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  Reply with quote  #1 
Hello!  My name is Christina and I live in the U.S., near Washington, DC.  My husband and I are both American.  He is an English-only speaker and I am a non-native Spanish-speaker (lived and studied in Spain and taught middle school Spanish in the U.S. for 8 years). We have a 15 month old daughter to whom I have been speaking Spanish, starting more consistently at around one year of age.  My husband is very supportive and has enjoyed learning Spanish at a toddler level.

My concern is that I’ve found the process to be very challenging because my Spanish vocabulary is not as extensive as my English vocab.  If I don’t know a word in Spanish, I either describe the word to her using other Spanish vocabulary or I just say the word in English.  My daughter’s pediatrician is worried and has told me to be consistent and only speak Spanish to her, but being restricted to a smaller vocabulary really stresses me out!  As it is, my daughter does not really speak yet, besides saying, “dog” and “dat” for ‘that.’  I have worried that my limited vocabulary with her has affected her desire or ability to speak.  She is a very social girl and responds to her name and other sounds, including verbal cues without hand motions, so I don’t suspect autism or a hearing problem.  She definitely understands what I say to her and follows my instructions, but will not say anything verbally.  Perhaps she is just a late speaker.  I have no idea and wonder I should seek out speech therapy at this point.

I guess I’m wondering if any of you think I am making a mistake by speaking Spanish to my daughter or should only focus on English.  Most non-native Spanish teachers that I know have chosen NOT to teach their kids Spanish, probably due to this same insecurity that I have.   Is there anyone out there that has a late talker and is speaking (teaching) a language that is not their own? 

Also, I would love to find a Spanish-speaking social group in the Northern Virginia area and/or a (reasonably priced) bilingual preschool for her, but haven’t had any luck.  Any suggestions that anyone might have would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks.
  Reply with quote  #2 
Hello! Cristina I am embarked on the same thing with my daughter (19 months). My wife and I are both native speakers of Spanish and TESOL teachers (for ESL and EFL students). Our daughter was born in the USA when we were there as part of a faculty exchange for three years.  We all share the same worries I guess but shouldn’t give up. My dauhgter has plenty of exposure to Spanish but English only through me and a little bit at school here in Argentina. I think that if you are brave enough to face this challenge you souldn’t worry as long as you are consistent with the motivation ans language usage. My daughter (to whom I’ve spoken English since birth) now follows my directions and produces only a limited amount of English vocabulary which makes me more that happy. I hope it helps.
Pablo Giudici, Tandil, Argentina
  Reply with quote  #3 
Thank you for your advice!  I am actually in the process of formally translating some of my daughter’s favorite English stories into Spanish. (I try to read her Spanish books more often, but sometimes she hands me some English books.)   Some books are easy to translate while I read, but others cause me to pause to determine the proper word.  This delay makes me lose the emotion and rhythm of my voice.  Once that happens, my daughter loses interest, so I have to be prepared to read all of her books fluently.  I think she will enjoy the formal translations (which I am physically writing into her books) a lot more.

I am so glad that you are also choosing to educate your daughter in the subject you teach AND have found success in the process!   My friend asked me yesterday, “How many times do you hear adults say, ‘I wish my parents didn’t teach me a second language?'”  NEVER!  Most of what I hear from American adults is, “I wish I knew how to speak a foreign language!”   What better gift to give your child than to introduce one to him or her from birth, even if it’s not always perfect!   Like I hear all the time, consistency is key, which is why I am constantly doing my homework and learning new vocabulary! 

Thanks again for your feedback.  I really appreciate your support!  

  Reply with quote  #4 
Hi Christina
I think you are doing an amazing job and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Yes it’s hard work I know because I am doing the same thing and yes I wish that I had the opportunity of another language when I was growing up it would have made it easier for me now.  The key is to be persistant with your child with the language because each child is different and perhaps it will take a bit longer to talk than other children but eventually it will happen and when it does you will be surprised.  I have the most wonderful conversations in french with my little boy now who is 4years and its only taken 18months for that to happen!  But it has happened so don’t worry.  Keep that dictionary handy.  I always say “just wait a moment mummy is looking for the right word” and he is happy with that and afterwards  I explain the word in english and in french.  Children are like a sponge at that age they take everything in and organise it in their heads.  Most importantly keep going and don’t worry too much.  See if you can find a playgroup or even start one of your own so your child can hear other people speaking the language as well.  I believe that this makes a great difference. 

