About La Mother Tongue

La Mother Tongue is my medium to share the joys and challenges of being a new parent as well as to share how we make a conscious effort in our daily life to bring baby up bilingual.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Raising a Bilingual

Solo en Inglés
Before I met my husband, I used to train language teachers how to teach a foreign language. The majority of the audiences were teachers in various countries of Latin America, so they were teaching English. I cannot stress ENOUGH how important I think speaking in the target language is. And all the time. I really don’t believe that a teacher needs to go out of the target language unless it has something to do with safety or something along those lines of importance. Since this is not a blog about teaching methods, I’m not going to go in-depth to explain how your physical actions help a third grader put meaning to what you are saying in the foreign language. Anyway, the teachers would frequently complain that they couldn’t only speak in the target language (English) because the students didn’t understand English. My response to them was always the same, “Students aren’t going to learn English by speaking to them in Spanish.”

Research has shown us that there are certain truths about learning a language that are standard across the board. Exposure to a language is much better the younger one is. The brain is able to absorb sounds and make more and better connections in the area of language at a younger age. We know that babies and children are not confused by hearing various languages and nor do they have delayed speech as once thought to be true. What one does need is a language rich environment. What does this mean? Children/babies need to hear language constantly. They need to hear speech, song, rhymes, babble, chatter, and be read to. Constantly. They need meaningful interaction (We can’t just sit them in front of a French video all day long and think they will learn French.) Baby talk or toddler talk isn’t necessarily limited to only simple vocabulary, intonation, and construction. Although important and essential, babies also need exposure to natural, regular conversation and vocabulary.

All day long, I am narrating my actions and interacting with my daughter. We converse, listen to songs in Spanish, we watch animated children’s songs in Spanish, and I read to her in Spanish. I’m not perfect. It’s hard sometimes, because sometimes I’m tired and I want to zone out or eat in silence, but I know that I can’t because every moment is important. We chose to only speak to Sofía in Spanish. I consider myself very lucky that the Man of My Dreams happens to also speak Spanish and shares my passion for the importance of bilingualism. For me this means more Spanish input for Sofía’s little sponge. If the Man of My Dreams didn’t speak Spanish, I still would anyway. Sofía would be receiving less Spanish input, but still a substantial amount of input that would still allow her to be a proficient bilingual. We all must know examples of people where this is true. I have a friend whose children grew up bilingual in Mexico. Her daughter went to Stanford and then Harvard. I’d say her English was extremely proficient with only one parent speaking English to her.

The Majority Language
We don’t worry about the Sofía’s English either, because once she starts socializing with friends and enters pre-school, there will be meaningful input and usefulness and need for her to learn it. Español is definitely the minority language in our community (even though there are family and a substantial Spanish-speaking community), so basically once she steps foot outside of our house, her world will be in English, which means we really want to stress the Español.

Mi Pasión
As the previous paragraphs prove, I have quite a bit to say about raising a child bilingually and how I think is the most effective way to do it - probably not only because I have dedicated so much of my life to studying, teaching, and researching it, but because I have lived it.


  1. Bravo to you and your partner for making the commitment to raise Sofia bilingually--it sounds like it's working beautifully and that you're very comfortable keeping the home environment in Spanish. The three of you will be so glad you did this and so proud of yourselves! And your background as a language teacher and teacher educator will serve you very well, especially when well-meaning but ignorant people worry about whether she'll learn English.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, by the way. I'll be back to se yours regularly!

    You can email me at babybilingual (at) gmail (dot) com--but I'm a slacker about checking it regularly. :(

  2. Francois GrosjeanApril 8, 2010 at 1:37 AM

    Hello, You may be interested in my new book, "Bilingual" (Harvard University Press) which has just been published. Here is the link to the publisher:


    and here is a link to my web page where I offer a few documents on bilingualism:


    Good luck with your blog and my very best wishes to you.

    François Grosjean
    Professor Emeritus