I am raising my children bilingual — English and Spanish is how we live our lives. However, like anything else, it takes practice and persistence not only for them, but for me as well.
I have many Hispanic mom friends who want to do speak more Spanish with their children, but say that they don’t live in an area where Spanish is spoken, or they have significant others who are not native speakers, so English isn’t the dominant language.
I lived in the UK for six years, where I went months without speaking or even hearing Spanish. I even found myself struggling to come up with words when I would talk to my mother on the phone. However, when I went on maternity leave (for an entire year) my Spanish instantly improved. Why? I was with mostly Chilean mom friends on a daily basis and it was like magic. The words came back, my accent got stronger, and my vocabulary was richer. Not that I “lost” my Spanish, but you know what they say — if you don’t use it, you lose it.
With children, it’s best to make them feel at ease with another language. I don’t force my 4-year-old, but I try to make him as comfortable as possible in Spanish. So far it has worked out, but next year he goes to kindergarten, and his language preference may change. However, the relationship he and I have is entirely based in español. We have never spoken in English together.
Here are 5 ways I keep the language fresh and up-to-date for our family and exercise our bilingual brains (husband included!)
1. Make a video or record your voice! Record yourself (audio or video) reading a story for your kids in your second language. That way, you can hear and see yourself speaking the language and they can play it back whenever they want. This will help increase your speaking confidence, and your family will want to join in!
2. Buy a magazine or book in your second language and read it OUT LOUD. It’s not enough to just read, because we all sound fluent and amazing in our heads, but actually saying the words, pronouncing each one, repeating more difficult words, and getting used to hearing yourself speak the language will increase your fluency and comfort level, and your children will follow your lead.
3. Sing, sing, sing! Sing in your second language! I didn’t listen to much Latin music when I was in the UK. Music is a great way to practice your tenses (“te amaré, “te amo,” “te amé”, etc.). My non-native speaking friends say it helped them improve their skills.
4. Write your “to-do” list in your second language. Sounds simple, but I got into this habit when I was younger and to this day, I cannot write my list in English; it must be Spanish. You use words you may not use otherwise, and it’s always in front of you.
5. Speak to at least one person every day in your second language. Call your mom, a friend, talk to your kids, talk to the dog, talk to yourself (I do!). Just do it!