  Reply with quote  #5 
Dear Christina,
I am the mom of 5 kids–all bi-lingual.  Both my husband and I are non-native speakers of Spanish.  We tried with the first 4 to speak Spanish often, do Spanish play groups, read, travel, etc.  It was unsuccessful.  Oh, they liked Spanish but as far as actually communicating, it was not working.  With my last child I decided to speak ONLY Spanish, ALWAYS, really.  As an impetus we took our kids to live and Mexico and go to a Mexican school for 6 months.  That got us all on the same page, helped me get more confident in my marginal college Spanish and get us on the right track.  BUT, I think that the real success came from the true commitment and discipline to speaking only Spanish.  Our main “control” in this experiment is our youngest son who was 4 months old when we began. (Our other children were in 4th, 1st, pre-school)  We decided that my husband would speak only English to our son and read to him in English.  I spoke and read only in Spanish (Schoolastic has a fabulous, cheap collection of books in Club Leo).  To help us and make sure that the other kids kept working on their Spanish, we hired a babysitter who is educated and spoke well.  She provided the needed ballast for my non-native Spanish.  My youngest son went to pre-school in English but at home and always we spoke in Spanish.  Kids are completely able to sit at the dinner table and talk to mom in Spanish, turn and speak to dad in English, do both with 4 siblings depending on the content, yell to a nanny and keep the conversation going on all fronts!!  Do not doubt yourself–your child will take you to areas of learning in Spanish that will really help you.  I certainly never thought I’d know ALL the names of earth moving equipment or tools in Spanish…Keep practicing and improving your Spanish (on-line resources are great–the dictionary is your best friend).  Even simple Spanish is better than English.  They hear plenty of English in their environment!  Find a good Spanish speaker for your home and have them there to speak Spanish as often as possible–whatever you can afford.  Play groups are of limited value b/c kids revert very quickly to the language of dominance ie. English here in the US, so they don’t get much help from peers.  Most importantly, read and read.  Start reading long, harder stories.  Let your child listen.  It all works together.  When you can, go and stay in a place where they speak Spanish.  Even a few weeks is very helpful.  Don’t give up.  My “baby” is now 9 and in a competitive private school.  He is thriving academically and did not experience any delays.  Believe me, we heard lots of those fears!  In fact, all my children are now learning Mandarin and we are doing it exactly the same way as Spanish-minus me speaking since my Mandarin learning is painfully slow.  At home, we continue to speak  Spanish to eachother.  About 80% of the time I still speak Spanish, but all the kids  almost always answer in English. Our youngest may not speak to me in Spanish, but he is on the 4th Harry Potter book, in Spanish!  Important matters and prayers are alway said and discussed in his first language-Spanish. Our babysitter still comes everyday and in the house all 5 kids only speak Spanish with her.  All go to Mexico often and 2 had summer jobs in Spanish only settings.  My kids range in age from 18-9.  My husband and I have seen the fruit of teaching a second language to our children.   You can do it!  Good luck. 
  Reply with quote  #6 
Hi Christina,

I would love to talk with you.  Spanish is my second language.  I am being hired as a nanny with the goal of speaking Spanish to the children, twin boys, age 3 and a half.  I am concerned about the akwardness of speaking to them in Spanish from the beginning, and having the similar experience you have had with your daughter of having to reach for vocabulary.  Could we talk?  My email is [email protected].

Muchas gracias!

  Reply with quote  #7 
I am new in this forum and I love reading your stories because I feel so much identified with all of you.  I was so worried about my decision to speak English to my daughter that I really needed someone to push me further at this point.  I live in Toledo (Spain).  I’m Spanish and I have been speaking English to my 18 month daughter since she was 3 months old.  Although my English is a bit rusted I decided it would be the greatest gift I could ever give to my children.  Something money can’t buy.  And moreover, I will never be able to afford bilingual school for all my kids. But my biggest concern now is that I’m trying to teach Daniela to read in English with Glen Doman’s method and I am wondering if I should do it in Spanish, as I am the one that spends the whole day with her.  I am worried that she will end up being better in English than in Spanish and when she joins the Spanish school she’ll have problems to communicate with the other kids.  She understands most of what I tell her and is starting to say some words in Spanish and others in English, will this be a dangerous mix? if I change my teaching to Spanish, wouldn’t it be awkard for her to hear me speak different?  could I ask you expressions in English more used with your babies? sometimes I want to squeeze her or eat her toes and don’t know how to express it in an exagerated way.  I have so many questions I would never end. 
Thank you!
  Reply with quote  #8 
I can identify with your situation in that I speak German with my child and live in the U.S.  I am a German/American who spent many years in Germany and I am fluent, but at times, due to so much recent time spent here, I do not always have the right word in German. (Part of the problem comes from being so overwhelmed with English that I want to say things the way they are said in English, when in fact there is no correct translation for them into German).   

