Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bringing Up a Bilingual Baby

(Mija resting next to nuestro gato).

This article from Pregnancy and Newborn magazine provides a nice introduction to the idea of raising a baby bilingually from birth. Here are some key points:

"A child’s ‘first’ language will not suffer through the introduction of an additional language.”

A number of folks worry about children getting confused and not learning the first language (in the US, English) well if both are introduced. However, there's lots of research showing that this isn't the case. Babies raised in two languages typically learn both well as long as they're given sufficient input in both.

"The most successful bilingual learning begins with both parents discussing their desires, aligning their expectations, and establishing a game plan early on."

In other words, start out with a plan. Brenda and I discussed things over and over again before committing to our approach, as she initially had concerns about how the addition of a second language would affect our family dynamics, in terms of when each language would be used and how we would understand each other.

“Many parents have had success with allocating one language to one parent,” says Mackey. “This way each parent provides rich native input in each language.” Decide beforehand that one parent will address baby in the first language while the other parent uses the second, and baby will be able to separate the two more effectively in the long run."

This is generally the approach we use; it's commonly described as OPOL, or One Parent, One Language. I primarily speak to la bebita in Spanish while Brenda typically speaks to her in English. However, there's no need to have a rigid separation; as long as at least 30% of the baby's waking time is in a language, s/he can learn it. 

Sometimes Brenda uses a Spanish word or two, such as una mano, dos manos while la niña plays with her hands. And there are plenty of families where parents freely go back and forth between the languages together. The important part is that there's lots of input in both languages, regardless of who is speaking it.


Sarah @ Baby Bilingual said...

So true! Using the OPOL approach, my monolingual hubby and I are more-or-less successfully raising two bilingual children.

I think it's fantastic that you're reading books and singing songs to your infant daughter--barraging a baby with linguistic input may feel awkward at first, but that means it will feel second nature within several months!

Bravo to you and your wife, and good luck on your journey!

Mike said...

Thanks for the encouragement Sarah! It's a struggle, but like you said, I'm hoping it'll be super natural soon. Good luck on your journey as well in French!