so many emotions. I was crying, excited, overwhelmed, and happy all at once!
The next few months were full of preparation from reading pregnancy books to decorating the nursery. We both knew we wanted our children to be bilingual and agreed from the beginning to doing the One Parent, One Language (OPOL) strategy where Todd would communicate in English while I would communicate in Spanish. Yet in the back of our minds, we kept thinking of many of the other families around us who had embarked on a similar language journey. Some had reached their language goals for their children while others had not.
With the same energy and enthusiasm that we set out to prepare for every other aspect of our baby’s arrival, we set out to meet and chat with these families to learn about their experience. During my pregnancy, I compiled their lessons learned and advice and we used them as the foundation to build our language plan.
- Exclusive means exclusive!
One family shared that although they used the OPOL strategy the majority of the time, the mom in this case the minority language speaker, would switch to English when dad came home. She was afraid that he would feel left out yet by making the switch she significantly decreased the exposure of time her children had to Spanish.
What this meant for us: I would have to be strong and speak exclusively Spanish even when Todd was around. We agreed to find ways to communicate with each other to make sure we were on the same page even if we were not speaking the same language.
- Find other peers that speak the target language
A second family shared that their children had achieved high fluency in both family languages because they also had friends that spoke both of the languages at home.
What this meant for us: Before Little Peanut was born, we did not have any friends near us with other young Spanish speaking children. I did have a wonderful mommy group that gave me the support I needed in the early months. Even though the other babies in the group only spoke English, I still spoke in Spanish to my little one in that environment. Now that she’s much more interactive with other children and is now speaking a lot more, we have identified a Spanish speaking play group through meetup.com that we plan to join as well on our return back to the United States.
- Turn off the noise
While we visiting a girlfriend of ours, we shared our plans to raise our bilingual daughter. My friend’s mother happened to be visiting and overheard our conversation. As we were leaving, she warned me that I may get a lot of unsolicited advice on my bilingual journey. She had received her fair share while raising her two daughters and after some bad advice, she had decided to speak only English to her daughters and forget about their Spanish to avoid confusion. Although her daughters took an interest in Spanish later in life, they still struggle to keep up and are now learning their heritage language as adults.
What this meant for us: We agreed to remind ourselves along the way to disregard the well-meaning yet negative advice about multilingualism.
- It may not be as easy as you think so prepare accordingly
Despite my years in the classroom and as a language learner, I still underestimated how hard it can be to provide your child with enough exposure in the target language. Thankfully, we had been warned that this may be the case and so we planned accordingly from the early days.
What this meant for us: Early on we thought of ways to increase our exposure to Spanish. We bought the obvious resources like books and music but we also incorporated some less apparent habits like daily Skype calls to the grandparents.
- Get the siblings to speak to each other
I saved for last what I think may be the most difficult piece of advice that we received, getting the siblings to speak to each other in the target language. One family shared with us that once her children started speaking to each other in the community language, their Spanish abilities rapidly decreased. Out of the three children, the first one is fluent, the middle child can speak some Spanish but hardly ever does and the youngest cannot speak it at all. Yikes! This was really tough to hear.
What this means for us: We don’t know yet! We only have one Little Peanut and so we have yet to face this challenge. I know that even I eventually changed to speaking the majority language with my siblings as an adult unless my parents or my little one are in the room. This is just one challenge that we have decided to table for now and have decided to tackle when the time is right!
I hope that these pieces of advice from other multilingual parents are helpful on your journey. They certainly have played a big role in mine!