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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