Sunday, October 15, 2006

dilemma: Cynde needs help!

This post is from my friend Cynde, who is hoping to raise her son Tucker bilingually.

My baby is about 3 months old, and I am the only one who speaks Spanish. I am not a native speaker, but I teach Spanish at a local high school in Colorado. My husband can swear (complements of me) in Spanish and can understand some, but doesn't seem horribly interested in learning tons. Then again I haven't asked him flat out yet. He does seem interested in teaching Tucker sign language starting in a few months.

Right now I am on materninty leave but will be going back in January. At that point my mother, who has even less experience with Spanish, will be his main caretaker. She still can't even pronounce the word jalepeno correctly (for the purists, I just don't remember how to put the n with the squiggly in from a laptop and for me it is really late--please forgive me this one time).

I feel that it is something important that I should do for my son, but teaching him Spanish is a daunting task. I don't want to isolate him at all from my husband or my mother, or anyone else around us (my in-laws also know no Spanish except for a few choice words I'd rather Tucker not know for a good long time), but I've read some of the research that this is the perfect time to introduce it. I already sing songs to him in Spanish, but would really welcome other suggestions.

Back to Sarah--My first instinct is to nod vehemently--yes, start now. I completely agree that it's daunting. This is my nephew Carl's situation too--I'm the only one in the family who speaks French fluently, though his mom studied it in high school and can read simple books to him--but we're trying to teach him anyway. Cynde already has an advantage in that she spends time with her son every day! Spanish will probably become something special between mother and son, something the two of them share. It's clear that her intention is not to alienate the extended family. Perhaps she when she speaks Spanish to her son at family get-togethers she can translate for the relatives (or give a quick summary). She could teach some songs in Spanish for the family to sing to him (we do that with Carl)--they don't have to speak Spanish to memorize the words of a song.

When he's at daycare, Cynde can ask her mom to play music in Spanish for a certain number of hours a day, just in the background and when he's napping. Ditto for children's books on tape in Spanish. When he's old enough to watch TV, he can watch children's programs in Spanish on TV or DVD or video. Cynde can even enlist other Spanish speakers to read books while she tape-records or videotapes them to play later (which will be much cheaper than buying commercial materials). Bilingual books exist; Cynde can teach her mom and husband to pronounce the Spanish words well enough that they can read simple stories to him. (Fortunately, Spanish spelling mirrors its pronunciation, more or less. Unlike French.) Eventually he'll be old enough to join a Spanish-language playgroup, which her mom can take him to. Ideally, they should spend some time in a Spanish-speaking country each year.

In six months or a year, I'll ask Cynde to do a profile of her would-be bilingual baby and we can see their progress!

Readers, please write in and share! Do any of these ideas sound feasible? How have you managed to teach your child a language that other family members don't speak? Are there other issues that Cynde and I need to be aware of?


  1. Where in Colorado does Cynde live? We can hang out and babble to our babies together. ;)

    Anyway, I'd say hang in there-- the baby will learn English so he can speak to your family and he'll acquire Spanish slowly, so that your relatives (especially your husband) can catch on as Tucker learns (at least, that's the theory I'm working off of with my mostly monolingual hubby and my 3-month-old). Some day cares have Spanish programs; like Sarah said there are Spanish play groups and Spanish story times at the library. Then when he's older, there are a lot of good bilingual schools or afterschool programs around (and if you start now, Tucker will have an easier time of it). Cynde, hang in there. Even if Tucker never becomes fluent, he will have a leg up in biology class (all those Latin derivations), in learning other languages, and in creative thinking because of the efforts you put in now!

  2. It looks like Cynde's got her bases covered - persistence and committment are key, I find (I am in a similar situation). When you're the only one speaking another language to your child, it'd often be much easier to just speak the language everybody else does.

    And yeah, I'd also recommend to get the husband and other family members involved as much as possible. My husband has picked up quite a few German words from me and from listening to our kiddie CDs and uses them whenever he can. For sure he has picked up many more words and phrases since we've had Sophie (not quite 17 months) than in all the years before :) And he's not much into learning languages himself. What he knows now may not all be useful for travelling or having adult conversations, but I think it's great for Sophie to hear German from someone else but me!

    She's just beginning to speak and has no German words, but she understands as much German as English, so I know my efforts haven't been wasted. It's great to hear her new English words, but I'm really really waiting for her first German word :)

    Good luck!