My advice is take up reading Spanish books whenever you have any free time.  As a teacher you well know that through reading the language becomes integrated into your thought process and leads you toward becoming a more native speaker.  Other than that I would make sure that my child had regular access to native speakers so that they could hear its proper usage.  I empathize with your frustration, in that it is so much easier to use one’s native language or the language that dominates at the time, but I commend your efforts to provide your child with a second mother-tongue.
  Reply with quote  #9 
Thanks Ana and Shelley for your most recent replies.  I haven’t checked this site in a while and really appreciate your advice.  It’s also SO good to hear that there are others in my shoes.  I often feel so isolated.

Ana, you requested interest in getting translations of expressions and other vocabulary.  I too, am looking for someone that could help me with translations, especially in Castellano.  (Like, how do you say, ‘barrette’ in Spanish.  I can’t find a proper translation anywhere, including from native speakers.)  I would like to give you my email, but don’t know how to do that without it being published on the forum.  There should be a way to directly reply to a person, but I don’t know how.  Hopefully, we can get in touch with each other.

BTW, as an update to my original post, my daughter ended up being diagnosed with a speech delay at 17 months.  She’s now 23 months and is speaking a lot more.  Her therapist and everyone I spoke to wanted me to drop the Spanish for a while, but I was reluctant and decided to keep going.  As of now, she is almost caught up to her peers.  Her English is far more developed because her therapy was done in English and she hears it all the time when I’m out of the house or talking to others in the home, including dad.  But, her Spanish is improving and she’s learning that I won’t accept her English responses.  She’s tries to say, ‘I want book’ in English, but I’ll tell her to say it in Spanish, and she will.  She’s just more reluctant because I think English is easier to pronounce (has fewer syllables).  I’m looking into putting her in a Spanish immersion class once a week with other kids her age.  She’s learning that all her current peers speak English and I want to change that.  


Valeria Guillen
  Reply with quote  #10 
hi, Im Valeria Guillen, and my Spanish is perfect, well im Mexican, and i can teach ur daughter, [email protected], you can add me if you wish, barrette in spanish is prensa pelo.
  Reply with quote  #11 

I’m 18 yrs old and I took Spanish (non native) for all 4 years in high school. I did not have anyone to speak to in Spanish at home because we speak Armenian at home. However, I watched TV and news in Spanish, listened to the radio and read novels in Spanish. The more practice, the better. And its nice to see parents teaching their children foreign languages because I have read somewhere that a child does much better academically when he or she is bilingual. I plan to continue to better my Spanish and I have started learning Russian and French! Good luck to everyone. And encourage your children to pick up on other languages while they are still young and have the ability to retain and learn faster.


  Reply with quote  #12 
Hi Christina!
I’m a 21 year old Chilean girl and let me tell you that mi cousin, who’s 4 now, was taught english and spanish at the same time.His parents (non of them English native speaker) used to talk to him in both languages and he just made sounds but nothing that you could say “oh that’s spanish” or “aah that’s english”…anyway, the thing is that he learnt to speak spanish and he also knows a little english ( numbers,colours,etc.) but he didn’t speak clearly untill now. So, don’t worry,some babies learnt faster than others…you’ll see…when your daughter learn to talk…nobody will stop her!
  Reply with quote  #13 
Christina, I am also a non-native Spanish speaker speaking Spanish to my son. I think you’re probably doing great by now, but I just wanted to share with you something about the books. has been a great resource for me. They have all kinds of children’s books in Spanish, or in bilingual versions. I, too, have a huge pile of books that I want to translate to Spanish, but I will probably never get to them. You are so lucky to have an immersion school nearby! The closest to us is one hour away. Good luck!
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