I am lucky to be bilingual.
I was born in Peru and moved to the United States with my mother and older sister when I was four years old. In the US, we only spoke English so we could learn the language.
For around eleven years, my sister and I would spend the summers in Peru with my father and extended family, and we were able to practice our Spanish. Even though English is my dominant language by far, I still can talk (verbally and written) to my father and extended family in Spanish.
So, even before I became pregnant, I always knew I wanted to raise my child to be bilingual. How hard can it be, right? I thought, surely, my child will be bilingual as soon as he can start talking.
My husband doesn’t speak Spanish, so I started researching how to raise a bilingual child.
One Parent, One Language Method
I came across many methods and opinions on when and how to teach a child a second language. The method that seemed appealing was the one parent, one language method where, as it sounds, one parent speaks to the child in one language, and the other parent speaks to the child in another language. This will be easy, I believed, and maybe my husband can learn on the way. My baby is only three months old, but I already find this method challenging. With everything else going on and getting used to parenthood, I was trying to see if there was a better way.
I came across the context method, where the second language is spoken or exposed in certain situations or times. I wanted to try the context method instead, because it seemed “easier.” Then I found myself being inconsistent with this journey and being hard on myself for being consistent with any method.
Feeling Like a Failure
When I think of him not being bilingual, it makes me feel like a failure and very sad. Then, my son wouldn’t be able to talk to his grandpa or other family members from Peru. In reading many articles and talking to other parents, I realized that I am not alone and that even experts agree that raising a bilingual child in a monolingual environment is extremely challenging.
As challenging as this is going to be, it is never too late, and I will keep trying.
I am also going to try to be easier on myself.
Since I have already been inconsistent with what method I’m following, I figured a modified method would be best. I will continue to do research and reach out to people that have or are going through this.
To help me on this journey, I will focus on the following fundamental tips:
- Remember why you are doing this and remind yourself of all of the benefits.
- Continue getting support by joining local/online groups who are raising bilingual children and talk to people taking care of your child (mine will be in daycare soon) to see how they can support this effort.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself!
- Be consistent, pick a strategy, and stick to it. Expose them to the second language as many ways as possible. Find what they like and incorporate the other language in that.
- Make sure to praise your child and encourage them for speaking the other language.
I believe that giving your child the gift of bilingualism can enrich their life. Being well informed and connected will increase the chances of success. Even though my child is only three months old and I know I have a lot of time to teach him a second language, I am going to focus on the five tips above.