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4 & 2 year olds Spanish/English Bilingual are replying in English most of the time!!!
Thread poster: Michelle Silbert

Michelle Silbert
Local time: 04:05
English
+ ...
Sep 24, 2007

Hi,

I have 2 girls and we live in the US. I am of Peruvian descent born in the US, but speak and write both languages perfectly (due to having lived in Peru for 8 years). My husband is American and does not speak Spanish.

When my 4 yr old was born I spoke to her mostly in spanish. At the age of 2 1/2 she started preschool and began speaking english more and more each day. I also had exposed her to mostly english speaking cartoons - for lack of knowledge that there were dvds that had spanish as an option. Obviously, when my daughter began speaking english to me, I began to communicate with her in english as well and would use some spanish still. She had been listening to me mostly, but would only reply in english with just a few words.

Since my 2nd child was born, I realized that my first one was losing her spanish. So, I began to focus more on speaking spanish at home. This is pretty hard for me since almost all my friends are American and do not speak the language. I've noticed that my 2nd child has been speaking both languages - I guess she's following her big sister most of the time. This spring, we had a new tv channel in our area called V-Me. It's great because it has spanish cartoons for half the day. So i've been forcing them to watch this all summer and have been playing their english dvds with the spanish version. I've noticed that both my kids are speaking more spanish = and sometimes to each other. But my fear is that now that she's back in school, she doesn't get to watch the morning spanish shows as much even if i record them, she doesn't want to really watch them.

Because of these issues, i have now become a preschool spanish teacher and have been trying to bring her to my classes if I can (she's usually in school at the time). Plus the stuff I teach is pretty basic and she already knows it all. I play spanish children's music in the car and she's memorized a lot of songs - but i don't think she understands what she's saying half the time.

She's very interested in speaking more spanish, so we try to read books, and play games in spanish. so we're also using a lot of spanglish. I just wish she could make more sentences as she's going to be turning 5 in december.

Aside from not being able to go to Peru to visit family until possibly a year from now and exposing her to more spanish, what else can i do to improve her Spanish? Am I on the right track.

I definitely plan to speak to my younger child mostly in spanish and hopefully not make the same mistake as with the first one.

Sorry for the long post. Any replies would be helpful!

Michelle

Earlier this year, I


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Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:05
Member
English
+ ...
Keep at it! Sep 24, 2007

Hi Michelle,

welcome to the forum.

If you have a glance through our archives, you will see that you are not alone in this.

In my nine years experience of this topic, I'd say that there are three important points in succesfully raising a child bilingually.

One: Be consistent. If you choose to speak to your child in Spanish - then make sure you always do, regardless of who is around you. (1)... The child will associate you with that language and take it as natural that you speak to them in it.

Two: Don't worry about the language the child replies to you in. If they are understanding you, then they are absorbing the target language you are trying to give them. If it is going in, it will come out when they see the need to use it. In that respect, most people find that surrounding the child with other children who only speak the target language is a great impetus to get them speaking the target language. Kids need to talk to kids. They often only reluctantly open their mouths to answer stupid adults' questions like: "Do you like school?" "What do you want to be when you grow up?" etc.

Three: give your gift of a language to your child through love. If you force it down their throats, you might find they reject it, but "gift wrapped" and with a smile on your face and love in your heart... they might just appreciate the gift more.

The main thing is that you are not alone. Millions of people have been where you are now and are now proud parents of young people who switch fluently from one language to the next without effort. Keep at it and don't depair!

Abrazos,

Berni



(1) It is your gift to your child, it is none of their business and they have no right to interfere wtih you imparting that gift.


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Elena Carbonell  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 10:05
Member (2007)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Same here Sep 24, 2007

I have three children, years 9, 7 and 3. We live in Amsterdam, my husband speaks to them in Dutch and I in Spanish. I buy them books, read to them in Spanish, invite Spanish speaking friends, buy dvds in Spanish. Together with some concerned parents, we have started a school for Spanish speaking children and they go there once a week on saturdays but...they reply to me in Dutch.

Well...till now. I was so frustrated that we have moved for a year to Spain. They are going now to a Spanish school and they are surrounded by Spanish speaking people. Now I hear them say things they haven´t learnt from me, which makes me very happy

My recommendation: keep on like that, it´s perfect for them and try to spend as long as possible in a Spanish speaking country and if you feel it´s not enough, think about moving for a year...
Good luck and keep on the good work.


