Palabras, and how we think about them: 2yrs, 5mos

When we have a long car ride, we like to listen to the Sesame Street podcast in Spanish. There’s a series called Palabras por aquí, por allá. While her language is still developing, and her brain is absorbing everything around her, every second counts, so why not take advantage of car rides? Palabras has Elmo and some other favorite Sesame characters; it’s mostly about all the new words (palabras) Elmo and his friends discover. I’ve learned words from it myself like, empaparse (to get soaking wet).

I’ve purposefully never labeled the two languages we speak to her. I’ve never said, “This is what it’s called in English” or, “That’s what it’s called in Spanish.” I’ve never asked her whether she wants to read a book in English or Spanish. I’ve also never told her to “correct” herself and tell me something in Spanish instead of English. My goal is to keep her dual language learning under the radar for as long as possible so that it never feels like work, so that she never comes to resent it. I’ve been really proud of that. When friends or family ask her to tell them how to say something in Spanish, she just ignores them and I explain that she doesn’t know what she’s being asked to do because she doesn’t know that she speaks Spanish (or English for that matter).

But while I’ve been purposeful about not labeling or drawing attention to the languages she’s speaking, it’s happening elsewhere. The other night, Lyon told me that before bed she picked up one of her Peppa Pig books, which is in Spanish. He muttered, “I think I can translate this.” She looked up at him and said “English?” I’ve never even heard her say the word “English” before.

A few nights later with me, I was reading a book to her and she turned to me and said “No, Mama, in English!” Inside I froze and was already starting to mourn the loss of everything I’d built. But outside I kept cool and said, “OK!” Then I continued reading in Spanish. She had no idea whether or not I’d switched because she didn’t know what “English” really meant. Nor did she care. She was already lost in the story.

That hasn’t happened again since.

Here she is thoroughly enjoying “The Three Little Pigs”:

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