My Challenges Raising A Bilingual Child

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For many years before I got married, and had a child of my own. I always stressed to my cousin and sister living in the US the importance of speaking to their children in Spanish! I literally badgered them every time I talked to them, about what an advantage it is to know two languages, that Spanish was part of their identity; and that they will learn English regardless; and speaking to them in Spanish was a priority. Both of them agreed on one thing, that it was hard! (Little did I know!)

Fast forward to 2012, and here I am married to a Black man, living in the US, with a 4 yr. old mixed child; whom I’m literally struggling to teach Spanish to. I remembered when I was pregnant with my baby, and I told my husband numerous times that our child was going to speak two languages, know and learn to love his two cultures.

In the most profound and deepest corner of my heart, I feel that I have failed miserably to teach my son how to speak in Spanish. I am the only one who speaks Spanish at home, and all of my Spanish speaking family members live far away. It’s just my husband, and my in-laws. So I have found myself speaking to our child in English most of the time instead of my native language: Spanish. Now, I understand my cousin and sister, and how challenging it has been to speak in Spanish in a predominant English speaking environment.

So in a conscientious effort to teach my son Spanish, I bought the book: 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child by Naomi Steiner, M.D. with Susan L. Hayes. I must say this book has given me some hope.

I’ve decided to start using the “Language Boundaries” method. The author suggest that I speak to my child in a specific situation, such as: time of day (mealtime, weekends), location, or depending on an activity. I have opted to use this method right before bedtime. It’s the time of the day, that my son is more receptive, and is winding down from the day’s activities. I speak to him in Spanish, and read bedtime stories in Spanish as well. We say our prayers in Spanish, and it brings such joy to my heart to hear my little one saying, “Angel de la guarda, mi dulce compañía…” (Guardian Angel prayer) in Spanish.

Although, our son speaks English. He understands basic words, knows his numbers and colors in Spanish; and before bedtime, he goes to his “Papi” gives him a kiss, and a hug, and says, “Buenas noches Papi.”

I know it’s going to be a long road ahead for us, but my hopes have rekindled in raising a bilingual child, especially when I hear our son say something in Spanish. ♫♫♫ It’s music to my ears!♫♫♫

Little one and Papi

Do you have any suggestions, ideas or challenges that you have raising a bilingual child? I would love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below.

I’m an avid reader and follower of Bicultural Mom, and every Monday she has a series of topics related to multicultural families. This Monday’s Multicultural Blog Hop is about Bilingualism/Bilingual Parenting.

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16 Responses to “My Challenges Raising A Bilingual Child”

  1. Frances, I can relate completely to your story! I feel like this is my story too in many ways. About three years ago, we moved to the Midwest for a better life because the economy is good here. While I love our life here, it feels very isolated at times and I have few outlets to practice my Spanish, since my in-laws are halfway across the country.

    I made the same promise to my hubby and for our first year back in Michigan, I was successfully raising a bilingual daughter. In the past three years I feel like I have drifted further and further from the mark. I'm still speaking Spanish with my daughter and she knows much more than she lets on, but it hurts to know that she isn't nearly as fluent in Spanish as she is in English. I feel like a complete failure. I feel like I'm letting my husband down, who didn't have a chance to grow up fluent in Spanish and wanted that for his daughter.

    I'm beginning to feel desperate, because my lack of fluency is also part of the problem. Bilingualism is so important to us and also giving her the gift of communicating in Spanish and connecting with her Latino peers.

    Thanks so much for including a book recommendation! I will check this out! And just know…you're not alone and I really appreciate you sharing. ♥

    P.S. I think you just inspired an upcoming post from me…LOL.

  2. Chantilly, thank you so much for your input and sharing your own personal experience. Raising a bilingual child is such a challenge, especially when it's just one parent speaking the language. I have faith that my child will grow up to be bilingual. I will just have to take it one day at a time.

    P.S. Can't wait to see your newly inspired post. 🙂

  3. Hang in there, Frances! It sounds like you are doing a great job in tough circumstances! It must be hard to be the sole Spanish speaker in your son's world. Thanks for sharing the book – it sounds great! And it sounds like bedtime is a great time for teaching him Spanish, great idea!

  4. Thanks for sharing your struggles. I'm the only Spanish-speaking parent in my family, and Spanish isn't even a native language for me! I don't think you need to speak to him in Spanish all the time…but just start doing it. Also, if you happen to have a bilingual or Spanish immersion school around, check it out. My son's Spanish has improved quite a bit after just a few weeks of 2 days/week Spanish immersion preschool!

  5. Hello Lynn!

    It's great that your son's Spanish has improved with only 2 days a week, that's quite an accomplishment! I'm sure you're very happy with his progress. The suggestion of a bilingual/Spanish immersion school is fantastic, though sadly enough where we live there is no such thing! I have looked, so I guess I'll be doing this "solo", but I will not despair. I'm keeping my hopes up. Thank you for sharing your own struggles with me. You're a trooper, especially when Spanish is not your native language. 🙂 I take my hat off to you!

  6. I hear you friend! You just described my family's situation. I just started a blog my self to make sense of our unique family identity. I am going to look for the book you mention. Great idea!
    You are not alone. Hang in there. Even if he doesn't speak it now, siguele hablando que ellos lo guardan en su cabecita.

  7. Saludos Soraya!! We're definitely in the same boat! Thanks for the support, pero te digo es una lucha constante! 🙂 Pero no perderé la fé! Que edad tiene tu hijo/a? Gracias!

