Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Raising Bilingual Children

One of the nicest surprises, in rearing our children in Argentina, has been the ease in which my wife and I have been able to rear them in a bilingual environment. Obviously, the number one reason behind this success is that both of us where on the same page on this one.

What has also helped is that my in-laws have also been supportive. In fact, they probably would have looked badly on us if we did not do it this way. This is slightly different experience from Miss Cupcake (fellow expat Blogger in BsAs), where her in-laws did not seem comfortable with the idea of a bi-lingual, multicultural upbringing.

Our first daughter is completely bilingual. You would be hard pressed to hear an accent in either language she speaks. She also started speaking early in age at about 10 months old. Our second daughter started speaking later and she is tending to favor Spanish (Castellano is what they call it in Argentina). We are not concerned though. We just have to make sure that we always talk to her in English. In fact, we not only talk to her in English, but the majority of the books that they have are in English and when we go to the movies together it is always non-dubbed, original language features and whenever they watch TV it is in English.

We did hear from some people telling us that they thought our children would get confused being exposed to two languages and therefore would start learning to speak at a later age. Our experience with our first daughter really tossed that argument out the window. In all fairness, our first daughter had more exposure to us because we were not that busy with our business. Our second daughter does not have the same amount of hours with us speaking English in comparison. I always felt in my gut that somehow that theory about confusing babies with two languages or more was just wrong.

I just read an article on a study that was done on bilingual children. They wanted to know if their brains were different from monolingual children. What they found was that their brains process information in exactly the same way as monolinguals do but they take advantage of more of that part of the brain´s capability.

"The present findings are significant because they show that the brains of bilinguals and monolinguals are similar, and both process their individual languages in fundamentally similar ways. The one fascinating exception is that bilinguals appear to engage more of the neural landscape available for language processing than monolinguals, which is a very good thing."

What this means is that your brain is actually enhanced by being exposed to two languages or more. I no longer have to rely on just my gut instinct! Apart from studies there are also on line resources for those considering raising bilingual children:

Multilingual Children’s Association
Raising Bilingual Children: The First Five Steps to Success
Bilingual Parenting in a Foreign Language
Linguistic Society of America

Last but not least, for those of you in Argentina. There is an American woman who is a wonderful educator. In fact, she worked at the Lincoln School in BA and now she has started a workshop in English for kids between the ages of 4 and 9. This is an English Literature Workshop for Children and I cannot praise Beth enough. My daughter just loves going to her workshop. She organizes the workshop around a celebrated book that she reads to them and then they enjoy activities related to the book they just read.

If you have bilingual children you just have to try Beth’s workshop. You can write to her at


jendog said...


Oh my god,those cookies look good. We are moving to BuenosAires soon(husband, two girls(4&6) and myself.) Was curious to know if you have any addtl. insights reccomendations, regarding schools, neighborhoods, classes, family hang out places, etc. for the girls to get acclimated. I really appreciate your blog and can't wait to hear from you.

Unknown said...

Hi Jen,

Thanks for the kind words. The school issue is a tough one because you have so many different schools and so many different types of schools. Your best bet would be to visit the Buenos Aires Newcomer´s group on-line (you will find the link under my favorite web sites). There are many parents signed into the group. You ask a question and you will get many responses. There are smaller baby groups that have organized around expats so you will have access to them as well. All you have to do is ask a question on-line. I also participate as a moderator on that group.

It would be more appropriate going through that forum since your question would requiere so many answers and you can get a great variety of comments from different people.

You will find that Buenos Aires is very child friendly. You can take your kids to nice restaurants and you will not feel out of place, in fact, everyone goes out of their way to make kids feel welcomed.

Luisa Woods said...

Hi Frank,

Thanks for all the great information. I am also new to Buenos Aires, with 2 small children (Jocelyn, 5 and Ronan, 3). They are, in fact being raised in a trilingual environment - English, Portuguese and Spanish.

I must admit that my approach has been pretty informal. I tend to talk to them in whatever language the majority of people in the room will understand best.

Now I will need to read the resources you have posted to evaluate whether my approach may create problems - though I must say I may lack the discipline to do it any other way.

Glad I came across your blog, and can't wait to drop in and try your cookies!


Luisa Woods

Unknown said...

Hi Lisa,

Thanks for chiming in and sharing your experience. I am no expert on this but I don´t think you are causing your kids any harm.

I myself just decided to make an effort and take a stand so that everyone around my kids would know in what direction I am going with them.

I don´t know if what I am doing is any more "correct" than your approach. I just thought that if I went by what was happening around them they would never speak English. In fact, my second one is not as advanced in her English as the first one so now I am more aware of the lack of English in her surroundings. For example, I always correct my wife if she speaks Spanish to her so that she quickly repeats whatever she said in English. Luckily for me my wife shares the same interest in bringing them up bi-lingual as well as our extended family so that is never an issue.

If you stop by the store ask to see me and with a little luck I will be around.

AD and JD said...

Frank - My wife grew up in Arg. as an MK...Public School until High School, then attended the English school "Escuelas Lincoln" in north end of BA.(although everyone there speaks castellano) She is completely bilingual, as is her younger brother. I think it helps children to learn different languages and is sometimes compared to playing an instrument or reading music. My kids are benefiting from it, as they seem to be advanced for their ages in speech and comprehension. Most of those kids tend to be smarter because of it. The main problem though that they (MKs) face is their identity. Are they Argentine or American? My wife had a very hard time coming back to the states and attending can be very tough to decide who you are in this scenario. Each time we come back "home", she reconnects so fast and has to deal with leaving it all behind again...but it's still worth it for her. Luckily, I fell in love with Arg. as well and encourage as many trips back as we can. I enjoy your blog and will continue to follow!


Anonymous said...

I have been exposed to many different languages all my life. I can speak more than two. As of now, four. Just from exposure, not through study. I don't understand, though, why anybody would actually have a problem with that (like how you mentioned about somebody's in-laws being that way) that's funny, actually! The more languages you know, the better! The more cultures you know, the better! Just think, when your daughters are adults, they'll be able to talk in more than a single language, and just from growing up. Some people bust their butts trying to learn new languages! :-)

Unknown said...

Hi Charity,

Good for you! I am so envious of your multilingual abilities. Our little one is studying French now and hopefully one day we, as a family, can maybe learn Chinese as well. Like you said, the more the better.

Anonymous said...

Luckily for me, my wife also supports the bilingual agenda, but were are severely hampered by the fact that she herself speaks very little English, so our little one gets most of her English from me and cartoons. I'll definitely look into the resources in BA you mentioned in an earlier post. Oh, and having just discovered your blog, I also just discovered your store- what a bummer it is for me that someone else in BA might (and probably does) make better cookies than me! I'd love to help promote your store, but I think I will have to keep this a secret from my fan club!

Unknown said...

Hi Oliver,

In the eyes of your fan club I am sure your cookies are the best in the whole world and I support that view wholeheartedly.

You should take you fan club to Beth´s. They will have a great time and they will be around other kids that share the multicultural upbringing that you and I and other US/Argentine parents are giving them.

That way English will not be that language that only pop and the TV use. I´ve been there, I know.

Los Alexander said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Los Alexander said...

great job, frank. our little boy is having a wonderful time in mendoza as he attends his local pre-school down the street. he still mumbles a little spanglish, such as yelling "basta" when we reprimand him...and "bye-bye" each time we flush the toilet. i'm sure the experience will prove beneficial as we return "home" to the US. best of luck to you...and keep up the excellent cookie production!

Unknown said...

Hi Wade,

Good luck on your move! Spanglish is better than just one language. He is still little and it´s a positive sign that he is picking up both languages.