By Jeffrey Nelson
Photo Credit: Another Sergio
My name is Jeffrey Nelson. I am an American, however three years ago I married my Mexican princess and we now live in the Midwestern United States. We met in Denver, CO almost four years ago and our son, Liam, is now almost one year old.
This is our story and how we came to decide to raise our son, Liam, bilingually.
After my wife and I started dating, I knew we would have a long and happy future together. At the time, she spoke very little English and I spoke very little Spanish. It’s probably more realistic to say I spoke no Spanish, and I wrote very little Spanish. Verbal communication was almost impossible due to my accent and lack of verbal ability. We communicated, but it was rough; we actually carried around a dictionary at all times just to be able to get our points across! We were known to text each other while seating next to each other just to attempt to penetrate the language barrier.
She was learning English, and we would most likely live in the United States; however I was very motivated to learn Spanish. I wanted to learn Spanish for her and for our future child. I studied like crazy, and we spoke only in Spanish regardless of how ridiculously frustrating this was at times.
Fast forward two years and we were pregnant with our little boy.
Liam came into the world on July 15th, 2012. Our preparation for his arrival started long before that in so many ways. I knew we wanted children, and I knew language would be something we would have to figure out. My wife and I speak Spanish to each other and our world outside the home, for the most part, is in English. My side of the family speaks English while her side speaks Spanish. Liam would grow up in two worlds simultaneously. While this is wonderful, it also requires a certain level of planning.
I scoured the internet for information and found many helpful resources. One of them was this site, multilingualliving.com. I read the forums, articles, and anything else I could find. It was a great help. I also read books, articles, guides, and whatever else I could get my hands on. I had no experience living in a bilingual world and less raising a bilingual child. I didn’t know what to do or what to expect.
Throughout the pregnancy, and now during his first year of life, my wife and I have learned a million things. We have spoken to him solely in Spanish, with a little German mixed in from time to time, and he gets his English input from friends and my side of the family. He currently isn’t speaking in the traditional sense of the word, although his grunts are very Spanish sounding. We are anxiously awaiting his first words. It’s amazing to watch him grow and develop, and I can’t wait to see how he continues this process in his linguistic development.
We decided to raise him as a bilingual for a few reasons:
The first reason is purely the actual logistics and practicality of it in our situation; his mother speaks Spanish… it just makes sense. Surprisingly, when I started to research raising bilingual children, I came to realize the enormous benefits that bilingual children realize. That was very reassuring when making this decision. We had family and friends that were a bit concerned that he wouldn’t learn English or that he would fall behind in school not speaking only English from day 1, however all of this research helped put me, and them, at ease with regards to how the bilingual child develops.
We chose to use the minority language at home technique, as opposed to one parent one language, because we feel that living in the United States the English influence will be so strong it will be all we can do to try and keep him speaking his minority language. We are hoping that if we, from day one, reinforce Spanish at home he will just accept this as normal and continue with his development in his heritage language while with us in the home.
Raising a bilingual child does NOT happen by accident.
One thing that has become abundantly clear in my research, experience, and exposure to the “bilingual world” of our friends and family members is that raising a truly bilingual child does not happen by accident; it is very intentional. The minority language has to be nurtured, caressed, fed, and encouraged to grow and develop as it should.
I was very surprised when I asked the daughter of a friend of ours who is bilingual which language she is more comfortable with. She answered along the lines of “English, by far.” This surprised me because her parents hardly spoke English at all. All of her home input was in Spanish. This, to me, indicates that it takes more than just talking to your child at home in their language to optimally encourage their language development.
Intentionally raising bilingual children is going to be a lot of work. We are, however, up to the task.
Jeffrey Nelson is a bilingual husband, father, and author who writes on bilingualism about raising his bilingual child with his wife. His goal is to promote bilingualism and dispel the myths that being bilingual is somehow a disadvantage. He lives in the Midwestern United States with his wife, Gyovanna, and their 11-month old son, Liam. You can read more from him at livingbilingual.com.