Raising a (kind of) bilingual baby

El Morro in the sunshine

The Popple is bilingual. Kind of. Actually, she’s technically not lingual at all yet, unless you count her indiscriminate yelling of “Dadadayayaya”. But she lives in a two-language household.

Here’s the set-up:

Adrian: Native Spanish speaker from Puerto Rico.

Me: Studied Spanish for six years in school, tested out of the language requirement at university, then lost most of my Spanish due to lack of use. While I retained some vocabulary, I forgot how to string sentences together, so ‘speaking Spanish’ consists of me yelling random words in an embarrassing American accent.

Although Adrian and I speak English to each other 95% of the time, we’ve started to refer to some things in Spanish since the Popple was born. The Popple throws her food on the piso, not the floor. She repeatedly points at the luz, not the light (because she finds the word luz HILARIOUS). She’s obsessed with the colour green, so we refer to everything green as a verde. That green triangle from her shape sorting box, the number three cup in her set of stacking cups, the plastic sparkling water bottles she gets so excited about – all verdes.

She drinks with a cup but eats with a cuchara. She brushes her teeth with a cepillo but gets washed with a washcloth. Daddy takes the guagua to work, but we ride to city centre on the train.

Adrian occasionally speaks to her solely in Spanish, and I participate in their conversations by interjecting song lyrics I’ve picked up from the Popple’s favourite children’s show, Atención Atención.

Había un sapo, sapo, sapo que nadaba en el río, río, río (There was a frog, frog, frog, he was swimming in the river, river, river),” I say, apropos of absolutely nothing, because this song WILL NOT GET OUT OF MY HEAD.

It all seems pretty confusing to me, but apparently babies are able to distinguish between similar languages from about six months. Her growing brain is absorbing our weird Spanglish like a sponge, not that she’ll have many chances to use it in Scotland. Maybe we’ll just need to holiday in Spain. A lot. It will be a sacrifice, all that sun and sangria, but it will be worth it for the Popple to have the opportunity to hear and use the language we’re so desperate for her to learn.

Luz!” she’ll shout as she points at the sun.

“Yes,” we’ll say. “There’s a luz in the sky. Imagine that.”

39 Comment

  1. I think this is amazing. kids find it so much easier to learn then adults!!
    Great post
    http://workingmumy.blogspot.com
    #bigpinklink

    1. That’s exactly why I want her to learn Spanish now – it gets so much harder to learn a language as you get older.

  2. Oh how fab, we speak Dinglish (Dutch English) here Hun. my advice would be to find what works for you and stick with it. We used the OPOL approach, one parent on language. But I have friends who speak one language in the house and one out. Starting young is a fab idea. Being bilingual seems to be very popular at the moment too with some people saying it makes you cleverer. I don’t know about that but it woks for us. ⭐️

    1. OPOL would probably a good approach for us, since my Spanish is atrocious. I think we’ve slipped into Spanglish partially because that’s what Adrian is used to – Spanish is his first language but he went to an English-language school, so at home he always spoke a mixture of both.

  3. If you can work out a way to pass on both languages, then go for it! It’ll really help the Popple when she’s older 🙂

    1. I know – I really wish I’d had the opportunity to be brought up with a second language, but both of my parents only speak English. Plus learning Spanish is a great way for the Popple to connect with her Puerto Rican heritage.

  4. I think it’s amazing when people are bilingual and I definitely think the earlier you start speaking another language, the better. Even if you don’t come up with a plan I think she’ll just pick things up as she gets older, especially if Adrian speaks to her in Spanish often. It will definitely be a hardship to spend lots of time in Spain… #bigpinklink

    1. I’m hoping she’ll just keep picking it up, but because she doesn’t hear us (or other people) speaking Spanish regularly, I’m not sure how much she’ll get. A little of another language is better than nothing, though – right?

