I wonder if you could please help us. We are going to have a baby soon, I am Spanish, my partner is English and we live in Spain.
At first we thought we would go for the “minority language at home” method, in our case, English. However, I don’t trust myself to speak English to my child in situations where I am with my friends and family who only speak Spanish.
Therefore we have been thinking of applying the method “one parent, one language”, but again I don’t know if this will be the right approach, as my partner does not speak Spanish at all, which I guess could be a problem in some circumstances, for instance when the three of us are trying to have a conversation together.
I have also heard that whatever language the mother speaks to the kid will end up being stronger, as children tend to spend more time with the mother. If I choose to speak English to my son all the time (even when I am with my Spanish speaking family), will my kid learn Spanish normally when he starts going to school at age 3? Or will it be a problem for him not to have learned Spanish until then?
I would appreciate any advice you could give us on the subject please as we feel confused and desperate. Thank you very much in advance.
First of all, warm congratulations on your coming little multilingual. And an extra warm welcome to the world of multilingual parenting. Many, many of us have been where you are now, and have asked ourselves the same questions.
As it happens, your situation matches mine almost exactly, the difference being that we lived in countries where none of our languages was spoken. When our children were born, we parents followed the one parent-one language method by default, as it were, for the same reasons that you give: neither of us felt comfortable using any other language with our children.
What we didn’t expect was that this way of solving the language question in our family would have a very interesting effect: we found ourselves improving our knowledge of each other’s languages the natural way. Speaking to babies and children, and hearing it spoken, is an infallible way to learn a language. So your partner may soon begin finding his way around Spanish, and not feel shut out of interactions with your baby in this language, even if he doesn’t use it himself.
Also for the reasons you say, that the mother naturally has more extensive contact with a young child, we chose to use daddy’s language to each other, around the children. No problem there either, since you speak English.
The bottom line is that you don’t need to worry about languages: you have too much to think about just now, with a baby on its way. Languages fall in place naturally for children, so just use them as they feel right to you. You parents decide: your baby will follow suit.
Let me add that there is no problem whatsoever in your child hearing different languages from you, and that he will have no problem learning whichever languages may become relevant to him in future, at any age.
You may want to check out these two Multilingual Living posts, one about parents who don’t speak each other’s languages, the other about how to raise bilingual children:
- Trilingualism Just Do It
- How Should We Communicate With Our Baby to Ensure She Will Become Bilingual?
Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.