American in Spain

Lopsided Language Development

January 13, 2011
Spain and USA Flags Merged

Nora's Spanish has taken some leaps and bounds in the past couple weeks, yet her spoken English is lagging behind, and I can't help but blame myself for it. In the mornings, when I care for her for 3-5 hours depending on when she gets up, I speak only English to her, except when we are around Spaniards in the grocery store. She, however, chooses to speak Spanish to me. There are some exceptions. When she asks for a cookie, she says "Doh-chi!", and when she wants to get down off of something (e.g. chair, sofa, stroller), she typically says, "Down!", although she has recently taken to saying "Al suelo!" (to the floor). Part of the problem, I think, is that I understand her Spanish and, although I try to force her to say it in English, sometimes obey her commands by accident. When I repeat what she's asked for in English, I often get back a "Sí­!", as in, "Duh, that's what I just said!" Getting her to say "Yes" instead of "Sí­" is yet another battle.

Over the Christmas holidays, she has spent a lot of time with her Spanish grandparents. Her grandmother has the habit of talking to Nora constantly, even if she's not in the same room, and often narrating whatever Nora is doing. This is incredibly annoying to all the adults around, but is exactly what Nora needs for language acquisition. That level of interaction and constant talking is just not something I'm capable of. I had a hard time forcing myself to talk to her when she was an infant because, while she wouldn't understand, she needed to hear my voice.

She is capable of forming full sentences with subjects, verbs and objects in Spanish, but can't yet string more than one or two words together in English. Today she said, "Bebe tíº vino, Poppy," telling me to take a sip of wine. Normally that's a command you don't have to tell me twice, but I made her get out a grunting approximation of "drink", which is seriously more complex than "bebe", before I complied.

I suppose this goes on the long list of trivialities of childhood development that parents fret about needlessly that mean nothing in the long term, but I'd be curious to hear comments from other bilingual parents.