  5. I don’t think you need a plan, what you doing is great. I never really had a plan and both my kids are bilingual (portuguese/english). The popple will pick it up as long as she continues to be exposed to both languages. By the way we have that same song in portuguese and my kids love it! #bigpinklink

    1. Ooh, I’m so excited the sapo song exists in another language!

  6. I think its a fantastic idea getting used to both languages. Babies do seem to learn faster as well xx
    #tribal x

    1. I hope she’s learning something – it’s hard to know!

  7. We’re also a Spanish-English household and my son knows some words in each language. Lately I’ve notice that he does understand most of whatever we say no matter what language we’re speaking. But he doesn’t speak yet so the words he uses is pretty spanglish. Oh and we live in Puerto Rico so we know all about Atención Atención!
    #fartglitter

    1. Yay for Atención Atención! My brothers-in-law are involved with the show, which is how we found out about it. The Popple LOVES it.

  8. I think you are doing great and should carry on as you are. Kids are like sponges and she will be absorbing all of these words which is amazing. I think it is really great raising a child bilingual and I wish that I had been able to do that, I can only speak mockney and manc though! 😉 x

    1. Ha – mockney and manc totally count, right? I guess the Popple will be trilingual if we stay in Glasgow – she can learn Glaswegian!

  9. This will stand her in such good stead for later life! #fartglitter

    1. I hope so! I think it’s such a gift to be able to give your child another language straight away so they don’t have to struggle to learn one when they’re older.

  10. Ah I would love to have been brought up bilingual! No tips but I think it sounds wonderful and hopefully fhe popple will pick up more than some and that will be just lovely for her to language of a parent to call upon #bigpinklink

    1. I’d love to be able to take her to Puerto Rico some day and have her be able to speak Spanish to her relatives – that would make me SO happy.

  11. Oh my, this is EXACTLY what it’s like in our household. My husband is Nepalese, I’m English. Most of our interactions with our daughter are in Nepalese but we mostly speak English to each other. If anything, I talk Nepalese more consistently with her than he does and it drives me nuts. Her family on his side have barely a word of English between them so it’s really important that she learns otherwise she will never be able to communicate with them.

    She’s just 18 months now and is starting to say a few words. Heartbreakingly, the majority are English despite our efforts. I think living in the UK and having everything else around her in English means that Nepalese is overshadowed. She understands everything in both languages. I could ask her to ‘put that there’ or ‘uta rakh’ and she does it. I don’t know what the answer is but I do know that being bilingual is such an amazing skill on so many levels so we have to keep trying. Let me know if you have any breakthrough, tips, feedback and let’s see what we can do!

    1. That’s great that she’s picking up both languages. It makes total sense that she’s using more English, though, if that’s what she hears outside the home. I imagine the same will happen for the Popple.

  12. I think it’s brilliant if you can have a dual language household. My mum is a linguist and my dad is dutch and so I always had other languages growing up. The best reason was that we can talk about other people when we are out in public! ‘That man looks really weird and I think we should cross over’ just sounds so much better when they can’t understand you! 😉 Thanks for linking up! #bigpinklink

    1. Oh yeah – being able to talk about other people in public is a big plus!

  13. I now have a dancing frog singing about the rio in my head and I have a feeling he might be there for some time!! (Thanks for that! :)) I think it’s great to introduce a second language as early as you can so that it becomes natural for children. I think you’re right in that the younger they are the easier they seem to adapt. I keep trying to introduce the odd work in french to my little one but I should really step up my game now that she’s 3.
    Thanks for linking up with #FartGlitter – ooh and good luck with #missionsangria xx

    1. Ha – love this #missionsangria hashtag!

      1. Just popping back via #passthesauce. Thanks for linking up lovely! x

  14. I think it’s great that you are trying your best to make her a bilingual! I’m currently learning Spanish, still in the very beginning stages, I would absolutely love to teach my children basic phrases/words in Spanish/French 🙂 I suppose suntanning in the Spanish sun will be a sacrifice you shall have to make! 😉 xxx #BigPinkLink

    1. Good luck with your Spanish lessons – it’s great to learn a new language at any age!

  15. Excellent! Being bilingual is a gift. My two speak Greek and English and I was worried about them getting confused, but the pediatrician said not to worry because children will absorb separate languages as one language before distinguishing between the two. The brain is an amazing thing!