  8. Ay a mí me está pasando lo mismo, de hecho escribí el otro día sobre el tema. Soy la única que habla español en casa, mi familia está toda en España y ya me empiezo a sentir un poco bicho raro, y pensar la de veces que le insistí yo a amigos que no dejasen de hablar en su idioma a sus hijos porque yo había estudiado en la universidad que se pasan baches pero que hay que persistir. Y ya ves, ahora me toca a mí. Bueno, menos mal que no soy la única http://www.feistytapas.com/2012/10/how-to-cope-as-bilingual-parent.html

  9. Que mucho me reí con tu comentario! Es más por un momento pensé, "¡ufff la historia de mi vida!" Como dice el refrán en Inglés "It's better said than done!" Es tan fácil decirles a otros no dejen de hablarle a sus hijos en Español, etc., etc. hasta que uno se encuentra en la misma situación. Gracias por tu comentario … y me voy a leer tu blog.

  10. What a beautiful, heartfelt post Frances. I'd never heard of the language boundaries method until I read your interview at Heartland Kids. Sounds like an excellent idea and I might try that here even though I'm not a native speaker. You are doing a wonderful thing for your son and I'm sure that if you persevere you will succeed – but it sure isn't easy is it?

  11. I am Scottish and live in Australia with my German husband and our 2 daughters (3mo and 2.5yo), both of whom were born here in Australia. We use One Parent One Language (OPOL) which means I only speak English to our daughters and my husband speaks only German. Our "family" language is English, mainly because I have only very basic German myself. My toddler understands everything in German but only rarely uses German words. She has no other exposure to the German langauge – it is hard to come by in Australia, here in our small town anyway. We have not been back to Europe since we arrived here more than 3 years ago and have no plans to return eith long or short term, it's just too expensive. But, I want the girls to speak German, because after all they are half German, plus it's a terrible waste not to learn it when they can pick it up with such ease from birth. Is the idea, anyway! But yes, it's hard because it's just their Papa speaking it with them. It will be interesting to see what langauge the girls use to speak with each other as they grow up! I intend to learn more for sure, to help them. It is very early days for us tho, hence blog posts such as yours catch my eye – always looking for info on this topic but never time to read any of the "proper" books so we are kind of just doing it our way. Buena suerte to you and your family. I lived in Spain, spoke Spanish for many years….many's the time I wished I'd met a Spaniard / South American – would have been simper 😉

  12. Hello! Thank you for stopping by, and I'm glad i'm not the only one struggling with teaching our son another language. I feel the same way in regards to my son learning Spanish! He's 1/2 Latin so it's only natural for him to know the language, but it's a constant struggle, one that I won't give up on! Thank you for sharing your story!

  13. Hi Fraces! This is my first time visiting your blog and I am so glad because I am raising a multicultural kid, too!
    Soy de PR, mi esposo de Haiti y vivimos en Massachusetts. Mi nena tiene casi 5 a~os ya y ha estado sumerjida en tres idiomas (Espa~ol, Ingles y Frances). Entiendo lo dificil que es mantener las fuerzas para ense~arle el idioma a nuestros hijos y mas aun dificil es cuando ya comienzan la escuela. Mi nina esta fascinada con el Espanol sin embargo no le va al 100% con el Frances ya q pasa mucho menos tiempo con su papa por su trabajo. La forma en q he logrado que hable casi perfectamente el Espanol ha sido en un principio…solo hablarle en Espanol…cuando ya ella comenzo a hablar y a tener amigos y el Ingles a tomar su rumbo mas fuerte….pues traducia TODAS nuestras conversaciones, cantaba muchas canciones y a muchas frases les anadia tonadas para hacerla creer que era una cancion ya que a veces se sentia frustrada si se daba cuenta q le imponia el idioma. Que mejor que la musica para relajar y expandir conocimiento? Ademas de muchos juegos con movimientos. Luego a sus casi 4 a~os invite a mi sobrina de 6 a venir a pasar las vacaciones de verano con nosotros. Eso ha sido la clave para su completo desarrollo con el idioma. Ella sabe q su prima no habla ingles, ni su abuelita que vino tambien. Fue todo un mes de juego ininterrumpido en total Espanol. Donde vivo trato de buscar mamas que hablen Espanol por medio del Meetup group, parques o escuela. Leemos libros y tenemos un CD de musica q siempre vamos cantando en el auto, como otro en Frances. Ahora estamos en el proceso de aprender a leer el espanol, por lo q tengo pensado utilizar el mismo proceso q en Ingles: CVC (ya q los sonidos cortos de las vocales son igual q en espanol excepto por la u). A ver si tenemos exito. Solo hay q no perder la fe y fuerzas, y aunque a veces es frustrante solo tomar un descanso para recobrar fuerzas y continuar luego.

  14. Hola! Que gusto que me hayas encontrado, al parecer estamos en las mismas ¿no? 🙂 Wow, mi quito el sombrero ante ti por tener a tu hija sumerjida en tres idiomas! Que gran logro! Que fantastica idea de tener a tu sobrina y Mamá de vacaciones y que todo sea en Español. Yo también tengo familia que viene a visitar, pero terminar sucumbiendo al poco Inglés que saben con mi chico. Jajajaja Donde yo vivo no hay muchas mamas latinas, y he tratado por meet-up sin mucho exito. Por eso estoy buscando otras vías para exponer a mi hijo al idioma Español. Gracias mil por tus palabras de aliento y apoyo. Cierto es, no es fácil pero seguimos en la lucha para que nuestros hijos aprendan el idioma de sus madres. 🙂 Ahora me voy a visitar tu blog!

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