Being bilingual allows us to communicate with more people, appreciate other cultures and enjoy many cognitive benefits. We’ve experienced this first hand since we’re both bilingual and learned English at a young age. So when our daughters were born, we knew we wanted to teach them Spanish, but our reasons at that moment came more from the heart.
As Latinas, Spanish is at the core of our cultural identity. It’s connected to our childhood and the people we love, so we couldn’t imagine our daughters not having the language to communicate with our families, or not being able to participate in cultural traditions that were important to us.We felt passionately about this and dabbled with the idea of doing a blog to share resources with other parents raising Spanish speakers. Earlier this year, the idea for a podcast came up, and in April, Entre Dos was born. Our goal was to help and inspire other parents of bilingual children by having conversations around bilingual parenting. Every family and child is different but the one thing we all share is that, no matter which language we’re teaching our child, getting them to maintain it and perfect it in an English-dominant environment takes a lot of effort. One of the most common challenges we hear about is parents not having enough opportunities to expose their kids to that second language. We’re lucky to live in cities with strong Spanish-speaking populations, but when that’s not the case, parents may feel discouraged and alone. That’s why we wanted to create a community to help each other out and offer a little motivation. We sometimes need it too! Raising our daughters and doing Entre Dos has taught us a lot, but perhaps the biggest lesson we’ve learned is to just relax. We’re doing what we can and there is not one right way to raise a bilingual child. We used to fret about our kids mixing languages or speaking to us in English, but some of these things are just a normal part of bilingual development. Instead, we’ve tried to focus on the bigger picture. One of our guests gave us an excellent piece of advice. He told us that we should aim to raise children who in their teens or early adulthood take it upon themselves to continue to maintain the language we’ve taught them. As parents, we can do this by instilling a sense of pride in our kids about their bilingualism. Show them what a gift it is. They will appreciate it.
Three tips for parents:
- Read, read, read - It’s the best way to expose your children to the minority language at home.
- Make language learning fun - There may be times when you feel that you’re constantly asking your kid to say things en español, but always remember to lighten up. Dance, sing songs, play games from your childhood. Give them a reason to love the language.
- This is a long game - Bilingualism doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long-term, non-linear process. If you do everything you can to provide enough exposure and opportunities to use the target language, the odds are in your favor.
About the authors Monika Leal and Paula Niño Kehr are the founders of Entre Dos Podcast, a podcast about raising bilingual children. Monika is from Puerto Rico and mom to Zoé, 4, and Paula is from Colombia and mom to Emilia, 6. Readers can find Entre Dos Podcast on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @entredospodcast.