    Learning as a baby is so much easier too, my Greek is absolutely appalling, I get confused, get words wrong and come across as a total numpty, whereas my two can flit between Greek and English without thinking, it’s amazing to listen to.

    I think a holiday to Spain sounds like a hardship, but you may have to think of your daughter and take her over, annually if possible. It’s going to be hard, but you can do it!

    xx

  16. This is fantastic. Mother speaks Italian (not fluently but well enough) and has wanted to teach me some so she’ll throw in the odd phrase during the day. She didn’t realise that babies could learn from 6 months old (that’s because we’re awesome). Would love to hear how you get on with this. #puddinglove

  17. Popping back again to say thanks for linking up with #puddinglove

  18. Love this – so crazy how quickly kids pick up languages. My nephew is french-english so my brother in law speaks to him only in french & now when you say to him “how do you say moon?” he’ll always reply “la lune” and vice versa for English words. Incredible! #passthesauce

  19. Brilliant that you are introducing her to two languages so early one, like you say kids are like sponges at this age. Yeh she might not get to use it much in Scotland but having a second language under your belt is always useful – I wish I had one (sometimes I am so tired I speak in a series of grunts but this has yet to be categorised as language). Thanks for linking up #PuddingLove

  20. twotinyhands says: Reply

    I say go for it, if you can teach them 2 languages at such an early age that is yay for them! I had a strange idea that I would try and learn sign language so that I could teach it to the Robot. This is falling by the wayside since I started blogging! Good luck #triballove!

  21. I think it’s indeed an interesting approach but I do think that in the long term is going to be detrimental for Popple or your other future children’s bilingualism. Spanglish (or by the same effect mixing any two languages) might be interesting for adults as a way to express words that don’t necessarily exist in the other language. However, for a baby I don’t really see the interest or the value of “inventing a new language”.
    In our case, mum is French, dad is Colombian and we live in the UK. We followed OPOL and this worked like a charmed with our 3 kids who are fully natural trilinguals. We might have been lucky (we also are both bilingual French and Spanish which also helps) but we were also very discipline only speaking to the kids in our own language.
    My strong recommendation would be for you to reconsider your approach. Adrian to speak just and only Spanish to her and you just and only English. As I guess, Adrian speaks already English (you mentioned you both speak it 90% of the time) i guess what would make OPOL work in your case is for you to learn Spanish. When Popple start growing it will help for the dinner table conversations if you also speak Spanish.
    I’m curious to see how your setup ended working in a couple of years time. It might be I end up wrong and your kids will be fully (and not partial) bilingual.

  22. martinezbachofen says: Reply

    I think it’s indeed an interesting approach but I do think that in the long term is going to be detrimental for Popple or your other future children’s bilingualism. Spanglish (or by the same effect mixing any two languages) might be interesting for adults as a way to express words that don’t necessarily exist in the other language. However, for a baby I don’t really see the interest or the value of “inventing a new language”.
    In our case, mum is French, dad is Colombian and we live in the UK. We followed OPOL and this worked like a charmed with our 3 kids who are fully natural trilinguals. We might have been lucky (we also are both bilingual French and Spanish which also helps) but we were also very discipline only speaking to the kids in our own language.
    My strong recommendation would be for you to reconsider your approach. Adrian to speak just and only Spanish to her and you just and only English. As I guess, Adrian speaks already English (you mentioned you both speak it 90% of the time) i guess what would make OPOL work in your case is for you to learn Spanish. When Popple start growing it will help for the dinner table conversations if you also speak Spanish.
    I’m curious to see how your setup ended up working in a couple of years time. It might well be that I’m wrong and your kids will be fully (and not partial) bilingual.

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