Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Bilingual Blues

It seems like the majority of parents I meet are trying to raise their children to be bilingual. Be it Spanish/English or German/English or Korean/English. The list goes on and on in this melting pot we call Southern California. It used to be easy when I was working and my Spanish speaking husband took care of Mr. Big while I was away. Back then, my husband had plenty of time to switch from English to Spanish-only mode. Now that uni-lingual 'ole me is the primary caregiver, I worry about Mr. Big getting enough Spanish. Even his Abuelita (Mexican grandmother) speaks to him in broken English these days, as opposed to Spanish.

My husband and others tell me not to worry about it so much, that he's picking up more Spanish than I realize. But I meet plenty of older children/adults from bilingual households who comprehend the second language, but can't actually speak it. Certainly one of the most advantageous skills we can give our kids when they are tiny is fluency in a second or third language by the time they are adults. And not speaking Spanish in California come 15 years from now will be even more of a disadvantage socially, politically and economically than it is today.

Mr. Big can definitely comprehend Spanish. When I put on a movie that has a Spanish language track, he reacts to it no differently than if he hears the same movie in English. Like I say, I'm not worried about the comprehension. So far, the only Spanish words he regularly speaks are "caca" for poop and "moco" for mucous. Just the important stuff, I guess.

I think that if the primary caregiver speaks only the second language, you have a good shot at your child being bilingual. But, I think those of us who don't speak the second language ourselves need some outside help if our children have any hope of being fluent in two languages. An excellent online resource is at and also the Berkeley Parents Network (a treasure trove of various information, but here's their bilingual family forum): Here's 10 tips for boosting the secondary language: And lastly there's the no frills Bilingual Families website:

My 20 something year old nephew on my husband's side grew up in a Spanish only household. He once told me that he taught himself English by watching Sesame Street. Since then, I've tried to have Mr. Big's TV time be in Spanish only. I've found it hard to find Spanish only educational programs. We've been taping Plaza Sesamo (Sesame Street's Spanish Counterpart) which airs on PBS Kids Sprout (that's Channel 295 on DirectTV) at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday and at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Does anyone know if Plaza Sesamo is broadcast on any other station? Here's a blurb about the show:

You can play Sesame Street's "Spanish word of the day" game with your little one here:

There must be other quality children's programming in Spanish that airs in our area, but I've yet to find it. There are several shows, including Bob the Builder and Barney (ugh) that are offered in Spanish through PBS on demand, which we don't have that. How does that work anyway? I think Dora is educational, but it's not going to make a kid bilingual by any means. Someone told me there is a Spanish only version of Dora too. Anyone know when and where it airs? I do like how Dora makes speaking the second language seem cool and worthwhile.

Lots of DVDs have a Spanish language track, but you have to check on the outside of the box before assuming they do. Don't confuse the sound with the subtitles (lots have Spanish subtitles, but not a Spanish sound track). I've noticed that most full length movie DVDs tend to have Spanish and French tracks. But I prefer the shorter programs, since I try to limit the TV to 30 minutes a day.

As for early bilingual education classes, there are bilingual Mommy and Me classes (spanish/english) given by Pomona Unifed Adult School (click on the link in my link's section and look near the very end under Family Interactive for ages 0 to 5). I am thinking there must be bilingual classes given by other communities, possibly in different languages too (taking a wild guess that there are Korean classes in Diamond Bar for instance). The one bilingual class I have been to in Pomona was geared toward mothers who speak little to no English. Some songs were done in English, some in Spanish. I was the only non-Spanish speaking parent in the class. I thought it would be great for Mr. Big, but there were other aspects of the class that were too unappealing (won't go into them here as it's off topic). We're signed up for a bilingual class this summer, so I'll update as to what actually goes on there and how beneficial it ends up being to the bilingual cause. btw, the class is free, although usually the Mommy and Me classes are $30 a semester.

