Why Arabic is Dead and Spanish is Alive for My Kids

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My kids hear Arabic every day from their dad but it’s surprising how much more of a hold Spanish is taking after seven months of learning it. They take Spanish several days per week in a small class with two friends. Plus many of their close friends are native Spanish speakers so we are socially in an environment with Spanish around us pretty frequently. Spanish is the language they defer to far more than Arabic. They are still very much beginners—they don’t really speak Spanish yet beyond some basic phrases—but they understand a fair amount. It’s exciting to watch their progress.

The other morning, my four year old brought some of her library books into the bathroom and sat flipping through the books as I showered. She frequently comes to keep me company when she sees the bathroom light go on, and shuffles in with her bright smile and messy head. When she finished going through the book the first time, she announced, “Now in Spanish,” and tried to speak Spanish as she “read” the book. Not much of what she said actually made sense, there were a few words here and there, but her desire to speak was tangible.

I attribute this difference to the power of environment. Spanish is something many of their friends communicate in. They hear adults speaking it around them with frequency and me interacting in it. They attend a fun class, again with friends, where they use it. Spanish is alive for them. And that makes Arabic more of the dead language in their minds. Only their dad and babysitter speak Arabic. Very occasionally, they may hear the two interacting in it if he arrives home before me. They also witness their dad speaking Arabic on skype on the weekends. But it doesn’t have any relevance in their social circles and their everyday environment outside of the house.

I’m curious to see if our trip to Mexico has any impact on their use of Spanish once we are back home again. Stay tuned!

3 COMMENTS

  1. It is amazing how fast kids pick up social clues: which language is popular and which one is only “mommy’s” or “daddy’s”!

  2. This is exactly our situation with French. Their dad and until recently, the babysitter, are the only people who really speak French consistently to the kids (a few friends do off and on). My 7 year old is in a Spanish immersion school, and her Spanish is already superior to her French.

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