Your Questions: Which Language Should I Use At Home?

by multilingualmania on March 29, 2010

in bilingual parenting, Frequently Asked Questions

We recently received a question in the discussion section of our facebook page. Melissa is a mother of a one year old daughter who will be placed in a Spanish immersion program in the next four to six months. Melissa stated that her own proficiency/fluency level in Spanish is at the intermediate level. Her question was:

I intend to place her in a Spanish immersion program in 4-6 months… she will be about 16-18 months… and it is 100% Spanish immersion. Should I focus on English right now or continue speaking both simultaneously? I’ve read that students in these 100% programs experience delays in their grammatical, verbal or writing in the native (English) language if they do not have a solid foundation prior to entering an immersion program. I want my daughter to speak both languages yet I do not want to hinder her English. Thanks for the help and clarification!

Dear Melissa,

We recommend that you continue to engage in literacy practices and oral language development at home with your daughter in both languages.  The concept of literacy is the same in both languages and what she is taught in English she will later be able to apply to Spanish, and vice versa. For example, recognizing letters/letter sounds, listening to stories, identifying characters in stories and many other skills are the same in both languages. The underlying structure of English and Spanish are more alike than different.

When she finally enters the full immersion program, you might decide to engage in frequent literacy practices in English with her, since you are stronger in English and can better develop her oral language and vocabulary development in her primary language.  It’s always advisable that parents engage in literacy practices in the language in which they are most fluent; however, considering that you have some proficiency in Spanish,  it would also help to sometimes reinforce and practice what she is learning in school in Spanish.

The younger children are, the easier they are able to simultaneously acquire two languages. Always remember that when children first learn language, they make frequent errors and overgeneralizations even in their primary language. One frequent example is that young children begin to put -ed on every past tense verb and make comments such as, “I goed to the store”. When bilingual children are beginning to acquire two languages, parents sometimes become concerned that they are making errors or are becoming confused as a result of bilingualism. It’s important to keep in mind that errors, overgeneralization of rules and sometimes mixing languages are a natural stage of language development at the beginning stages of acquisition.

It’s your decision as a parent as to whether you want to engage in literacy practices exclusively in English at home while she learns Spanish at school, or whether you want to practice both languages at home. At some point in the immersion program, you will notice that children may tend to gravitate towards English because English tends to become more dominate in society and popular culture (i.e., songs, their cartoons, friends, family, books, etc), and so it is advisable at that point to begin to nurture Spanish as well as English at home.

Hope this helps!


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