Raising a Bilingual Bambino

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If you know me, you know: I’m from Trinidad and Tobago. I live in Madrid and I’m married to a Spaniard. I have a 11 month old son, Liam, who I am borderline obsessed with!

One of the things people usually say to me, is how lucky my son is, that he will be bilingual. They also say that it will be so easy for him and that it should be even easier because I’m a teacher! Then they start in with the advice [read: orders] on how to make sure he’s bilingual. At this point, I usually get slightly annoyed, especially when the advice is coming from people who only speak one language. I mean, I only have a Master’s degree in Bilingual and Multicultural Education. I only speak 2 and a half language- but what do I know?

Aside from the fact that I have a real problem with people telling me what to do- I have probably an even bigger issue with people telling me what to do when it comes to raising my child. I am not a know-it-all and I am VERY comfortable asking for help and or advice when I feel it’s necessary.

I/we have decided to raise our children without too many set rules. Before you gasp and clutch your pearls- NO, we’re not going to have a bunch of wild, wayward children running around the city. Our children will have chores, be taught manners and general right from wrong. What I mean is that, we I completely willing to adjust our ideas, as we go along, depending on out children and their needs.

Each child is different. Think of your own siblings (if you have any). I’m pretty sure you sometimes question how you are even related- I know I do! (Hi brother!) Seriously though, what may work for one of your children may not work for another (child of yours).

That is pretty much the stance I have taken when it comes to raising a bilingual child. It seems to me that Liam, though he is only 11 months old, is pretty headstrong- as much as a baby can be anyway. He likes what he likes; how he likes it (just like his mamá!) I think most children go through that little defiant stage where you tell them “No!” and they look you in the eye and do EXACTLY what you, in all you parental glory and power,  have just forbidden! “Oh, I’ll show you, Mummy! Mira lo que hago!” So I know, that demanding that he speaks to me only in English is not going work. That and the fact that I would never insist.

Now, there are quite a few methods that can be used when trying to raise a bilingual child. This article from the Huffington Post sums it all up quite nicely. In our case, I generally speak to Liam in English, especially now as he’s understanding a bit more of what we want to say to him. I do sometimes speak to him in Spanish but it usually depends on who I’m with. So if I’m with a Spanish friend that doesn’t speak English, I may say something to him in Spanish, especially if I’m in the middle of a conversation. Even though Spanish isn’t my first language, I speak more Spanish than English on a daily basis and sometimes it’s actually hard to switch- or to remember to. My husband speaks to Liam mainly in Spanish but he also speaks to him in English from time to time.

Some may argue that it is confusing for the child but I honestly don’t see how it’s any more confusing than me speaking to him in English but everybody else in Spanish. Won’t he wonder why I don’t just speak to him in Spanish like almost everyone else around him? He may or may not and that’s the thing, I think he’s too young for me to decide on a strict approach.

I think it’s important that he is surrounded by as much English as possible and since his family here speaks almost only Spanish and society on a whole speaks mainly Spanish, he needs to have his “immersion” some how.

Our (tentative) plan is as follows:

  1. Bilingual or International school where English is the main language of instruction. I feel like just having me speak to him in English is definitely going to help him but he needs another setting where he has to communicate in English and where it will be natural. If everyone around him is speaking in English at school and he already speaks with me in English, it lessens the chances that he may feel shy or embarrassed to speak in English. It may sound silly about him not being embarrassed but I have had students who are bilingual answer things incorrectly or pronounce words wrong, on purpose, so as to not stand out in front of their classmates. I don’t think this will be the case with my son, but you never know. I want to make it as easy as possible and as comfortable as possible for him to speak English. Check out this school in Dallas, Texas.

2. TV- English ONLY! I am not a huge fan of children watching television. I feel like               they should busy themselves with reading or playing outside and using their                       imaginations. However, as children get older, there are several interesting and                   educational programs that they can watch. We agree that if we let Liam watch any             TV, it should be in English. I’m sure there will be a Spanish cartoon he really likes, and       I’m fine with him watching that but the goal is 95% of any TV programs he watches,           should be in English.

3. Play groups and extracurricular activities. I am not fan of going to group                         meetings with a bunch of ladies who sit around and complain about motherhood. It           bores me halfway to death and I’m just not into it. But I think it’s extremely                           important that bilingual children are exposed to other bilingual children so that they         can interact in settings that are natural for them (games, sports, etc.)

4. Never force it. I think there will be days when my son is a bit tired or frustrated with       having to switch between languages. I think Spanish may be easier for him because he     lives in Spain and the majority of people he will interact with here speak Spanish. I’m       never going to punish or scold my child for not speaking to me in English. I will                   probably respond to him in English most times but I’m hoping that by being as                     “normal” as possible when it comes to speaking to him in English, it will just come             naturally.

Recently we were at a bar in the neighbourhood and overheard a father insisting that his daughter speak to him in English. He was scolding her because she wouldn’t repeat something (poorly phrased and pronounced, mind you!) My husband rolled his eyes and mumbled “Que pesado!” (How annoying!) I laughed and agreed. A while later, Liam woke up from his nap and I said “Hi! How was your nap? Want a beer?” (I talk to him like we’re long time friends and as though he actually understands half of the silly things I sometimes say to him) I should maybe mention now that I don’t give him beer (well not often anyway! 🙂 ) Liam was stuck on “Hi!” and kept waving at me! The Scolding Dad overheard me and decided to come over with his daughter (so she could get some practice, I guess). He went on to mention that they came over because his daughter’s English teacher is also black and they thought maybe we were related. (I kid you not!) But that’s a whole other blog post! All in all, the little girl was sweet (annoying dad and all) and her English was quite good for her only being 4 years old.

