Episode 76: Q&A – How can split bilingual families maximize exposure to the target language?

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On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I answer a question from a listener who is concerned about her husband’s daughter getting enough exposure in Spanish. I share ideas on how to get the most out of their time together as well as maximizing the time when they are not together.

Episode #76- Transcript

Hello and welcome to another Question and Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast.

Before I tell you about today’s question, I wanted to share a little bit of what’s going on our end. This is actually a special episode for me!  This is the LAST episode that I will record from Germany and I have so many mixed emotions.  In one way, I am really looking forward to being close to family and reconnecting with some of our friends back in the United States.  Yet at the same time I am incredibly sad to leave Germany.  As I record this episode, I can tell you that the movers left just a few hours ago and the place that we’ve called home for the past eleven months feels so empty.  Our Little Peanut attended the last day of her German Kindergarten today and I couldn’t hold back the tears as I thanked the teachers for everything they have done for her.  She has learnt so much German and has picked up some wonderful skills that we will treasure forever!

In general, this has been such a positive experience for our family and for Bilingual Avenue.  Learning a language as a family was the final inspiration that I needed to launch the podcast.  I had been dreaming of the idea of doing this for a very long time and there was something about being in this new environment that gave me the the final inspiration I needed.  So thank you to Germany for their hospitality, a special shout out to our little town nestled in the Black Forest, Bad Herrenalb and thank you to all of you the listeners who have supported us through this amazing journey.  I can tell you that it has been a lot of work and it has not always been easy but hearing how much the information that has been shared on the podcast has been helpful for you on your personal language journey makes all the hard work worth it!  So again, thank you so much for taking the time to tune in every week.

Now that you’ve allowed me to indulge just for a minute in some personal happenings on my end, let’s turn in to today’s question.  It was submitted via email by Veronica, let me read you the question:

Hi Mariana,

 My husband has a 2 year old daughter from a previous relationship and I speak to her in Spanish. She is picking up a lot already, but sometimes it’s hard because we only have her half of the time.  My husband’s schedule allows him to be home with her the majority of the day but I’m home with her mostly for a few hours in the evening and well my husband does not speak Spanish. We want to raise her bilingual because we think it is important for her to learn more languages and we have the benefit of being in a school district with a Spanish immersion school. My concern is just that she’s not getting enough Spanish and that it could affect her ability to bond with me. I met her when she was just one we had much more limited custody.

Information on split bilingual families is pretty limited so any advice you could offer would be great!

Your podcast has been a huge help already!

Thank you,


 Thank you Veronica for sending in your question and for allowing me to share it with the Bilingual Avenue community!

What I’d like to do for this question is take a twofold approach.  I am going to focus on sharing some ideas on how you can provide the most amount of exposure in Spanish while you are spending time with your husband’s daughter and even when you are not!

And then I’d also like to give the audience a challenge.  If there are any listeners who also have a split bilingual family, I’d love for you to send in your advice for Veronica.  You can do so via Twitter, Facebook, email or by leaving a comment on the show notes page for this episode.  You can find the show notes at bilingualavenue.com/episode76.  Also like all the Q&A episodes, you can find a detailed transcript of everything I cover on today’s episode.

Alright, Veronica, let me start with my part and how you can maximize the Spanish exposure for your husband’s daughter. I can tell from your email that bonding with her is a priority for you which I think is an excellent priority!  I also can see how you may be concerned that only speaking Spanish to her may hinder your ability to bond.  My suggestion to tackle this first issue is that you make your Spanish interactions very very very very fun! When engaging in Spanish you want her to have so much fun that it really will not matter what language you are speaking.  She’ll be enjoying herself so much that the language spoken will be secondary.

You may already have some ideas on what types of things she enjoys doing.  If not, take some time to observe her likes and dislikes.  You can try different things until you find activities that she seems to really enjoy.  You mentioned in your email that she is two years old so she is right in the middle of toddlerhood.  You may want to consider some of these aspects when selecting activities to do with her:

  • The first aspect that you’ll want to consider is that toddlers love exploration. They are very interested about their surroundings.  They are naturally drawn to discover the world around them so you can certainly leverage this to your advantage.  It’s part of their emotional, social, and physical development.  The only issue is that they do not always know what is safe and what is not so keep that in mind. Think of ways that you can explore things with her in a fun way while infusing Spanish.
  •  The second thing I’d like you to consider is that toddlers are also big fans of playing with “real thing.” Ask most toddlers if they’d like to help you mix some of the ingredients for a dinner they are preparing and you’ll probably see a smile from big to ear. There is something particularly attractive for them about playing with the things they see you use every day. This actually lends itself quiet well to learning another language.  Use this particular interest to infuse as much vocabulary as you possibly can in Spanish.  So again think about real things, using real everyday things that they see adults using.
  • Alright and the third aspect I want you to consider is repetitive activities. Toddlers love doing the same thing over and over. My little toddler at home for example is a huge fan of opening the door to our garden.  I gave her the job one time and she loves to open and close the door every single time! Repetitive activities can be tedious for adults but are perfect for the little ones.  It is also a great gateway for teaching toddlers vocabulary.

These are some general and broad general characteristics of toddlers that can help you start thinking of activities that you can plan with your husband’s daughter to infuse Spanish.

Now the choice will be up to you on whether or not you want to speak to her exclusively in Spanish.  Again, you mentioned that she is two which can be such a critical year for language.  But I know you are also concerned about bonding. The decision will come down to the language goals you have for her.  Since you do have limited time with her you may want to only speak to her in Spanish to maximize your time together.  I think if you keep those interactions fun and age appropriate you may find that she feels quite comfortable around you regardless of the language you are using.  Her age will certainly work in your advantage!

Now what about when you are not there?  You mentioned that your husband’s schedule has some flexibility and that he is able to spend some additional time with her.  He also seems to share the same language goals that you described in your email, which is great!  So let’s take advantage of that. Well, I’d like to share a tip from Adam Beck, the blogger behind Bilingualmonkeys.com.  He has an excellent blog post on how you can “clone” yourself.  I think this is a brilliant idea so I wanted to share it with you.  What he does is he records 15 minute segments of what he calls Daddy TV.  In those segments, he reads books, he signs songs, he talks to the camera, etc.  When his children were younger and he was at work, they could still get to watch him and have additional exposure to English.  This is something you can certainly try out yourself.  Personalize it so that it works for your family and you may just be able to sneak in some extra Spanish.

The last thing I’d like to touch on is that you mentioned that there is a Spanish immersion school in your community which is fantastic.  If you do have an opportunity to get in, you will likely find that many of the concerns you have now may decrease as you are able to add more academic exposure to the language.  Yet I think that the fact that you are thinking about it now and thinking of ways to troubleshoot is a really smart move.

Alright audience, now it is your turn.  If you have any experience with split bilingual families or  any other ideas came to mind as you listened to the episode, send them my way so I can share them with Veronica and with the rest of the Bilingual Avenue community!

And the very last thing that I’ll point you to is episode 12. On episode 12, we talked about different ways that you could create exposure and a need to use a certain language.  There are lots of activities there of different things that you can start formulating and maybe you’ll find something that works in your case. It’s certainly worth a shot. You can find that at bilingualavenue.com/episode12.

Ok everyone, remember that you can find a transcript of today’s episode on the show notes page at bilingualavenue.com/episode76

If you like what you heard, you can catch us every week by subscribing to iTunes or Stitcher radio.

May you have fun travels on your language journey. Hope to see you again on the avenue!



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