Like a lot of Americans, I was raised by parents who only speak English. Despite this fact, I eventually became infatuated with the Spanish language when I took Spanish in high school, and by the time I had made it out of college, having continued to take Spanish classes each and every year, I was fluent in Spanish (although I did have a slight accent which still hasn’t gone away completely to this day). While I was so appreciative of being able to master another language, I was equally as fortunate to have married someone who also spoke the language extensively.
With so many people wishing they could be multilingual, I knew just how lucky I was. And when I had my first child, I swore that I would make sure he not just learned Spanish like his parents, but that he grew up learning it naturally, in the same way that he would learn to speak English. At first, I wasn’t sure how to go about doing this, especially since he also would need to learn English as well. But in the end, I realized that the language itself didn’t matter, only the method of teaching them.
And what method was that exactly? Well, it was the same one that my parents used when I was growing up, and that was to simply use the language with me. No complicated flashcards or grammar exercises like I had to do in high school and college. I would simply make it a point to talk to my children in Spanish or talk to my husband in Spanish for them to listen to.
Unless you are fluent in the language, it is definitely understandable to not want to use the second language around your child, due to being afraid of inadvertently teaching them the wrong thing. But in reality, even speaking a broken Spanish (or whatever second language you are trying to teach) is not going to ruin your child’s ability to speak the language in the end. It will still help him or her to learn the basics on how to form thoughts and sentences in that language, something that can only be learned through constant repetition.
By not even trying to use the language at all, you are not even giving your child the chance to learn the language at a young age when they are most receptive to learning new languages naturally. No matter how silly you may feel in using a language that even you yourself aren’t fully fluent in, keep in mind that your child will reap the benefits in the end, which is the most important thing.
But what about teaching them English too? All you have to do is to use both languages fairly regularly and the rest will come on its own. In particular, do your best to make sure that their exposure to both languages is relatively equal, and they should have no problems becoming multilingual when it is all said and done. And that is something they will surely thank you for when they get older and realize just how valuable being multilingual truly is!