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Yvette Neisser Moreno  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:05
Spanish to English
+ ...
Speak only Spanish Sep 24, 2007

Hi Michelle, I also live in the US and my husband and I speak Spanish to our kids (5 and 1), and my oldest who has been in English-speaking daycare/school for several years now, often speaks to us in English. It's hard to buck the overwhelming trend of English here in the US--we have some Spanish programs on TV, but our son often prefers the English ones, and as Berni says, I don't want to force it on him.

However, I also agree with Berni that the main issue is what language you speak to your children. I think the problem is that you say you have/will speak "mostly Spanish" or "Spanglish" rather than all Spanish. This could be confusing for the younger one, and could give the older one the message that you're willing to speak English--if so, they will probably continue to default into English as long as you let them. You also might consider--if your daughter's Spanish is good enough--insisting that she speak to you in Spanish. This is the rule we've generally used with our son. Although he knows we understand and speak English, the rule is that we speak Spanish as a family, especially in the house. If he wants something, he has to ask for it in Spanish. If he wants to have a conversation with us, he needs to speak Spanish. In a pinch, if he's unable to say something in Spanish, I'll let him explain in English and then give him the words he needs to say it in Spanish.

I also agree with Berni that it's ideal to speak to your children in Spanish all the time, even when you're surrounded by English speakers--but personally, I find this hard to do in social situations, as I'm not so good at switching back and forth so quickly. I think it's okay to speak some English with your children in these circumstances, as long as it's the exception and not the rule.

Those are my two cents--I hope that helps!

Suerte,
Yvette


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Heidi C  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:05
English to Spanish
+ ...
Keep on speaking in Spanish Sep 24, 2007

My sons are now 21 and 18.

When my first son was born, we lived in Mexico, and I spoke to him only in English while my husband spoke to him in Spanish. He started talking a bit later, so of course I was really worried. Nevertheless, I continued speaking to him in English.

Although he would answer in Spanish, I kept on with this. Later on, he had a speech problem (unrelated to bilingualism), so I had to start talking to him in Spanish so he could model...

But years later, I can tell you: all the doubts and guilt paid off. He now speaks English with no foreign accent, and is perfectly bilingual without having studied any special English lessons beyond what he got at a regular school.

So keep on!!! If they answer in English, it doesn`t matter. You go on speaking in Spanish. You`ll see the results many years from now. It is all there in the brain...

Heidi


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Juliana Brown  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 04:05
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
It takes a lot of stubborness Sep 24, 2007

on the parents' part to keep at it. I have an almost 5 year old and a 3 year old. We live in English speaking Toronto, but at home we only speak Hebrew and Spanish. Although the girls hear English at school, and with friends, which is fine, we decided when they were born that we would really limit it at home as far as possible. So...we only speak to them in "our languages", read to them only in those languages, and let them watch only DVDs in those languages. We don;t have cable, so tv is not an issue. If the older one hears about a show from her friends I try to find it in one of the languages- so far so good, since almost everything can be downloaded.
Among themselves there is no English, since when the smaller one came along I told her sister that her baby doesn't understand since she hasn't gone to school yet, so better speak Hebrew or Spanish to her. Older siblings have a huge influence on the younger ones, so the little one was happy to go along with it.
Obviously, living or visiting somewhere Spanish speaking is the best. Since it's expensive for us to go to Argentina more than once a year, we use Skype and let the girls speak with their cousins every week. That way they hear other kids speaking Spanish, and they get excited. This makes a big difference.
Hang in there- there is nothing better than knowing your kids can speak to family. I've seen too many friends who didn't push, and now their kids (teenagers now) feel like they were cheated. It is not a punishment to push the language issue (obviously not by shrieking or threatening- we use a very calm " no te entiendo- que querias decir?"). It's like brushing their teeth- you want it to be a habit.


