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Sep 112014
 

Question

We are having a baby and I and my wife are both native Spanish speakers, however we live in the U.S. One of my concerns has always been that if we initially only speak in Spanish to the baby, then once she goes to nursery or kindergarten she might have problems interacting with other children (or the teacher) because of the lack of interaction with the English language. What are your thoughts and recommendations about this?

Thank you, Juan

Answer

Dear Juan,

Thank you for your query. This is a question that many parents ask themselves when they speak one language at home, the outside world is in another language and they are going to have a child. I feel like telling you: do not worry. If you are asking the question, it is because you wish your child to be able to speak both Spanish and English. I would say, if you speak Spanish at home between the two of you and with your child she will speak Spanish fluently and this is a great advantage. Spanish is becoming an important part of the American culture, isn’t it? This depends in which state you live of course… so there is no problem in speaking Spanish at home with her (there are even many support groups in the USA to help families in your situation who are looking for help and support – they are mostly based in Texas). And you should stick to it, keep speaking Spanish. As for her understanding of English when she reaches the age to go to nursery or kindergarten, there will be very little problems. You live in the US, so the surrounding world is mostly in English. Your child will have heard the language when shopping with you, when hearing the television or the radio, when you meet your friends…. Even if she did not speak it, she will understand. She will be able to grasp it and understand what is being said around her and to her. Will she have problem interacting with other children? I do not think so either. Children do not see languages as a barrier, especially when they are small. As she will have heard you use the language, she will do the same. It may not be perfect English at the beginning, but children are not worried about that. So there will not be a 100 % lack of interaction with the English language, as she would have heard it. She would have heard you use the language in various situations. She may not be able to speak it properly, but children do not mind and are very quick at catching up. You will be amazed at how quickly she will be able to speak Spanish at home and interact in English outside of home. There are many people in the same situation as yourself around the world – you may have read about their experiences on various blogs. It is a challenge, but it is worth it.

I hope I have answered your query, if not feel free to come back to me. Please let us know about her progress.

Regards,
Isabelle

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  3 Responses to “Q&A: Child starts nursery but does not know the language.”

  1. Hello Juan,
    I also wanted to chime in with my own thoughts and experiences. I was born and raised in California to a Mexican mother and a Peruvian father. Although my father knew some English, my mother had recently immigrated and knew only Spanish. As a little girl I spoke Spanish long before I spoke or could even understand English! I still remember speaking gibberish with my younger brother, pretending we could speak English. Even though we were very little and only Spanish was spoken in our home, we had understood that English was the community language and we thought it was so cool! We really wanted to speak English too and by the time we were about three our four we started to speak it fluently as well. I don’t have any recollection of the learning process, only that by the time I went to kindergarten, I could speak it just as well as any of the other children!
    So where did I learn it? Well, I’m sure that going grocery shopping with my parents, attending English speaking church each Sunday and hearing the neighbors speak English had something to do with it, believe it or not!
    That said, I believe things have really evolved in certain parts of the United States and the Spanish language has so thoroughly influenced the culture in these specific areas that you might even believe yourself in a Spanish speaking country. So that is a factor to take into consideration.
    I would advise you to continue to speak to your baby only in Spanish, but you might want to make sure she is exposed to a little English as well. Music, friends, and other outside sources can have a greater influence on your baby than you can imagine. This will give him or her a sense of familiarity with the English language and make for a smoother transition when entering a nursery or kindergarten. Be aware of your child’s personality and needs as he or she grows and adapt as needed.
    Finally, I couldn’t agree more with Isabelle. There will be a time when the community language becomes much more interesting and prominent than the heritage language and that’s where all the years of speaking Spanish only will begin to pay off!
    Buena suerte!

  2. This is a tough one. As parents, we are nervous as well. It’s hard when our daughter meets other kids and can’t communicate with them. But for kids 4 and under, they often have fun playing with each other regardless of the language and we know she’ll pick it up quickly enough through play. It’s more important that we support minority languages with her as the transition into the English speaking world will be a quick one.

    • Yes, i can be hard. But it is worth the hardship. As parents we are always more worried than our children. Sometimes, it is a good thing to have it hard when they are young as they will not remember it and life is simpler later in life…

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