Questions and aswers for bilingual parenting

Since I started with www.mybilingualkid blog and opened my_bilingualkid Instagram account, many of you have been interested in bilingual parenting and the personal experience that has led my children to understand and speak a new language, English in this case, at an early age.

Here are the questions and answers that you have asked me about my personal experience in bilingual parenting.

When and how do I start speaking in a minority language to my kid?

Before you start, analyse:

Age of your kid. Never is too late to start. If your kid is over 3 years old, you can start teaching him the new language through games, or daily routines. Who does not know how to play rock, paper, scissors? Do you think that if you do it in a different language your kid will not understand you? Look for lifelong games that we all know. Visit the entertainment section.

Think about day-to-day actions and get a phrase for each one of them, «Lávate las manos», «Lávate los dientes» … start with direct and specific orders and expand. Visit the Daily routine section.

If he/she is under 3 years old, you can try to start saying everything in the minority language. It is the perfect moment; you have plenty of time to practice, study and get ready for when your kid demands more. Pay attention to the daily sentences post and put them into practice “Spanish sentences for parents”.

Minority Language level. Do believe your level of English is not enough to tech your kids? If your kid is under 3 years old, do not worry about the level, my personal experience tells me that you are going to learn at the same time as he/she does. Remember that a child requires repeating the same things many times, a perfect excuse to learn and improve a new language.

If your kid is older than three years old, I would recommend you to focus on more specific activities, such as games that you can prepare beforehand or to read a bedtime story every night in the minority language. Reading is the easiest and most complete way to learn a new language and to improve it little by little.

Are you still using the OPOL «One Parent One Language method?

As I mentioned in my last post “Como hacer que mi hijo sea bilingüe sin ser native” we moved relatively recently and my husband and I decided to change the strategy. Now we both try to speak the minority language at home.

Therefore, we now use one language in the family context and another in the social one. The advantage I have found is that my children at home try to speak in the minority language.

My oldest son changes the language constantly depending on the topic, although I always speak to him in English (our minority language) and I try to encourage him to do so.

How do you get them to answer back in the Minority Language?

I remember when I decided to start speaking English with my first son, he was exactly 2 years old and he was already saying his first words. We started playing hide and seek “escondite”, at the beginning he was quite angry as could not understand everything, but happy at the same time because he loved the game.

A few days later, he began to understand absolutely everything, and the minority language became our language.

One day when I was eating, he said his first word in the minority language, spoon “cuchara”. Since then, whenever he wanted one, I encouraged him to say it in the minority language, as I knew he was capable of it.

Now that he is 6 years old, it is much more difficult for him to speak in the minority language, that is why I involved my husband and now we both try to speak to him in the ML to encourage him to answer back in the same language, sometimes we succeed and sometimes don’t.

Why should I teach my children a new language if they will learn it at school, academy etc.?

If your goal is to raise bilingual it is important to expose your kid to the minority language as much as you can. My children take classes in the school; participate in playgroups in the ML and currently the oldest takes classes with a native teacher one hour per week at home.

Some of you have even asked me, What if I hire an Au pair to teach my children a ML? I worked as an Au pair and I consider it a great experience for both sides. However, I would not lay all my kids learning on an Au pair. The reason is very simple; whenever she leaves, your kids will have to start over again.

In my opinion is better not to be dependent on anything or anyone, because if you are determined to raise bilingual and any of the external factors fail, you will have to start over and over.

Am I going to confuse my children if I speak to them in a second language? I better look for a teacher to teach them.

Perfect with looking for support outside, the more the better. However, learning a language requires exposure and dedication, if you want to raise bilingual I advise you to jump in and be part of your kids learning.

I have also been one of those who have taken my kids to play and learn a new language with a teacher, but I realized that it was not enough, if you really want them to learn without effort, a lot of exposure is important. Otherwise, they will have to memorize vocabulary.

