Sunday, April 22, 2007

Jose and Carlos learning Spanish and English in the US

Emily and her husband adopted Jose (now 2 years old) and Carlos (one year old) from Guatemala. Emily speaks non-native Spanish with them at home while their father uses English with them. Here's what Emily has to say about their ideas and approaches to raising them bilingually:

What is your language background and history?
My mother tongue is English. I was encouraged to learn a second language (better for job opportunities as my dad said) and studied Spanish for seven years, including time in Spain in college. I have used the Spanish in my work as an educator to communicate with parents and children. I was able to provide my students with native language support in their study of math, science, social studies, etc. I'm no longer in the classroom, but I still work in education and have opportunities to use my Spanish skills.

What languages are you exposing your children to, and how? English from their dad, Spanish from me, a tiny bit of French from Grandma; trying to find/organize a Spanish playgroup

Why do you want your children to learn a second language? Why not! They both heard Spanish most of their first year until the adoption process was complete. I couldn't imagine not continuing that for them.

How well do your children understand and speak Spanish? What do they think about it? Do they have preferences? Their comprehension is great; they speak a little but significantly less than English at this point. This makes sense since their dad who speaks English is home all day while I'm at work. They're too young for me to know what they think about Spanish and English or if they have preferences.

How have you been able to expose your children to the culture(s) where Spanish is spoken? We share Guatemalan culture through music and stories and visiting Guatemalan restaurants and bakeries; we plan to take advantage of local summer festivals of various Latino communities; we have various artisan pieces bought in Guatemala to share with the boys as they grow.

What challenges have occurred as you teach your children Spanish? They need more adults/peers using Spanish, because only me is not enough.

What resources have been most useful to you? Various multilingual and bilingual family lists/webgroups for reassurance and new ideas [click here for details about listservs about language learning for parents and teachers] and a variety of bilingual music CDs and books. A favorite CD is Baby's First Steps in Spanish! by Living Language--50 tracks of songs and nursery rhymes with lyrics. [Click here to read a review of the French version of this CD and book.] I also have Latin Playground and World Playground by Putumayo, which the boys love. We have more Spanish and English/Spanish CDs, but these three are the current favorites. We have a slew of bilingual books and Spanish books. I made a bilingual ABC book myself searching words in Spanish/English that started with the same letter and adding in pictures.

What do you think parents, caretakers, teachers, and/or researchers need to know about teaching a second language to children? What do you wish you had known when you started? What, if anything, would you do differently now? I wish I hadn't assumed that just because there is a large Latino community in the region that it would be easy for me to access experiences for the boys. I should have started lining up playgroups and Spanish storytimes earlier. I find programs but the age groups don't fit or the programs are targeted for town residents and we don't live in that town. Or, events are happening while I have to be at work. My husband, not knowing Spanish, doesn't feel comfortable trying to attend with the boys without me. I also had people express concern that a second language would hinder my sons' English development or make school hard for them down the road. But a second language is an enrichment experience, not an obstacle or hindrance.

How wonderful that you're sharing the boys' birth language and culture with them--that shows great respect and love. Muchas gracias, Emily! I'd be thrilled to hear from other Bringing up Baby Bilingual readers who have also adopted children from other countries and are raising them with more than one language--click on "comments" to share your ideas or ask questions.


  1. Great site and it's great to hear about all of the families trying to give their children two or more languages. We're trying to raise our daughter with Mandarin and English since she's adopted from China. I'm learning mandarin in the vain hope of being able to speak it at her level as she grows up, my wife speaks no mandarin.

  2. Thanks, Thom! Your comment raises all sorts of questions for me--how old is your daughter? is she fluent in Mandarin? when did you start learning it? how are you learning it? how are you helping your daughter keep up with her Mandarin? Oh, this would make a great profile! Would you consider answering my questionnaire and letting me post it here? If so, please email me!