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 04:05
English to French
+ ...
Daddy not speaking Spanish is a bit of a hindrance Sep 24, 2007

In my opinion, you have done everything you can. However you feel, don't feel guilty. You live in a country where it would be impossible to create a setting for your child where she would only hear Spanish and where she wouldn't have the choice to speak English. However, I suspect that the reason why your child is "losing" her Spanish is that the language spoken at home is not very well defined, mainly because your husband doesn't speak Spanish. At home, English and Spanish are spoken at a ratio of roughly 1 to 1, but as soon as she leaves the house, all she hears is English (and a bunch of other stuff she can't understand, so she focuses on English). The combined ratio of Spanish against English at the moment is thus roughly 1 to 3. This ratio favors English enough so that your child, whose reasoning is much simpler than yours, thinks that English is the standard to comply with (consider also that pretty much everyone except you and a few distant family members around her speaks English to her/doesn't speak any Spanish).

If Daddy learned some Spanish - not perfect Spanish but just enough to be able to communicate basic things like "pass me the butter" and "don't forget to brush your teeth" - then I think the above mentioned ratio would improve a lot. You would then end up with a 50-50 ratio between English and Spanish, which would have your child think that both are equally important.

I feel the problem is that you are pushing your child on a certain path, and society is pushing her the opposite way. I think it comes down to asking yourself how important it is that your child speaks Spanish, asking your husband how important it is to him that she speak Spanish (or how important it is to him that you want her to speak Spanish) and if your husband agrees with you, he can then start pushing along with you. Your child feels that you are motivated but she can't feel that her father is motivated as well, so that negates the effect you have, no matter how hard you try. It would require your husband's collaboration to help balance this out.

Another thing you can try is to bring your child into settings where there are other children her age who communicate primarily in Spanish. I will not get into all the different options here, but I am sure you can find them easily as there are tons. Your child still understands Spanish, so if she was in an environment where she cannot communicate in English, she would develop her Spanish under the constraint. Also, try to associate the Spanish language with things that are fun. Subconsciously, she will feel like speaking Spanish because to her, it will mean joy and happiness.

All the best!

EDIT: Since children imitate what their parents do, and this includes social interaction, it's probably safe to assume that your child thinks that since her parents communicate with each other in English, that is what she is supposed to do. It's a question of consistency, as mentioned in some of the above posts. She wants to belong to a family - which communicates in English. If Spanish communication occurs only between mother and child but not between the parents, a child, whose reasoning is simpler than yours, as I have said before, will think that communication with people other than you in Spanish is impossible, that she will not be understood (she assumes her father wouldn't understand you or her in Spanish, otherwise why would you communicate with him in English?). She wants to stay on the safe side by using English. So, if her father would speak Spanish and if she saw that he can understand and be understood in that language, she would probably open up to living in Spanish at home, which would once again dramatically improve her likeliness of replying in Spanish.

[Edited at 2007-09-24 15:43]


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Cristina Heraud-van Tol  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 03:05
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Hi, Michelle! Sep 24, 2007

I live your exact story, only the other way around! I am Peruvian, and my daughter was born here in Peru. When she was 3 months I moved with her and my husband to The Netherlands, where we lived for 2 years. We lived one year with my parents-in-law until we found a house that we rented and lived there one year on our own. I was the only one at home speaking Spanish to her, vs. 3 people talking in Dutch. Of course it was not until the first year that she started to say her first words, very basic and some were in Dutch ("op" -empty, "oma/opa"- grandpa/grandma), some in Spanish ("luz", "ese", "bebe"), and some few universal words (mama, papa).

When we moved and lived on our own, I was mostly all day long with her while my husband worked, and I talked and read to her in Spanish all the time (my father sent me some DVD's from Peru with the Spanish language option so that could help too), and in this way she really learned lots of Spanish. Then, when she was 1.5 years old, I travelled with her for a visit to Peru of one month and a half. There she talked so much!! She learned the colors, people's names, many little words, etc. and I brought with me more DVD's and books in Spanish.

We stayed in Holland just until she was 2.5 years old, so she never went to preschool there. We came back to Peru and of course her exposure to Spanish was enormous and now she goes to preschool, but still she can talk in Dutch to her father. Grandparents from Holland send books and nice Barbie DVD's. For ex. she has the "Barbie Fairytopia" and "Barbie and the Swan Lake" DVD's only in Dutch. She loves them!! And she plays them constantly! Every now and then she asks her father what does this or that word mean, but I guess she understands the whole movie very well. Her grandparents from Holland visited us this summer and after 4 or 5 days, she talked to them in Dutch.