I share all of of that to say, I think it’s important to encourage but not insist. Speaking in English or any other language should not be a chore or an obligation for a child. It should come as naturally as possible, if the child is a bilingual or be treated as something enjoyable and interesting, if the child is just learning the language in school.

Is my son going to be bilingual? Of course he is! I honestly would like to add French in there too, so that he speaks 3 languages. But we’re going to go about achieving this in the way that’s best for him.

Are you raising a bilingual child? Is the second language your native language? What method are you using? I’d love to hear from you!

Puedes usar Google Translate para leer este articulo. La traducción tendrá fallos.

 

 

 

 

I don’t have a bloody manual/Why are you asking me- Part 1

Chatting with other mothers over the past few months, there’s one thing that’s common among all of us- our husbands/boyfriends/baby daddies can sometimes act SO FRICKING USELESS!

Let me put it out here now, that this is not an attempt to bash my husband- the poor man tries (probably not his best or hardest- but he tries). If you’re reading along and shaking your head or shuddering- you either:

  1. Have the perfect husband/boyfriend/baby daddy OR
  2. Are in denial or a damn liar

 

I currently live in Spain. Here like most other countries, it’s highly recommended that you…

I had to stop writing to go give Liam a bottle. Mind you, I’m in the living room with the door closed and heard him fussing. HuzBun dearest is in bed, next to his crib… (SEE ATTACHED PHOTO). I couldn’t breastfeed him because I am enjoying a beverage (of the alcoholic persuasion) while writing. We’ll leave the details of that for another post.

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As I was ‘saying’.. it’s highly recommened that expectant mothers (and fathers) attend prenatal classes a few months before the baby is born. In these classes, (usually) a midwife preps you for what to expect during pregnancy, labour and delivery and then post partum.

I say all of this to say, that my husband attended these classes with me- he even TOOK NOTES- so for the life of me, I CANNOT understand WHY he asks me so many (obvious) questions on a DAILY basis, as it regards to our son.

I could literally write a book or (refer to title) manual on this. But I will summarise in sections so that you can skip to what interests you.

 

WHY IS THE BABY CRYING?

While I wish I had the answer to this question almost every time my son cries, the truth is your guess is almost as good as mine. Yet still, at the faintest little whimper, he (huzBun dearest) looks at me and asks me what is wrong with the baby.

My advice: Just shrug your shoulders or invent something. It makes no sense arguing or getting too deep because he will ask you again the next time the baby so much as frowns.

 

THE BABY IS HUNGRY!

I exclusively breastfed Liam for the first 3 months. I only started giving him formula because he developed the appetite of a grown man and my poor breasts couldn’t keep up. Not that I wasn’t producing enough milk (in most cases, your body produces as much as needed and sometimes even extra), but true talk- my nipples felt like someone cut them with razors and then dipped them in salt water (or rubbing alcohol)- they hurt! (again, that is for another post).

It turns out, when they don’t ask you why the baby is crying, it’s because they’ve already decided that the baby is hungry ad if you’re breastfeeing your baby and don’t have pumped/expressed milk, then obviously the only way the baby can be fed is by you. Now this is all well and good but has he:

  1. Checked the baby’s diaper
  2. Tried to entertain/play with the baby
  3. Does he remember the last time the baby was fed to actually decide if it is in fact hunger?
  4. Tried to put the baby to sleep

This list can go on and on… but let’s not.

What I want to say most times: Not everytime the child cries does it mean that he is hungry. Can you please discard other issues before running to me, with that ‘matter of fact’ smirk and telling me the baby is hungry? K, thanks!

My advice: Smile (or not) and say, he/she might not be and calmly ask if he has done the stuff on that list I included above.

 

WHERE IS…?

I lost my job in early June 2 and a half months before I was due (yet another thing for another post…) So I was at home with lots of time on my hands and a little bored, So I decided to organise all of Liam’s clothes by type, size and season- and all of his things by use (sponges, lotions, bath gel, wipes, blankets, etc). After working on this for about a month, I proudly tried to show it off to huzBun dearest- he however wasn’t very enthusiastic, if I’m to be honest. So now, 5 months (and 3 days) later, almost every time he has to bathe, change, clean, burp, play with the baby, he STILL asks me where the stuff he needs is.

What I want to do most times: CUSS and say ”Well, you maybe should have paid attention when I was trying to show you back in July! It has however been 5 months (and 3 days), so maybe- JUST MAYBE you should investigate in your free time and make a mental note of where everything is!

My advice: Act like you didn’t hear him ask you where whatever it is is. (I never promised good advice, this is just what I do from time to time). You can also label drawers/shelves etc- but be warned that even with labels, he will probably still ask you where things are.

 

This post is becoming quite long. Trust me, I could go on and on.

I’m curious to know, other mums out there, what are some of the annoying questions your significant other asks you. Share in the comments section and I’ll include some in Part 2 of this post.