Episode 80: Q&A – Which language should I speak to my child while he transitions to the community language?

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On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I answer a listener’s question who is navigating her son’s transition to the community language.  She is concerned that he will need more exposure to English to make things easier for him when he starts school.  However, she is concerned that if she herself speaks to him in both languages, he may be confused.  I assure her that he will be able to tell difference but encourage her to consider what languages she will want to use when her son has more exposure to the community language.

Episode #80- Transcript


Hello and welcome to another episode of the Bilingual Avenue podcast.

I have been getting lots of questions from listeners which is really exciting for me because that lets me know that the podcast is peaking your interest and that you are getting information out of our guest interviews as well as the Questions and Answers.

We have more and more listeners download the podcast every week and we are up to 101 countries so thank you every one for all your support.

To help us all stay more connected, I have set up a Bilingual Avenue group on Facebook.  This is a little bit different from the Facebook page.  On group pages, anyone can post questions, comments, etc.  This should be a great way for all of us to stay in touch.  You can connect with other multilingual parents, get advice from folks in a similar situation, and share your success! All you have to do to join is log onto Facebook, in the search box type Bilingual Avenue.  Two things should pop up, the Bilingual Avenue Facebook page which is you have not joined, I would love to have you on there.  The second thing that should come up is the group or community page.  It is a closed group so you will have to ask to join the group.  By creating a closed group, only approved members can see your posts and not everyone else who follows you on Facebook.  This level of privacy is nice and lets folks open up about their wins and their struggles.  The group is all set up so you can join us as soon as this podcast is released!   I’d love to meet you on there!

Alright, so let’s get to today’s question which came in from Monica.

Question: Hello Marianna! My name is Mónica and I found your podcast a couple of months ago.  Thank you so much for all the great information! I have a question related to episode 40 “how to transition to the community language” I just read the notes and It’s a topic I can relate 100% with!

 My husband and I are Mexicans living in the US. Our son is 20 months old and we speak Spanish at our home. I’m constantly worried about the fact that if I don’t do anything he won’t know how to communicate when he starts school next year, and it really breaks my heart just to think of leaving him in a new school with children that speak English instead of Spanish as his native language. I want to make the transition as smooth as possible and kind of prepare him for what’s coming.

 Episode 40 had great tips, thank you for that!

 We’ve been going to Gymboree and Baby Story time so he can learn from others the thing is: I don’t know what to do when I’m there with him. Should I speak only English as well?

 What I’m doing right now is do both, say the instruction in English and then repeat it in Spanish. This is what makes me feel more comfortable, but I don’t know if I’m confusing him or ruining the English learning experience for him.

 I also explain him how we speak a language at home and how when we go out we speak something different. Is he too young for this kind of explanation? What would you recommend?

 Also as I mentioned before we only speak Spanish at home, but we listen to both English and Spanish songs and we sing in both languages as well without any specific routine or order. Is this ok?

Thank you so much for your time Marianna and keep up the good work. I’m happy to have found your podcast and I’m sure it’s going to be a go to source for years to come!  🙂

 Thank you Monica so much for you note and for allowing me to share with the Bilingual Avenue community.

You express some very valid concerns in your email.  Some children adapt really well when they are in new environment and in a new language while others would benefit from a bit of a transition.  What is certainly working in your favor is that English is the community language and so if you want there are plenty of other opportunities to expose him and help him feel more familiar. Story times or gyms like Gymboree are a great way to increase exposure because he is going to be around other English speakers even if he is not interacting with them just yet.

Now here comes what I think you are mostly interested in which is how to interact with him in these settings.  There are different approaches and it will really come down to style.  You mentioned that right now you are speaking to him in both languages.  This is very common!  I find myself doing this quiet a bit when there are, for example, other young kids playing with my daughter and I want everyone to understand what I am saying.  You can rest assured that this will not be confusing to your son.   Children are impressively able to differentiate between languages and he will not be confused.  Therefore, if this approach feels comfortable for you then keep it up.  The same goes for singing!

One thing I would want you to consider and visualize is how do you want to interact with him once he is attending school and is much more immersed in the community language.  Do you still want to communicate in both languages or do you want to speak exclusively in Spanish?  Depending on your son, he may be able to adapt really well to the language policy switch or he may not so just give it some thought.

I do think it’s great that you are communicating with him what the home language is and what the out of the home language is.  At 20 months, he may be able to understand or he may not but one day he will so do not shy away from starting that type of communication early on.  These little ones surprise us when we least expect it.  We use a similar approach to differentiate English and Spanish at home.  Daddy words essentially means English and Mami words means Spanish.  I was fascinated by how quickly she picked up on it and your son will too!

But again, think about what you want to do when he is attending school and much more exposed to the community language.  Do you still want the out of the home language to be English?  Keep in mind that as they get older it can get become more difficult to provide exposure in the target language and the tables will actually be turned on you.  I can tell you that I personally talk to my daughter only in Spanish even when we are out of the house unless like I said before I want others to understand what I am saying in which case I repeat myself in both.

I am always a proponent for supporting the target language as much as you possibly can.  Even though it seems like the community language needs a lot of support at this point, it will not be an issue for much longer.  However, supporting the target language is sometimes a lifelong effort.

Alright, Monica, I hope you found this answer helpful.  Thank you very much for taking the time to send in your concern and I hope it has helped other parents in similar situations!

For anyone else, don’t hesitate to send me a note and we’ll address your concern on the show.  Remember to check out the Bilingual Avenue group on Facebook!  We have talked a lot on the show about building a tribe that supports you on this language journey and this can certainly be one of those tribes for you!

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


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