How Should We Communicate With Our Baby to Ensure She Will Become Bilingual?

by expert · 2 comments

My wife Erika and I just had our first baby girl, and we are very excited!

Erika is from Peru, and speaks fluent Spanish and speaks decent to fairly good English (depending on the situation) and is taking reading and writing classes to improve her skills.

I am a native English speaker and I also speak almost fluent Spanish. We live in the U.S. and communicate in Spanish at home 95% of the time.

My question is this: what are some different options for how we can communicate in way that will ensure the bilingual success of our new child, given our specific situation?

Is it reasonable to assume that our baby will be exposed to enough English in the world outside our house and therefore it will be OK for us to speak to her almost solely in Spanish?

Thank you for your time,

Dear Abe,

I presume from what you wrote that you and your wife have already started using mostly Spanish with your newborn girl. If this is so, I also presume that using Spanish with her is what felt natural to both of you.

This is your option and this is fine, because language uses within a family should be natural: we use the languages to build a family relationship, not to “teach” the languages themselves.

Your baby will predictably have exposure to English too, including at home. Not only music and talk on the TV, but also visiting (or telephoning) relatives and friends. As you say, English is the language used by most of your social circle.

She may also have English input from you yourself: for example, you may want to sing to her the English-language nursery rhymes that you remember from your own childhood. As I have said before in this forum, using more than one language to our children is no problem at all.

So the answer to your second question is yes. Your girl will be reared in an environment that is naturally bilingual and will, also naturally, become bilingual herself.

Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.


Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, PhD, University of Manchester, UK, is a multilingual parent, educator and scholar, and the author of Multilinguals are...?, a book on myths and misconceptions about multilingualism. Her blog Being Multilingual deals with multilingualism at home, in school and in clinic. Her contact, and details on her work, are at:

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Laura August 5, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Abe: Congratulations to you and Erika on your new baby girl! I agree with Madalena’s comments to you. Our situation while not exactly the same, is similar to yours. My husband was raised in a Spanish-speaking household in the States and while English is my first language, I have near native fluency in Spanish. Our son is 6 and our daughter is 3, and while their language acquisition patterns have been different, I can assure you that they receive more than enough English from peers, family friends and media – while maintaining Spanish as the predominant home language. While your daughter is this young, it’s a great time to find music, books and other sources of Spanish so that they are a regular part of her life. You have a great journey ahead of you – all the best!


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