Just like all of my other posts, this is not supposed to be backed up by scientifically proven studies or data. It’s simply my experience. This is something that many people have doubts and questions about. That is, raising a bilingual child.
I grew up in Asuncion, Paraguay. My native language was Spanish -my parents were both Paraguayans. Somehow, I ended up at a fully French school at age 3. Everything was in French: the classes, most of the teachers were actually from France and the program was too. Needless to say, I had to do my homework by myself and I was on a completely different school schedule than the rest of the country. The education was extremely intense and very demanding. On top of French, I got to perfect my Spanish grammar and learn English and German. French education is great! Anyhow, I guess you can say I grew up as a bilingual child. It never messed up my Spanish and I was fully fluent in both. I was shocked to find out people in Paris thought I was a native – I never thought it was that good.
Languages come easy to me. I couldn’t do numbers to save my LIFE. You probably haven’t met too many people that are SO bad at math like I am. But it is what it is. I moved to the Midwest in 2011 and my English was acceptable. I felt like it wasn’t all that fluent but I got by. Six years later, most people don’t know I didn’t grow up here and are shocked when they find out. I am very grateful to God for this skill and I don’t take it for granted. I happened to marry this handsome gentleman from these parts of the country, and I know his frequent company also sped up my learning process.
So, right after we got married my mother and brother moved in with us from Paraguay. It sounds like a bad thing but it wasn’t. Not only it was a life-saving deal for them, but it was for us too in many different ways. They were here for the birth of our first child, Benedict. God worked out things so perfectly that my mom has stayed with him (and now Josephine) every day of their lives while I am at work, 0.5 miles away from home. We knew we wanted to teach him Spanish from day ONE and we did. Believe it or not, due to my easiness with languages my brain is completely Americanized. I lived in Asuncion for 22 years and in the US for 6, and yet English is my predominant language these days. It took a minor effort to get used to talking to my little newborn in Spanish, all the time. However, there was also another challenge: being married to someone that doesn’t speak the same native language. Aaron and I speak in English, but Benedict and I speak in Spanish. If you think about it, that is a constant switch your brain has to make throughout the day. Also, Benedict stays with Lela (grandma) 40 hours a week and those are 40 hours of Spanish. Aaron will talk to Benny in his limited Spanish (I guess I should say in his fully proficient toddler level) on and off.
In our experience, the use of the two languages from birth didn’t slow down is speech one bit. In fact, I usually joke that he is trilingual: he speaks Gibberish, English and Spanish. Here’s the really funny thing: sometimes he will spit out a very long sentence and our friends will say: Oh, I don’t know what he is saying – thinking it’s Spanish when it’s pure Gibberish- and I usually respond: No worries, neither do I!
We did teach him manners and prayers in English. It is absolutely necessary that he can be polite to others in the language spoken by everyone around us. We also go to Mass in English and pray the rosary daily so it would make sense to pass on the faith to him in English.
Here are some very interesting facts about our experiment (I mean, that’s what it is) with our firstborn child in regards to bilingualism:
-We randomly tested out what he understood in which language. We would ask: Como se llama tu hermana? And he would respond perfectly. Later on we would ask the same question in English and he would also say: Josephine. We performed these tests very lightly and very little as well.
-He understands perfectly commands given in any of the languages or just basic conversation you’re trying to make with him. Very rarely I have to tell him in Spanish something that I notice he’s not getting in English, but it happens.
-He knows who speaks which language. We’ve seen it where he’s told Aaron: Look daddy! Airplane. But he would turn and tell me: Mami, aión (avión). His tiny brain knew exactly which parent spoke which language. I guess it may sound obvious, but to us it was very surprising
-We don’t have cable or watch TV at home, but he will watch videos on Netflix for a limited amount of time a day, and I have noticed that he was barely speaking Spanish after watching cartoons in English and by having us read his books before bed in English. We immediately switched to Spanish cartoons and on the nights I do books (we alternate every other night. One night I have Josie and Aaron has Benny, the other night I have Benny and Aaron has Josie) I translate his books as I read them to Spanish. His Spanish went back to ‘normal’ right away. It is a fact that he will learn English because we live in an English speaking country. The same cannot be said about Spanish.
I also wanted to include some funny mixed sentences he’s made that I have laughed over and absolutely love:
-Mami, I wanna jugar basketball.
I think this one has been the craziest by far: an almost full English sentence interrupted by a lonely Spanish verb.
-Josie took her shoes off otra vez!
-I don’t want it piscina!
He was trying to tell me he didn’t want to go to swimming lessons.
-It hurt my dedo!
These are some of the few examples I can think of with an exhausted brain. Please also consider he will be 3 next month, so I am sure I will have more to add in the future. So far, it’s been a terrific ride and have laughed more than we should have. If you happen to have the chance to raise bilingual kids and are on the fence about it: GO FOR IT! It’s totally worth it and you are opening doors for your children in the future. I don’t have a degree and won’t, but being trilingual has given me jobs that not only are amazing but pay extremely well! They pay better than jobs that require a degree sometimes.
I also get to connect with different people in such a strong way! My languages have allowed me to experience things that I would have never been able to otherwise. From meeting celebrities to playing my own concert in Paris at age 18.
By all means, go the extra mile, burn that brain of yours a little more every day and do it! You won’t regret it!