For years I have thought about the best way to make sure my children become bilingual in English and Spanish. Since they were little I was determined to do everything possible to achieve that goal. I wondered whether having one parent in the house speaking Spanish would be enough and what other scenarios would be better. Here is a real life experiment from my family and my observations about these different scenarios that provided interesting results.
1) ONE SPANISH SPEAKING PARENT AND ONE ENGLISH SPEAKING PARENT AT HOME
This was the scenario with my family. I am from Venezuela and my wife is from Pennsylvania. My wife is a stay at home parent so while the kids were growing up they spent most of the day listening to her speak English while they would hear me speak Spanish to them a few hours each day after I would get home from work. While they understand most everything I say, they struggle to speak Spanish. My oldest have improved as she started taking more Spanish classes in school so I am hopeful that the other 3 will follow in her foot steps. While I speak Spanish to them consistently they do not have the need to use it as much with an English speaking parent at home. There are numerous things yo can do to encourage your children to speak a language but having a Spanish speaking parent with the children a lot of the day clearly helps.
2) ONE ENGLISH SPEAKING PARENT AND ONE SPANISH SPEAKING PARENT AT HOME
My sister, who is also a native Spanish speaker, is a stay at home Mom and speaks only Spanish to the kids throughout the day. Her husband is from Alabama and speaks mostly English to the kids but he also speaks some Spanish. Their children are able to understand Spanish perfectly and speak fluently. Their pronunciation is very good but not quite as a native speaker as they are exposed to English consistently out of the house which has some effect on using the proper sounds in Spanish.
3)TWO NATIVE SPANISH SPEAKING PARENTS IN AN ENGLISH SPEAKING COMMUNITY
My brother's wife is from El Salvador so both speak Spanish at home consistently. Their children attend school so they are exposed to English while not at home. Their children speak Spanish like native speakers and have a rich vocabulary. They have had many hours of listening to Spanish all of their lives due to having both parents speak Spanish consistently at home with good pronunciation.
4) TWO NATIVE SPANISH SPEAKING PARENTS IN A SPANISH SPEAKING COMMUNITY
My other brother lives in Venezuela with his wife and two children. My parents live in the same house so the children have non-stop exposure to Spanish. Out of all of the cousins they speak Spanish with the best vocabulary and pronunciation. The exposure to Spanish in and out of their home consistently has had an impact on their Spanish language skills. They are both learning English in school and progressing well but slowly due to the lack of exposure to English at home.
WHY DOES IT MATTER? I DO NOT HAVE A CHOICE.....
Yes, since you are not able to choose what your home bilingual set up may be, all you can do is take steps to get the most out of whichever situation you have. Families that have a set up where there is a lot of Spanish spoken at home may be able to focus on higher level Spanish skills for their children such as reading at higher levels and maybe learning grammar and writing (age appropriate).
Those families that have more limited or no exposure to the language at home, such as in homes with no Spanish speaking parents, can concentrate in more basic skills such as learning the proper vowel sounds and pronunciation along with expanding their vocabulary as much as possible. If Spanish is not spoken at home much throughout the day, videos, CDs, movies and games in Spanish can provide more exposure.
This real life experiment shows that the more exposure the better so do you best to get as much Spanish as you can into your child's daily life.
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In 2016 Naja Ferjan Ramirez, of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington, performed a study comparing 11 month old babies exposed to English only with babies exposed to Spanish and English in their homes. “Our results suggest that before they even start talking, babies raised in bilingual households are getting practice at tasks related to executive function. This suggests that bilingualism shapes not only language development, but also cognitive development more generally,” she said.
In the same study the team of researchers found that introduction of the second language early is most beneficial. “Our results underscore the notion that not only are very young children capable of learning multiple languages, but that early childhood is the optimum time for them to begin,” the lead researcher said.
In another study published in the Journal of Phonetics by Adrian Garcia Sierra also indicated that early exposure to a second language is beneficial. The study suggested that "the bilingual brain remains flexible to languages for a longer period of time, possibly because bilingual infants are exposed to a greater variety of speech sounds at home" Therefore, exposing an infant to another language early will make the brain more receptive to learning another language.
"The bilingual brain is fascinating because it reflects humans' abilities for flexible thinking -- bilingual babies learn that objects and events in the world have two names, and flexibly switch between these labels, giving the brain lots of good exercise," said Patricia Kuhl, co-author of the study and co-director of the UW's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.
Every little bit of exposure helps. Do not be discouraged if your child speaks only English back to you as they start speaking. Those tiny connections in the brain will be stimulated when they hear Spanish words. Keep introducing Spanish as much as you can every day. As these studies have found, earlier is better.......
