Q&A: How can a single parent raise a bilingual and bicultural child?

by | Jan 3, 2019 | Babies, Coaches, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Rita R, School-aged children, Single parent | 1 comment

How can a single parent raise a bilingual and bicultural child?

Question

Hello!

I’m expecting my first child in February. I’m going to be a single parent – my son’s father is Mexican and I’m white. My son’s father will not be in his life whatsoever, but I want my son to know his culture and know who he is on the inside.

I want him to grow up speaking as much Spanish as possible just like his side of the family. I would like him to be fluent in Spanish one day as well as English, but I only know very little basic words/sentences in Spanish. I’m trying to learn slowly and by watching movies/ tv in Spanish and listening to Spanish music, so I become more influenced by it.

I’ve been very influenced by the Latino culture just from where I have grown up, but I don’t want to confuse him as he gets older since I’m not fluent and won’t be able to follow the One Parent One Language route.

Just curious what are some good strategies I can pick up to help my little mixed baby know both sides of his heritage.

Thank you in advance! 🙂
Lillianna

Answer

Dear Lillianna,

Thank you for your question and congratulations on your soon to arrive baby son! I applaud you for already planning on how to pass on the languages and cultures of both sides of your son’s family. This is important for him as he grows up and his identity evolves.

It is perfectly possible to raise a bilingual and bicultural child as a single parent. We have answered similar questions in the past which you can find here and here.

There are several options for you to improve your Spanish, so you can support your son’s Spanish learning. You could start free online learning sessions, e.g. via Duolingo and check out free apps (these are for kids, but great when you are starting on the language learning journey. Here are some more tips for you to learn “like a kid”. And why not learn some Spanish songs you can sing to your son now already. Here and here are two more lists of helpful resources.

If you plan to have your son attend daycare or nursery look for either a 100% Spanish one or a dual-language one. This would a great help for him to grow up bilingual. Also check whether there are any Spanish playgroups in your area. Once it is time for him to start school, again, look for a dual-language option.

Don’t worry about confusing your son by using both English and Spanish, he will learn to distinguish them. You can sing and read to him in Spanish as soon as you feel that your own skills allow you to do this. When you have learnt a song in Spanish, sing it. Even if you feel that your accent is not right, it does not matter, when he gets more exposure to native Spanish speakers, he will adopt the accent from them.

If your son’s father’s side of the family will play a part in his life, then you could also ask them to help you with Spanish exposure and the Mexican culture. If this is not possible, it still sounds like there are plenty of other opportunities for you to keep the culture alive for him. When he grows you can learn more alongside him: practice cooking Mexican food, participate in Mexican holiday celebrations and hopefully you can one day visit Mexico together. The main driver for success is however your positive attitude and determination to pass on both the language and the culture to your son.

Unless you have the option of a Spanish-speaking nanny or some other person who would regularly spend time with your son, then you are right that the one parent/person, one language approach may not work for you. However, once your own Spanish-skills improve, you can try a variation of time and place, where you could choose to speak Spanish e.g. during one day a week, or in a certain room. You could also dedicate an area for anything Mexican and Spanish language in your home.

Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey!

Kind regards,
Rita

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.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Hi Rita,

    It’s so timely bumping into your website. I am starting to read on the different methods of raising multilingual. I’ve been having anxiety that my toddler will have language delay and I’ve been having confusions on which language to use when speaking to him. I am a Filipino, with a Belgian Francophone partner, living in Senegal. We have a 15 month old toddler. Just few months ago, my partner moved out of Senegal and the baby is with me. Senegal is a Francophone country with Wolof as a local language. Although we agreed that the family language is French, and my partner does talk to me in French, I usually respond to him in English, which in reality/before is the language the two of us converse with. My partner talks to our son and me in French when we skype, which is regular. We have a Senegalese nanny who attends to him when I am at work and he also goes to a French daycare every afternoon. As of the moment, I talk to him in mix languages. Tagalog – my mother tongue usually when I really have to express myself, or English, for my own comfort of expression. French – mostly when we’re with the nanny, and the locals, asking basic questions and describing basic objects, as well as daily pleasantries and goodnight. The locals, including his nanny speak to us in French but I am sure the nanny also talks to him in Wolof when I am not around which I don’t mind.

    Although I’ve been living in Francophone countries for 5 years, I am not yet confident speaking primarily with native Francophone, though my comprehension is okay. I am continuing my French lessons to improve and also to keep up with our family agreement that the family language should be French, since we will also eventually settle in Belgium when he starts going to school.

    I started talking to him in French cause I am scared of the delay in speaking and responding socially when I am not around. Though my partner and I agreed that I should talk to him in Tagalog, or English. Is it correct that in our case, Tagalog is the minority language? We do talk to my parents regularly and they speak to him in Tagalog as well.

    I used to read to him in English but since over a month ago we changed to French. I asked my partner to read and record to ensure correct pronunciation. So every night, I play the recordings while browsing the books to our baby, I also repeat reading to engage him with the books to point at pictures. He has been very attentive and it’s been fun bedtime bonding for us. Plus he gets excited recognising his father’s voice, at each start of the session.

    I don’t know which method would be applicable to us. I am also confused if I should stick to talking to him in Tagalog more often considering it’s the least heard language. We are not that concern with English as we think he can eventually learn from school when he is older.

    Reply

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