3 Mistakes raising a bilingual child and how I plan to correct them

Books Spanish toddlers

After some years of “trying” to teach my son Spanish, I have to sadly admit that he doesn’t speak the language. Here are my mistakes in trying to raise a bilingual child and how I plan to change them.

Let me share my background. My mother tongue is Spanish but I live in Germany. When my oldest son was born, I always believed that he was going to be bilingual. Sadly, ten years have passed since then and I must admit that my son only understands a few words in Spanish and is still far from having a conversation in this language. Furthermore, when I visit my family back in Latin America, I hear comments like “he doesn’t speak spanish?“.

I wonder, what happened? I have to write about this to remember and correct. To remember and succeed. 

Here is what I have learned:

1. Not having a Strategy

I started speaking Spanish with my son since he was a baby. And then, what happened? My son was surrounded by German language and as soon as he started kindergarten, he started to speak only German with me. Since I did not follow any strategy, I began to mix Spanish and German.   

I never looked for information about the possible methods. What are other parents doing? Now I understand that three common strategies can be adopted at home. Choose one of them according to your family situation.

  • The first strategy is to speak the “minority language at home“. This strategy requires that both parents speak the minority language. When I came to Germany, I realized that German is a very difficult language. I needed to practice all the time: at work, at university, and at home. Only then I was going to improve. From the beginning, I knew that this strategy was not right for me. Our language at home is German and I was determined to improve my german.
  • The second strategy is “one person, one language” (OPOL). One parent speaks a language with the child, the other person speaks only a second language. This is definitely the strategy that I should have used
  • The third strategy is “time and place“. You choose to speak the language for a specific time and/or place.

I am choosing “time and place” for my older son. We are practicing Spanish at home for at least 15 minutes a day.

And I am choosing OPOL for my daughter, who is three years old.

2. Not being Consistent

This is the biggest mistake I made. Children tend to use the majority language, the language they use and hear frequently.  At least that has been my experience.

If my son changed the language to German, I would also answer him in German. I would mix the two languages, Spanish and German.

When the children speak Spanish very well, it is because the parents have been consistent since they were young and throughout the years.

What have I learned? Only Spanish. I must remind myself daily that I should only speak this language with my child. I’ve also asked my husband to kindly remind me if I am switching the language.

Be Consistent.

3. Not reading aloud every day

We started to read aloud to my son every day since he was a baby but in German. My son learned a lot of vocabulary and he can express himself very well in German. It was exactly a year and a half ago that I realized my mistake: I haven’t read aloud to him in Spanish. At least, not enough. 

Immediately I tried to correct it. Now, I read every day a little story in Spanish to my son. It does not matter if it’s fiction or not. He will catch some words from the books and get exposure to different situations and topics. The only drawback is that we read books that are for younger children. This is because of his limited vocabulary in Spanish.

Now, with my younger daughter, we read a book every day. I’ve created a small library at home through the years and I see it as an investment in my children.

Tip: Build your own library at home

Why am I sharing this experience on this blog? to help those who are starting to teach their children a second language. But also to remind me that I made mistakes in this journey and the steps I must follow every day.

See you in the next post,


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