Q&A: How can monolingual parents keep up with their bilingual children?

by | May 28, 2015 | Coaches, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Rita R | 0 comments



My husband and I are both monolingual English speakers living in the southern United States. When our daughter was born, we fell in love with a Spanish-Immersion daycare in our area and our daughter has attended full-time since 14 months old (she is nearly 2 now). She is quickly outpacing our very limited Spanish vocabulary, and while we are attempting to learn Spanish while working 40 hours a week, there will come a time very soon when I’ll have no idea what she’s trying to express if she speaks Spanish.

What other issues might we encounter over the next few years? Other than trying our best to learn Spanish as well, are there things we could be doing to make home life easier and encourage her to speak Spanish? There’s no way we can keep up with her pace of learning at this point, so we’re just trying to manage it best we can.

Thank you,


Dear Christine,

Thank you for your question – I am really impressed by your commitment to ensure that your daughter learns Spanish and maintains her language skill as she grows older.

I know how hard it is to try to learn another language as an adult – it can be done, but often we just don’t have enough hours in the day to focus on the learning. I still recommend that you do as much as you can, but do not be too hard on yourself if you do not manage improve at her pace. Your positive attitude towards language learning is immensely important to her, and there are other ways she can have opportunities to speak Spanish.

By attending Spanish immersion day care, she will also make friends with whom she will be used to speaking Spanish. As she grows older, it is good to help her maintain these friendships so she can continue speaking the language when they meet.

You are right that her vocabulary will keep on expanding very quickly and she will be using words that you do not know. As you and your husband are both English-speakers, in which situations does she address you in Spanish? You ask how to make home life easier – do you attempt to use mostly Spanish at home, when you are all together? I am trying to understand your concern that you will not fully understand what she says – yes, this may happen, but as she is bilingual, she will not have any problems in translating into English whenever necessary. Children love it when they can teach an adult something, especially their parents!

You ask what other issues you may encounter in the future. As mentioned, I really cannot see any problems when it comes to understanding what she says. The challenge will be how to arrange enough opportunities for her to speak Spanish once she leaves the immersion day care. What are your options for schooling – can she continue in a bilingual setting? If she can, then this will further strengthen her language skills. If there are only English-speaking schools available, can you choose one which offers Spanish as an additional language?

Thanks to the internet, there are plenty of resources available to help you find interesting material to watch and listen to for your daughter. You can listen to Spanish radio stations (for example Baby Radio is one aimed for younger listeners) and watch Spanish cartoons together on YouTube (for example Charlie and Lola or Caillou’s playlist). There are also lots of other free resources for you to explore together, for example via 123 Teach Me and Online Free Spanish to mention just two. I would also recommend that you dedicate a part of your home to Spanish only – you could create a language corner (an excellent idea from Trilingual Mama) and this way ensure that Spanish always has a place in your home, even if you were to mostly speak English together.

I hope I have answered your question – please comment below with your thoughts and any further questions you may have.

All the best to you and your family!
Kind regards,

Rita Rosenback

Rita Rosenback

Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages.


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