As you know, Spanish is not my native language. On top of that, Bilingual Baby hears me speaking English to my husband, Lyon, and he communicates with her in English. It’s a wonder she speaks any Spanish at all!
The truth is, Lyon understands a lot of Spanish—it’s the language he took in high school and college. Plus, I’ve dragged him all over the Spanish-speaking world at this point: Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica and, soon, Spain.
When Bilingual Baby was born, I was fascinated by studies that talked about what went on in babies’ brains in relation to the languages spoken around them. Babies exposed to two different languages from inside the womb, for example, preferred those languages as newborns and could tell the two languages apart.
I just knew that what we did early on would matter. And four years later, I think a lot of the gas we still have in the tank is from those early days. Because in those early days, I wasn’t the only one speaking to Bilingual Baby in Spanish, Lyon was doing it too.
He read her books in Spanish. He said “hola,” to her when he got home from work, “ven aqui,” when he took her into his arms, “a bañarse,” when it was time to take a bath, and “¿tienes hambre?” when he wanted to know if she was hungry. How hard is that? If you took Spanish in high school, you can do all of that.
I attribute her brain’s wiring for Spanish to all her early exposure, and my husband played a role in that. Nearly all of her first words were in Spanish. I also attribute Lyon’s ability and willingness to still pick up a book and read to her in Spanish today to his own time, early on, connecting with her in Spanish.
He’s all English with her now (read about that messy transition), but she knows he speaks and understands both languages, and that is important. The other night I caught him reading a bedtime story to her in Spanish. It wasn’t an easy book either, but she had insisted he read that book, and she was so patient with him.
This morning when he was trying to wake her up for school I heard her say, “But in the mornings when I’m sleepy Mommy says, “OK, tu puedes seguir durmiendo.” To which my husband replied, “Oh she does, does she?”
First of all, I love that when she quotes me, it’s in Spanish. Second of all, I love that her Daddy can understand what she says and just reply playfully, never making her second guess whether he understands her. And third, that was only a half-truth she was telling. I tell her she can keep sleeping for a couple more minutes, not that she can just keep sleeping indefinitely. Mentirosa.
Also, watch the sweet video from this post when she writes a love letter in Spanish to me and one in English to her daddy.
Takeaway: Every bit of exposure counts, and the earlier the better. Even if you aren’t fluent in the target language, you can make a huge difference just by trying, just by being supportive.