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I have an almost a year old daughter. My husbands only speaks English (although understands Spanish very well) and I speak Spanish (my native language) and English (which I learned mostly as an adult). We only speak English to each other. Also our social circle is 100% English speakers.

We have the goal of only speaking Spanish to my daughter at home (this would be mostly me), so that she can grow learning how to speak Spanish. So far we are doing everything as planned.

The problem is that I also want to improve and perfect my English, and since I did not grow up in the US, I see speaking and reading English to my daughter like the perfect opportunity for me to fill up many gaps in my English and American cultural knowledge.

I am also afraid of not speaking enough English during the day, since now we don’t go out as often as we did before having my daughter and I only speak Spanish to her. (I do speak English at work and with my husband everyday though).

Any tips or recommendations to help my daughter with Spanish while also filling up my English gaps? Am I being selfish?

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I have to discourage the idea to "learn English together with your daughter".

At her age, children learn a language by simply being exposed to it, or, plainly put, because she listens to you and mimics you: vocabulary, accent and grammar. Unlike adult learners, there is no way to teach a child grammar rules, but they deduct the patterns just fine.

If you are a native Spanish speaker, you will automatically speak your "correct" Spanish to her, and she will follow suit. She will also adopt all slang words, regionalisms and other characteristics you have in your day-to-day language. There are certainly studies on that topic, but suffice to say that I had to "untrain" one of my kids in a few cases where she picked up a few dialect mis-uses of auxiliary verbs from my mother who did a lot of babysitting at that age. (In my case, we are talking about differences between standard German and dialect, but this is true for every language.)

Now, why that rambling? Because if you are a non-native speaker of English that is likely to still make a few mistakes, you two are very likely to "reflect" those for each other - you saying them to your daughter, her repeating it so that you are exposed to the incorrect usage again - effectively cementing them in both of your subconscious language memories.

So please treat the two issues separately:

  • Speak Spanish with your daughter (and perhaps other Spanish speakers in your community) for her benefit.
  • Immerse yourself in English for your own sake.

Now for the practical side. You write:

..now we don’t go out as often as we did before having my daughter..

Let me encourage you to consciously make the effort to go out and meet other people. I know that with small children, it can seem like a daunting task - all that planning, timing issues, and more - but in the end, it's worth to have a wide circle of people to interact with. At times, parenthood seems to drive us mad, drain us of our last bit of energy and let's not even get started on sleep deprivation. But we need those little breaks to save our sanity and make positive memories.

  • I like how clear this answer is, speak spanish to my daughter and immerse myself in english the rest of the time. Thanks for the tip on going out, totally agree with you @Stephie – Weaver Oct 11 '17 at 0:57
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    To add to Stephie's answer. Speak Spanish to your daughter so she learns proper Spanish. Let your husband teach your daughter English so she learns proper English. Limit your English with your daughter to simple answers so she doesn't pick up any ESL/ELL tendencies you may have. In a few years your daughter will be established in both languages and then it won't matter. – Wes H Oct 11 '17 at 15:47
  • @WesH that sums it up nicely. – Stephie Oct 11 '17 at 15:48
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A few things to consider: The friends of mine who have grown up with one parent speaking another language to them (Hebrew, Russian, Spanish) have excellent comprehension, but almost never practiced speaking the language themselves. In fact, one of them straight up refused ever to utter a non-English word, though he would show his comprehension just fine by always answering his mom - in English. If you and your husband can speak to each other in Spanish at home, then she's more likely to practice speaking, so she can participate in home conversations.

That said, just growing up hearing a language gives you a HUGE advantage later in life if you decide to study it. Especially in terms of native pronunciation. So if your husband is unwilling/unable to speak Spanish at home, you will still be giving your daughter a valuable tool to use in the future.

I don't know where you're located, but in many parts of the US there are huge numbers of native Spanish speakers. One suggestion I have for giving yourself a break to study English would be to find another Spanish speaking parent who wants their child to grow up speaking Spanish, and see if you can work out an exchange maybe 2 days a week - say, "both kids can play/speak Spanish with me at my house on Mondays, and they can play/speak at your house on Wednesdays," or something like that. Then your daughter will have a Spanish-speaking peer around too, which is terrific incentive to speak the language (especially as she starts to get older). Then, on the day off that you have, you can immerse yourself in English. Talking to people, listening to English audiobooks, watching movies etc. You can always read English language books at home while she's napping too. Or listen to audiobooks/watch movies with headphones. But you will miss the human interaction.

Also, if your husband is able to stay home with your daughter some evenings, a lot of community colleges have evening language classes that are inexpensive and would let you have some more structured input to your English with the chance to have a couple of hours every week that are just focused on conversation with people you don't usually talk to.

  • Thanks for the suggestion of finding another Spanish speaking parent, I am definitely going to go through with that – Weaver Oct 11 '17 at 1:01
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Another good way to teach Spanish is sending her for Spanish classes where other similar children learn. Also you have to speak in Spanish with your husband otherwise it's going to be a tedious task.

Or wait till she grows bigger and take Spanish language as her subject. It's not easy in these circumstances to be honest. But keep trying with a lot of patience as long as she is happy to respond.

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    Spanish classes for a not-yet 1yo? – Stephie Oct 10 '17 at 16:40
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I find that teaching children your native language is very important. We're in a similar situation in my household where me and my wife speak our own native languages with our children while they learn the local language at school and with friends.

I am not going to go into detail about how to teach a minority language to your child since there are plenty of questions on here for that, but I would like to focus on your conundrum.

I would like firstly to stress the fact that you're either going to teach your daughter Spanish or you're not. There's no middle ground. When teaching a child a minority language, you need to be committed. If there's no need for her to learn to speak Spanish, she will stop trying. Meaning that if you speak to her in English and expect a reply in Spanish, that won't work for long. You gotta commit to it 100% or it will fail.

It's all about incentive, if you don't give her incentive (e.g. "you only speak Spanish with me young lady, I don't understand English") then she will stop. English is a predatory language. Meaning, it can easily take over any other language that it co-exists with.

Last but not least, learn English on your own time. There are many ways to teach yourself, like interacting with your husband in English, watching TV, reading books in English or even taking a course.

Hope this helps, good luck!

  • Interesting answer. You bring up a fascinating point about giving the daughter incentive to speak Spanish with the incentive being "I don't understand English, you need to speak Spanish with me". I'm genuinely curious, how do you handle the inevitable situation where the daughter sees the mother speaking English with dad then turns around and "doesn't understand English" just with her? How would you handle that so it works? Having never been in this situation, it feels like it would be similar to asking in English and expecting a response in Spanish. – Becuzz Oct 10 '17 at 14:24
  • Thanks for the answer it seems like most people recommends to stick with spanish when talking to my daughter and surround myself with english the rest of the time, which seems the I was trying to approach it. but it feels good to have people reinforcing this approach. – Weaver Oct 11 '17 at 0:53
  • @Becuzz my understanding in that situation is that even knowing my daughter knows I speak english, I need to make the rule that she only speaks spanish to me and ignore her when she tries to say something in english. – Weaver Oct 11 '17 at 0:55

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