My Thoughts After 2 Years of Raising a Bilingual Daughter
“Spanish 3-4 instead of retaking Spanish 1-2?” I asked my mom before freshman year of high school. All my friends were downleveling, but she wisely said no.
Fast-forward 15 years to 2023. Now, my two-year-old daughter is bilingual, speaking both Spanish and English. The high school me couldn’t have predicted Spanish becoming such a significant part of my life.
This piece reflects on my journey as a non-native Spanish speaker, raising our daughter to be bilingual over the past two years.
“Why choose to raise your daughter bilingual in Spanish?”
My love for Spanish began in high school. It felt like a portal to another world. I studied it throughout high school, college, and spent a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Three months before our daughter was born, my wife and I asked ourselves, “Why not raise her bilingual?”
I envied those who grew up bilingual, thanks to their parents. So, we decided to give it a shot. I’d read stories of non-native speakers succeeding in raising bilingual kids, including my high school Spanish teacher. I felt confident in my abilities to make it happen.
“Since you’re not a native speaker, how proficient are you in Spanish?”
I began at 13 and now, at 29, I have come a long way. Videos document my progress from college (1, 2), and our bilingual journey’s inception (1, 2), including a recent podcast episode from a month ago. So, you can see how much I’ve grown throughout this journey with my daughter.
“What’s her daily language learning routine, switching between Spanish with you and English with your wife?”
We follow the One Parent, One Language (OPOL) approach: my wife speaks English, and I speak Spanish. However, my wife occasionally uses basic Spanish. For example, we call milk ”leche.”
I exclusively speak Spanish to her, except for rare exceptions like public outings. With my full-time job and my wife caring for her, she gets Spanish input from me before work, at lunch, after work, and on weekends—approximately 4 hours on weekdays and 10 hours on weekends, totaling around 24 hours per week.
“What’s your family’s stance on your daughter learning Spanish?”
Everyone is supportive. Even her grandparents use Spanish occasionally. For example, our daughter often calls her water bottle ”agua.” My wife also uses short Spanish sentences like ”quieres huevos.” It’s been a positive experience.
“Are you teaching ‘neutral Spanish’ or a specific dialect?”
My belief is that learners should focus on a specific dialect, as “neutral Spanish” exists primarily in academics. After my semester in Argentina, I adopted Rioplatense Spanish due to my love for the people and culture. That’s the dialect I use with my daughter.
I even started a newsletter on Argentinian Spanish to share resources with others interested in the dialect.
“How do you plan on maintaining her Spanish as she enters school in the community language?”
In Arizona, we have options for immersion or bilingual preschools since there is a large Hispanic (mainly from Mexico) population here. We haven’t decided yet, but we’re looking for community groups to provide extra exposure. There’s a bilingual playgroup in Chandler, and we’re hoping to find or start one in Scottsdale.
“What are challenges you’ve had and how do you stay on track with your language goals?”
Over the past two years, I’ve encountered several challenges. One major hurdle is a limited vocabulary, despite being fluent. I often forget or never learned specific words. For example, “potty” is pelela. A friend suggested writing down unknown words and using English in the moment, which helps.
Impostor syndrome speaking Spanish in public used to bother me, but now it leads to fascinating conversations I wouldn’t otherwise have. Many people ask if I’m from Spain (guessing it’s based on my looks and the accent). Overall, I’ve received positive responses and now feel more confident.
My primary goal is to persist in speaking Spanish, even on challenging days.
“What materials and methods do you use for teaching Spanish?”
I’ve considered formal curricula like Mama Llama Linguist, but for now, I mainly focus on integrating Spanish into everyday life. We watch Blippi en español and Spanish with Liz on the TV or iPad which provides additional input.
I also try to consume Spanish content daily or weekly.
“Does she express her needs in Spanish or English?”
Her speaking has exploded lately. Most of the time, she adjusts her language depending on the audience. With me, she says ”comer” when hungry or ”agua” when thirsty. She’s learning to differentiate between the languages. Sometimes, she’ll come up to me and say something in English like “help me,” but a gentle ”en español” reminds her to use Spanish.
“Is there anything you’re changing in your approach since you began?”
I realized I needed to adapt when telling her what to say to kids who don’t speak Spanish. For instance, suggesting ”decíle no thank you” instead of ”decíle no gracias” is more effective because when she says it, she’s speaking to an English speaker (like her cousin). I also wish I’d started reading Spanish books with her earlier. But now we go to the library almost once a week and checkout children’s books in Spanish.
“How do you feel about raising your daughter bilingual even though you’re not Hispanic?”
I feel like an “outsider” at times, raising her as a non-Hispanic with Argentinian Spanish. She’ll never be Hispanic or Argentinian, but she will be a Spanish speaker. I’m sure that will present it’s own challenges as she gets older but we’ll help her navigate those as best we can. We plan to expose her to Hispanic culture through food, media, and travel to Spanish-speaking countries.
It’ll be fascinating getting her perspective on this as she grows older.
“Can we hear your daughter speaking Spanish?”
Here is an audio recording from a video I recorded on my phone today when I was feeding her lunch.
Without sounding cliché, this journey has been incredible. Sharing the gift of language with my daughter, though challenging, is immensely rewarding. As she starts talking more, maintaining her Spanish will be tough, but I’m committed to it and have no plans of giving up.
The key challenges I’ll face in the foreseeable future:
- Expanding my vocabulary for her benefit
- Seeking community in Scottsdale
- Providing additional input and exposure through schooling
If you’ve read this far, thank you for letting me share my thoughts. If you’re raising a bilingual child or considering it, feel free to reach out at joe (at) joeprevite dot com. I love talking to people about this stuff.