Talking about the possibility of confusing them, it is important to have in mind that if you are not a native speaker it is impossible not to make mistakes (grammar or pronunciation). However, any language teacher can make mistakes; do you think that will prevent your kid from learning a second language? Haven’t you hesitate about how to say something in your own language?

My oldest son often does literal translations that do not sound like English at all, but… what do you do after so many classes, abroad experiences and so on? I am convinced that the mistakes he makes will be polished and corrected. Our goal is to teach him to read in the minority language, reading is for me one of the best tool to learn a second language.

What do you do when you realize you have made a mistake in the minority language?

When I realize I have said or pronounced something wrong, I directly correct it and explain it to my kids, ‘Oh, you can’t say it like that’ “oh, esto no se dice así”, ‘Mom was wrong’ ”Mamá estaba equivocada”.

Sometimes, when I do not know how to say something my kids and I search for it together on the internet. They know is not my mother tongue and we are all learning and studying together.

What do I do if I am not proficient enough to speak to my kids in a minority language?

How do you know that your language knowledge is not enough? Have you tried to talk to your kids in the minority language? The best way to know whether you are or not capable of raising bilingual is to talk to your kids in the minority language. Probably you will realize that you know more than expected. However, do not get frustrated if one day you are not capable to say anything, it happens to all of us. For those words that you doubt, internet is your best friend in this journey.

What are the positive effects to speak to your kids in a minority language?

Today my son is able to read, watch TV, play… in the minority language, without any problem, which is way more that I knew at his age.

I will tell you an anecdote. A couple of years ago we travelled to France. During breakfast time, my oldest son used to go to the reception to play with the receptionist, a young French girl. You do not know how happy I was to see that he was able to communicate with other people in a different language, he was not afraid of speaking in a different language and I am sure he will not be in the future, which is one of the common mistakes when learning a new language.

For me the positive effects are much more than the negative ones, but if you still have doubts, limit yourself to tell them some words or direct orders. Anything better than nothing.

What if I do not pronounce right in the minority language?

If you have started with bilingual parenting, you will have noticed that words that you did not know how to pronounce at the beginning now sound wonderful. Learning a language is practicing, practicing and practicing, like everything else in life. If you do not jump into the pool, you will never learn how to swim.

Since I started I have improved a lot my language skills and so my son.

If you are still concerned with your pronunciation, I advise you to read a story to your children every night, in the minority language. You will realize that words that you could not pronounce, finally you can, and others that you could, but that did not sound well, now sound perfect.

What do you do to improve you and your kids’ minority language skills? Apart from talking to them in the ML.

This will sound funny to you, my husband and me, when we were dating; we made the decision to start chatting in English via WhatsApp. At first, it took us several tries, we constantly switched to Spanish, but third time’s a charm. Now our conversations are 80% in the minority language.

All the devices at home are set up in the minority language, TV, mobile phones, Tablet etc. Cartoon channels are all in original version, at home and at grannies, all kind of platforms such as Netflix, Disney + … My kids sometimes watch French cartoons without caring at all, in fact, they are able to recognize the language without knowing any word.

I try to sit with them and watch cartoons, you can learn a lot from them. Here are the ones we usually watch and understand the best Peppa Pig, Here comes Simon, Hey Duggee, Bluey, Juan y Tolola, Ben and Holly, Bing, Pocoyo, Caillou, Blippi etc.

My oldest son is hooked on YouTube videos; the condition is to watch them in the minority language. This way we increase the time of exposure to the minority language.

Sing songs to them, especially when they are little, my little daughters enjoy singing and dancing so I take the opportunity to teach them all kinds of nursery songs in the minority language, sometimes I learn them in advance and sometimes in situ with them.

Reading of course, every night before going to sleep. I always try to read the story to myself first and to write down the words that I do not know how to pronounce.

Play, play and play. At the beginning I used to study the vocabulary game, how to say to inflate a balloon «inflar un globo», pass the ball «pasar la pelota» … The advantage that you have is that you do not have to look for all this vocabulary, you have it all in this website. Are you going to let this train pass?

Beatriz Sánchez Fernández