Tips to design your Bilingual Strategy

A week ago I was wondering why my kids are still not speaking the minority language, even though they can understand me.  I arrived to these simple reasons,

  • english mouth with a Spanish brain  Lack of exposure
  •   Need of Immersion programs
  •   Lack of Cultural Immersion
  •   As a minority language provider I still speak the majority language
  •   Lack of vocabulary to communicate in the minority language
  •   Over use of the mayority language with our spouse. (I am so guilty of this one)

All of it can be summarized in one reason,


A child needs to be constantly immersed in both languages.  So immersed, that the minority language becomes as important as the majority language. When I see first immigrants in the States I see bilingualism in its fullest meaning, where kids do not necessarily attend to dual immersion school but they are fully immersed in their mother tongue at home.

Like I said before, not everybody has access to immersion schools.  In many cases one parent is the only resource of the minority language.  That is the case of many of these lovely ladies, that gave me great tips for encouragement.

Natalie from Planet Smarty Pants,  not being able to give her daughter her own mother tongue suggests. “I think having at least a third of waking hours in the second language environment is a must-have for second language acquisition.”

Leanna, felt she failed with her first son, but she is redeeming the time with her second son speaking to him just in Spanish.   Between us I think the older son is going to start to join her club very soon.

Frances is an amazing example of endurance and consistency.  She started a bit late with her son, but her consistency is making her kid bilingual! In her own words, “OPOL has been working very well for us. I speak Spanish, and hubby speaks English. At times, when my son talks to me in English I tell him, “En Español por favor.” I won’t pay any attention to what he’s saying until he speaks to me in Spanish. When he has a hard time trying to express in Spanish thoughts or words I encourage him to tell me in English so I can help him translate. That’s the only time that I allow him to speak in English during our conversation”.

Amanda, moved and immersed her children in the minority country language.  Now, she is able to have them speaking in three languages! “Only way I knew it would change was to move to the minority speaking language country. They have no choice here. We use English in the house and Arabic outside. They aren’t getting as much conversational French as I’d like but I’m picking my battles”.

I loved Annika’s solution,  she travels to visit extended family.  In her own words, …”if I had to pick the one thing that has had the biggest influence on our daughters’ French, it would undoubtedly be the time they’ve spent in France with the French relatives (minimum 4 weeks every summer and at least half of this time without us to be in full immersion). This has been difficult to arrange and there’s been a price to pay on many levels but the reward has been amazing. It has made French THEIR language, is their dad’s language, and they have been able to form strong and natural relationships with the grandparents.”  

She also gave me a very wise advise about finding opportunities, through a beautiful metaphor called “Finding pelicans”.   Yes, she finds opportunities to immerse her children in the language and culture.

And Sophie found the pelicans, how?  They are called Immersion school in the minority language and also babysitters.

Diana, teaches her son in three languages, and with him attending to school she can see a drop in his vocabulary.  She is proactive and CONSTANT and keeps reinforcing vocabulary.  In her own words, “…..sometimes he doesn’t know how to say the word in either Spanish or French — when he does this I say “what do you want to say? this is how you say it in Spanish” and make him repeat…so reinforcement and teaching him vocab as we go… the other thing we have talked about doing at home is not speaking English to each other (that is her husband and her).”

Stephanie, has been working with multiculturalism for a while and gave me this advise, “We are trying to find a way to spend more time in Morocco-whether that be a few weeks every summer or eventually (perhaps in a few years).  Since I know we all struggle with this, here’s something that made me feel better. A good friend of my husband’s was recently in town visiting and since he was a third culture kid and spoke 4 languages fluently, I really wanted to hear about how his parents managed his languages growing up. He grew up bilingual in an OPOL situation. And now he speaks 4 languages, two of which he learned later, which goes to show that even just the exposure to a second language helps kids pick up additional languages very well in the future should they choose to.  Here was everything I asked him:…/reflections-from-a…/ Also, I thought this was sweet….he shared the interview with his parents and they were so touched and loved hearing what their grown son had to say as it was something they had just done, without giving so much thought to it at the time.”

bucketAs I was writing this article I found another great metaphor. “To me, language acquisition is like filling a bucket, so  I drilled holes in the sides of my Russian bucket to allow the water in there to come out more quickly.”  You can read the full article here.
After writing this post, I do not feel as upset as I was.  After all bilingualism is a process.  For now, I must find pelicans while drilling a bucket.  Perhaps in the process I might plan a vacation to visit my family and maybe stay there for months at a time, after all Homeschooling allows it.  What is your plan?




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