You will see that when you come for a visit to Peru, they will speak Spanish. Give them some days of adaptation, and when they discover that they can actually communicate with other people and children, when they can watch TV, read ads, order food, etc. in Spanish, very soon they will do so. Let them do things with other people who only speak Spanish and who won't understand any English, and they will be forced to use the language. The language is always there present, in their minds, it only needs a little "switch" to reactivate. I am sure that when we visit The Netherlands, my daughter will start speaking Dutch all day long.

They always told me that each parent should speak his/her own native language. Mixing languages or using your husband's native language will make them more confused. They should learn that they must use either one of the languages to communicate with each one of you. We did an exercise when she was older (now she is 4), in which my husband spoke in Dutch and when she tried to reply back in Spanish he would not accept her answer, until she said it in Dutch; so she was forced to reply in Dutch to him. Perhaps a bit hard at the beginning, because a child gets impatient and wants to say things quick, quick, but she eventually learned and that's what she's doing now. Another thing is that my husband speaks good Spanish, and I have an intermediate level of Dutch, so we can communicate in each other's language. Sometimes we play the "Spanish (or the Dutch) Week/Weekend", a week or weekend in which we all are obliged to speak in any of the two languages. If you make it in a nice, happy environment, the children will enjoy and you'll be amazed of how much they really know.

Good luck!


[Edited at 2007-09-24 20:45]


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:05
German to English
+ ...
Agree: speak Spanish only Sep 24, 2007

I speak Latvian (native) and English (native) while my husband speaks English (native) and conversational Latvian he has learned since we've been together. We live in the States and my older daughter is in a Spanish program, so hears Spanish and English at school. Both kids attend privately organized Latvian programs as well.

I simply refuse to speak English to them. I wish they would reply in Latvian more, but even when they speak English to me, I continue with the Latvian. I figure that if they at least have the passive knowledge, they can "activate" it at some point. My girls are the opposite of yours - the older one's Latvian is better than the younger one's.

The cartoons, books and CDs are a great idea - we do that, too. And I think you'll be pleasantly surprised when you do visit Peru. A visit to Latvia really turned around my older daughter when she was refusing to speak Latvian. As Cristina mentioned above, we make sure that the whole family speaks Latvian at dinner. Can you join or organize a Spanish-language playgroup? It helps to have the positive "peer pressure" of other kids who speak the language.

Good luck to you!

[Edited at 2007-09-24 16:25]


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xxxLilianaV
Local time: 03:05
English to Spanish
+ ...
Definitely keep speaking to them in Spanish..... Sep 25, 2007

but don't push them too hard.

My native languages are Spanish and English, but my husband only speaks English, and this was the dominant language in our home until we moved to Panama. I have two boys, and it was very hard for them in the beginning, since their Spanish was so limited (we lived in Illinois for many years). They attend a bilingual school here, and after a couple of months they were already speaking and writing Spanish without any problems!

I realize now that I should have taught them Spanish from birth. A smattering here and there does no good. If you push them to learn the language, they will fight you. They don't want to be different from their peers. The learning process needs to be as natural as possible.

I agree with the suggestion that perhaps you should seek a Spanish-language playgroup for your children. They will come to regard their ability to speak Spanish as an extension of themselves in such a setting. My boys have certainly benefited from being immersed in the language. They no longer consider it "odd" if a person speaks more than one language.

The public library system is also a great resource for bilingual materials, as I'm sure you know.

Good luck!

Liliana


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Atena Hensch  Identity Verified
New Zealand
Local time: 21:05
English to Farsi (Persian)
+ ...
I have a similar problem Sep 25, 2007

I am from Iran and I speak Farsi to my girls (2 1/2 and the other one is 11 months old) and my husband speakes Swiss German to them. He is Swiss and he doesn't know any Farsi and I don't know any German either. We live in New Zealand and my older girl understands both of us but never respond in any languages except in English.
I hope there will be a solution for that.

cheers
Atena


[Edited at 2007-09-25 08:55]


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Michelle Silbert
Local time: 04:05
English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Spanish Resources Sep 27, 2007

LilianaV wrote:

but don't push them too hard.

My native languages are Spanish and English, but my husband only speaks English, and this was the dominant language in our home until we moved to Panama. I have two boys, and it was very hard for them in the beginning, since their Spanish was so limited (we lived in Illinois for many years). They attend a bilingual school here, and after a couple of months they were already speaking and writing Spanish without any problems!

I realize now that I should have taught them Spanish from birth. A smattering here and there does no good. If you push them to learn the language, they will fight you. They don't want to be different from their peers. The learning process needs to be as natural as possible.

