I have been recording (mostly on Facebook) my daughters’ bilingual development. The following conversation took place when she was 1 year and 11 months old.
Me: Sabrina, ven a comer los frijoles.
Sabrina: No, jole!
Me: Ven aquí.
Sabrina: No ven
Sabrina No, si!
As you can see her words are “fragmented” and she echoed what I was saying, yet all in Spanish. It has been an amazing journey that not a single person could have described to me prior to deciding to raise my daughter with 2 (at least) languages. I have seen her change from a predominately Spanish speaker at 2 and a 1/2 years old to having a strong command of English within 6 months of being immersed in an English daycare. Today, at 4 years old, it can be difficult to tell which of the 2 languages she speaks “better.” Just the other day the following conversation took place between her and a new friend:
New Friend: Sabrina, por que hablas ingles?
Sabrina: En Austin hablamos espaniol y in Ecuador we speak English!
Me: That’s right, honey. You are bilingual and your friend is becoming bilingual just like you!
In fact, one could argue, based on that single sentence she uttered above, that she has a strong command of both languages because she managed to code-switch while maintaining the grammatical structure of both languages!
When it comes to raising a bilingual child it seems like, as I have said before, there are many trials, joys, and tribulations. Having moved to Ecuador recently we switched to speaking English with Sabrina for the first time in her life! She refused to speak to us in English for about 2 months UNTIL she came home from her first day at a Spanish school. The teachers and classmates were so impressed with her American English that she, what I assume, felt proud. Since that day she speaks mostly in English to us. It was a complete shock to me to see how drastically she switched all due to what her peers thought. Now, as I mentioned, my biggest concern is asking her to switch back to Spanish IF we ever decide to move back to the U.S.
Have your children successfully switched back to the original language you had spoken after moving back to a country of origin?
Bilingualism is highly valued in Ecuador. There is no doubt about that. That being said, I have been trying to understand how Spanish and English work here. All of the private schools I have visited promote becoming bilingual. The public schools, from what I have heard, also promote bilingualism, but at a completely different level. Here’s the interesting observation I have made. Rarely, if ever, do I hear locals speaking English. In fact, I sense a level of discomfort interacting in English. It’s as if English is a tool with a certain purpose. The purpose being several ones: travel, business, or to speak with someone from another country.
There is something about Spanish and English that definitely stands out. People here code-switch or it could be a form of language mixing (which I can explain in another post). For example, I was speaking to another parent about sleep training her children when she said, “No fue facil. Tenia los dos mellizas durmiendo en el mismo cuarto o como dicen los gringos, ‘it wasn’t a piece of cake.”
There is English everywhere we go. You will see it as the name of business, like Sweet & Coffee. Though I think it should read: Sweets & Coffee. Which leads me to my next observation. Sometimes the translations are off like a store in the mall advertising: joyas de boda. In English they wrote, marge jewelry. Huge mistake.
All in all, our experience as a bilingual family in Ecuador has been amazing. I look forward to sharing more about those experiences in future posts as well. Our daughter has certainly improved how to associate people with language. She switches between Spanish and English almost flawlessly. I think we are on track in raising a prolific code switcher and someone who is proud to know more than one language. Just the other day she said, “En Austin hablamos espaniol y in Ecuador we speak English!”
There is some ground-breaking work to be done in the field of bilingual education. This work involves the development of instructional strategies that has the heritage language learner in mind. The following are a few terms (used by various researchers) who are starting to do work in naming and developing those strategies:
Instructional Applied Linguistics
Critical Additive/Bicultural Pedagogy
Multilingual Pedagogic & Curriculum Research
Unfortunately, unless researchers from competing fields come together to develop these strategies we will continue to keep language minorities marginalized. In other words, the field of Second Language Acquisition, Bilingual Education, and (Socio)linguistics need to merge and get passed their paradigmatic tensions so that we can begin to create a pedagogy that benefits various models of bilingual education (e.g., dual language, transitional, ESL) where many of heritage language learners are placed to either learn another language or develop their native one.
Has this crossed your mind? Are you in the process of trying to find a foreign language school for your child? This topic is one I have been thinking a lot about for several years. As a former teacher I often times sought out the ideal settings to teach Spanish or English in and what I have come to realize are many things that make a great way to learn another language. I am in the process of drafting an e-book about the characteristics that make a foreign language school/experience the best for YOUR child. In other words, just like many parents spend time and money scoping out schools, in general, the parent who has learning a second or third language a priority for their child also has special interests and important decisions to consider and make.
In my opinion, there are so many things to consider, but the problem the parent who has learning another language as top priority also has the added challenge of being limited by the number of schools to choose from in any city they may live in. It is, unfortunately, a situation very common in the US.
I am writing this post to get an idea about the specific interests parents have when looking into foreign language schools in their community. I’d like to offer my unique perspective, not only as a parent who shares the same interest in finding the perfect foreign language school, but as a doctoral student who knows about some of the most optimal methodologies to teach/learn another language.
Please share some of your specific interests/concerns when looking into foreign language schools.
There are various routes one can take to become bilingual. Since I have made an effort to raise my daughter with at least 2 languages I have learned mine is just one way, and really, there are multiple ways to becoming bilingual. I consider myself a “crib bilingual” in that my parents native language is Spanish. Spanish filled our home, our lives effortlessly. I, on the other hand, find myself stumbling over some Spanish words when speaking with my daughter. Like the other day, I realized that I did not know the words for earlobe or nostril!
As I mentioned earlier, there are various avenues one can take to becoming bilinugual. The difference, though, is to what extent will my daughter be able to speak Spanish in various contexts. This is where I like to think that though she is a crib bilingual, she will also become (which I did not have the opportunity to do) a school bilingual. She will have experienced both Spanish and English day in, and day out. She will be considered a simultaneous bilingual. That being said, no matter which route you happen to be one, I think individuals that speak more than one language (despite the level of “proficiency”) also develop two language systems…that my friends a whole other realm of language acquisition!