Absolutely! It only takes some discipline and planning. If your household has both Spanish and English speaking members you should try to have one parent speak one language while the other speaks the other. For households with English speaking only parents you can use tools such as videos and CDs to expose your child to Spanish. Do your best to have them spend some time every day listening to Spanish.
If you can find other families in your area that speak Spanish organize play dates and encourage the children to speak only Spanish. If the kids are uncomfortable doing that (mine are not comfortable speaking Spanish in front of other people) have them watch movies, videos (Featured Products) or listen to music in Spanish. Also, just being around a group of adults speaking Spanish can be beneficial.
I was frustrated for many years that my children were not speaking Spanish back to me even though they understood most everything I said. However, I noticed that as my oldest got to be a teenager she started using it more. I feel as if the Spanish was always in there waiting to come out at some point. All those years trying so hard to expose the children to Spanish was worth the effort.
THINKING ABOUT INTRODUCING A SECOND LANGUAGE TO YOUR CHILD? HERE ARE SOME REASONS WHY YOU DEFINITIVELY SHOULD.....
1. Better attention and focus.
Several studies have found that bilingual people are able to maintain attention and focus better than their monolingual counterparts. While the reason behind this continues to be studied one theory is that the constant switching back and forth between two languages trains the brain to focus better. Dr. Andrea Krott from the University of Birmingham in a 2016 study stated that "together with other evidence, our research suggests that the lifetime task of switching between languages appears to enhance the ability to maintain attention." For more information on this study you can go to this site-www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2016/09/bilinguals-attentional-control.aspx
2. Brain is more "open" to learning another language later in life
When a child is exposed to another language early in life, their brain develops an affinity for language acquisition that can help them learn that language later in life. Studies have found that children that were exposed to a language early are able to learn that language easier later in life compared to those who were never exposed to that language. The brain is "wired" differently in those that are exposed to another language, especially before 1 year of age.
3. Improved communication skills
Several studies have found that bilingual children display better communication skills even before their first birthday. One such study performed by Katherine Kinzler, associate professor of psychology at Cornell University, showed that children who were exposed to a second language had the ability to better understand another person’s perspective which they indicated is an important aspect of better communication. Furthermore, they indicated that being completely bilingual was not necessary to acquire this benefit from exposure to a second language.
4. Improved problem-solving skills
This is one of the most significant benefits of learning a second language as it can have a positive impact in several areas of a person's life. Tracey Chapelton from the British Council indicates that "studies have suggested that children learning an additional language tend to score better on standardized tests because learning languages develops listening, observation, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. These are transferable skills that are of life-long benefit, both personally and professionally. Encouraging in children a love of language at an early age prepares them well for school and for life".
5. Improved memory
Another benefit of being exposed to a second language early is improved memory. Studies have found that the area of the brain responsible for 'executive function' which controls basic cognitive processes such as attentional control, cognitive inhibition, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. was more developed in babies exposed to more than one language.
6. Improved brain efficiency
Studies have demonstrated that life-long bilinguals develop improved "neural efficiency" in certain areas of the brain that are responsible for task-switching and other executive functions. One particular study suggested that "the benefits of lifelong bilingualism are based upon a shift in cognitive control processing from effortful to more automatic" (www.jneurosci.org/content/33/2/387.full). Basically, the brain becomes more efficient at processing certain information. Other studies have also found that this type of "training" for the brain helps slow down the negative effects that aging can have on the brain.
GO FOR IT!!!
Even if you are not able to speak Spanish at home your child can benefit from exposure to another language by other means such as CDs, videos, movies and toys.
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While having a parent at home that is fluent in Spanish is a tremendous advantage, you should not be discouraged if you want your children to learn Spanish in a English-speaking only home. Many studies have shown that introducing a second language early in life can help children in many ways.
Katherine Kinzler, associate professor of psychology and human development at Cornell University, has indicated that based on her research, there is good news for parents that speak only one language at home regarding some benefits of exposure to another language. She stated that some of the social benefits, such as being able to understand other people's perspectives better, do not require for the children to become completely bilingual. So even children who have some exposure to another language seem to be just as good at understanding others perspective.
If you speak Spanish fluently or even on a more limited basis try to speak Spanish as much as possible. Your children will be exposed to mostly English outside of the home in most communities. If you do not speak Spanish at all, do your best to expose your child to Spanish at least once per day. This can be done through videos - www.spanishforbabiesandtoddlers.com/spanish-store.html CDs, programming for children on TV (there are several Spanish channels that have shows for children) or interactive Spanish toys.
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