I agree with the suggestion that perhaps you should seek a Spanish-language playgroup for your children. They will come to regard their ability to speak Spanish as an extension of themselves in such a setting. My boys have certainly benefited from being immersed in the language. They no longer consider it "odd" if a person speaks more than one language.

The public library system is also a great resource for bilingual materials, as I'm sure you know.

Good luck!

Liliana






Thank you for everyone's response! I wish our library had more resources, but they are very limited as I live in a small town. Has anyone heard of Las Tres Mellizas Bebes? I'm wondering where I could find books and dvds online of them. My children love them!

Thanks!
Michelle


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Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:05
Member
English
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The triplets! Sep 27, 2007

"Las Tres Melizas Bebes" is a spin off of "Las Tres melizas/Les Tres bessones/The Triplets" (call them what you will) by Roser Capdevila a Catalan author who started the adventures of these three girls, who look so identical but whose personalities are so different, when she had triplets herself and saw their potential as a comic.

The series was so succesful that spin offs were inevitable - hence the "prequel" about the lasses as babies.

At a guess the baby versions are available - as are the older triplets discovering literature, etc at: www.lestresbessones.com (Cat) or lastresmelizas.com (Esp) or thetriplets.com (Eng). Any of them will take you there and on the home page you can choose your preferred language. My daughter loves them too and she's nearly nine!

Good luck finding what you want.

[Edited at 2007-09-27 17:45]


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Michelle Silbert
Local time: 04:05
English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Gracias!!! Sep 28, 2007

Berni Armstrong wrote:

"Las Tres Melizas Bebes" is a spin off of "Las Tres melizas/Les Tres bessones/The Triplets" (call them what you will) by Roser Capdevila a Catalan author who started the adventures of these three girls, who look so identical but whose personalities are so different, when she had triplets herself and saw their potential as a comic.

The series was so succesful that spin offs were inevitable - hence the "prequel" about the lasses as babies.

At a guess the baby versions are available - as are the older triplets discovering literature, etc at: www.lestresbessones.com (Cat) or lastresmelizas.com (Esp) or thetriplets.com (Eng). Any of them will take you there and on the home page you can choose your preferred language. My daughter loves them too and she's nearly nine!

Good luck finding what you want.

[Edited at 2007-09-27 17:45]


Gracias Berni! I found the titles of some movies on that site and looked them up here in the US. Amazon.com and
eBay had some of these, so I ordered them! I'm sure my kids will love them as they watch them on TV daily! Now we can take them with us in the car dvd as well!!


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A. Patricia Pedraza  Identity Verified
Colombia
Local time: 03:05
Member (2007)
English to Spanish
+ ...
We are all in a similar boat, persevere, don't give up, it will pay off. Oct 1, 2007

I have three girls ages:10, 12 and 14. My husband and I are fully bilingual; I initially exposed my oldest daughter to spanish only, which was a mistake as she started school in the US and felt somewhat handicapped to communicate with her class-mates. As a result it backlashed with a rejetion to Spanish as she did not want to be different from the other kids.

At first I insisted trying to explain that it was to her advantage, but got nowhere. In the end, what has worked best for us has been the girls' desire to communicate with Grandma, and family in Colombia who they "think" cannot speak english. My family loves my kids deeply and are fully reciprocated, and that has been the main motivating factor for them to practice Spanish.

Whether they know it with perfection or not stopped being my concern, I rather have them exposed to the languages without stress and overtime the language skills improve.

I set a reading incentive where they get triple credit for reading in Spanish, and that also worked well. We read together sometimes if the text is more complicated to help them understand diminishing their frustration.

When I got tough insisting on them speaking in Spanish only, they decided it was better no to talk than stress trying to tell mommy something they wanted to share. At that moment I figured that I'd do whatever it took to maintain communication lines open, so they cant talk to me in whatever language they feel like talking.

Organize activities (playdates, social get-togethers) where people speak Spanish, for them to see the benefit of the knowledge of other languages.

We moved to São Paulo 6 years ago, and by now they speak the three languages without any interference. Sometimes a lack of vocabulary becomes evident but vocabulary improves through exposure to the language and as time goes on, it gets better and better every day.

I hope my experience helps somebody, this were my two grains of contribution.

Patricia Pedraza


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