The Pomona Public Library has an extensive collection of Spanish children's books, as do the local bookstores. I don't know about other languages, so perhaps someone else will post.

There's also children's music in other languages. Some great ones are put out by Putumayo Presents, including their Latin Playground CD. The Putumayo Kids website is at In addition to their music, I just noticed that they sell a spanish and english activity kit on their website that looks kind of interesting. Claremont's Folk Music Store and the usual suspect bookstores sell the disks too.

Please post your own cures for the bilingual blues. Mucho Gracious.


hpy said...

THe important thing is to always speak the same langauge to he child. Say, you speak English, your husband speaks Spanish. Otherwize there ios a risk for a mix-up between the two langauges.

hpy said...

THe important thing is to always speak the same langauge to he child. Say, you speak English, your husband speaks Spanish. Otherwize there ios a risk for a mix-up between the two langauges.

Anonymous said...

Hey there!
Puppet lady again. I know I probably shouldn't bring up the day care issue because that's a whole other post, but my kid gets great exposure to Spanish at her daycare. They read books to her in Spanish and English, and many of her teachers and playmates come from bilingual homes. If there are any other working moms in the painful position of finding great daycare in Pomona, I LOVE the Fairplex Child Development Center and more importantly, so does my child.
Golly I love your blog, Goddess! Can't praise you enough.

Anonymous said...

Hello! We have been raising our son bilingual English/Russian very successfully. We have found that we need to have clear boundaries about when, where and with whom each language is spoken. Papa only speaks Russian regardless of where we are. I speak Russian except if he wants English in his room or out and about. He is doing great and is fluent in both languages. I think the key is having all those Spanish speakers around (like grandma!) only speak Spanish with him.

Anonymous said...

Hello GoP!

I do have some suggestions for you to help your son learn Spanish (and other languages, if you wanted that too)

1. A company called "Living Language" produces music CDs in Spanish, French, Chinese, and Italian. The Spanish and French ones are excellent (my son has been listening to both since he was born). Check them out on Amazon, they were created by linguists who used theory about how children acquire language, and employed those methods in creating these CDs. The songs are wonderful and contain many traditional songs from Spain and Latin America. There are different types of tracks...some concentrate on helping the child (or adult) understand subtle differences in pronunciation, etc. I can't recommend these CDs enough. Also included with them is a little booklet that explains babies and childrens' language acquisition -- which will surely be helpful to you. *One note, my husband (who is half Italian and half Mexican) and I really did not like the Italian one at all -- but Spanish and French are great!

2. If you have a little time, you might try taking a basic Spanish course, many cities offer this type of thing, perhaps Pomona or Claremont or LaVerne does. Also, check out junior colleges.

3. At any big bookstore (I like Barnes and Noble, Montclair) you can find bilingual Spanish-English books. What my husband and I do is read it to our son in our respective language. We point to images and name them, and eventually our son is able to point them out whether prompted in English or Spanish.

4. I really think consistency is key. I don't think you should worry about him acquiring Spanish (both speaking and comprehension), since every piece of research that I have come across on this subject has demonstrated that as long as you are consistent and stimulate the child's interest in the language, he/she will eventually reproduce words in that langauge.

5. I relate to the point you made about other people's children understanding but not speaking the language of one of their parents. To combat that, it seems that parents who are most successful really insist that the child use the language associated with that parent. It surely seems a challenge, but I see that you are very committed and eager to see your son learn.

6. *One thing that I often suggest to my husband is to really try to reinforce vocabulary. I encourage my husband to speak very clearly (but I try not to nag!), and repeat a single vocabulary word in many ways. If, for example, our son is eating a banana, my husband might say in Spanish: "Is Jaime eating a banana? Yes, Jaime is eating a banana! Papa likes to eat bananas too!", each time motioning to the object. We try to keep this as natural as possible -- and I would do the same thing is English (our son is still quite young).

I wish you the best!!