Dear Dr. Gupta,
I need some advice. I am from Guatemala but live in Texas. My husband and I have a three-year-old and a two- month-old. We want to raise our daughters bilingual. Our decision was that I would speak in Spanish and he in English. Reality is my three-year-old understands Spanish but only speaks in English. All of her friends and family around speak English. I find myself speaking to her in English too!
We want her to speak Spanish. Any advice for me??
– Sustaining Spanish
Dear Sustaining Spanish,
By the time children are three or four years old, most of them want to be like their friends. For bilingual children, this often means that they want to speak only the majority language. They reject the language that makes them seem different. Sometimes, parents just have to accept this.
But living in Texas, you should be able to keep Spanish alive in your children.
Don’t worry too much about your elder child speaking only English. Don’t criticise her for doing this. But, as long as it doesn’t upset her, do continue to speak Spanish, even if she answers in English. Your younger child needs to hear Spanish too.
Another thing to do is to seek out other Spanish speakers, especially Spanish speakers with three year olds. Your daughter needs to hear other people speaking in Spanish. It will be especially good if she has playmates who speak Spanish.
Can you find a playgroup or a preschool that supports Spanish? Are there shops or cafes you could go to with the children where Spanish would be a natural language?
What about your family? Any possibility of visits? Or Skypeing?
Buy books, sing songs, watch films in Spanish. Make it interesting and make it a normal part of life.
I hope this is useful. And remember, even if your children don’t speak any Spanish, perhaps for years, if they hear it, it will be there deep in their brains and can come back to life later on in formal classes.