My daughter was born in Spain, and my wife is Spanish (I'm a native English speaker). At my wife's insistence, we only speak English at home.

Now, my daughter has been through 3 years of early infant school, and soon will start first primary. Her understanding of Spanish is very weak, just some words, simplest phrases, a few numbers.

She forgets things and can't explain situations. She can't interact with other kids, she's totally silent and will even run away from them. She cries and complains she can't understand. I've tried Spanish learning books at home and even videos, but my daughter misbehaves, fidgets, cries, and finds every way in the book to not listen, even humming to herself to block it all out. She has no medical condition, by the way. She is mentally and physically completely healthy.

My wife insisted it would be easy for her to pick up Spanish in school (I protested many times this wouldn't work).

When will the school teachers decide enough is enough? Will they put her in a special disabled school, or will they make her repeat years until she gets Spanish?

How many times can a child repeat? What if they do repeat years, remediation and whatever but still never comprehend Spanish? What happens to a child that is born in Spain but can't speak Spanish?

Neighbors and people on the street find it odd. No matter what people say, my wife refuses to budge from her policy of English only at home. I'm sad and endlessly worried as a father.

  • Does your daughter have exposure to other extended family members (your wife's family, presumably) who do not speak English with her? Jun 7, 2021 at 19:54
  • So your wife wants to relegate Spanish to a school subject. Well, every subject at school must be supported at home. You'll have to help your daughter with math and geography, and you'll have to help her with Spanish. That means speaking and helping her practice, too. Just as my parents helped me with French in our English-speaking household (which, by the way, didn't compromise my English one bit). There is good research on the importance of parents showing their children how valuable and interesting their school learning is, with measurable results in the student's interest and performance. Jun 9, 2021 at 3:21
  • See this and we did thr opposite : parenting.stackexchange.com/a/39653/36241
    – Solar Mike
    Jul 3, 2021 at 14:48

2 Answers 2


Will they put her in a special disabled school, or will they make her repeat years until she gets spanish?

I'm sympathetic to your concerns, but they made me chuckle. There was no such thing as preschool when I was little, and we only spoke French at home (we had moved to the US.) So on the first day of Kindergarten, I knew no English. It must have been traumatic (or at least very eventful) for me, because I remember that day well. I only knew two (well, three) new English words at the end of that first day: "bathroom" and "Mrs. Hart", the teacher's name. I must have been speaking English by the end of kindergarten, because they promoted me to First Grade.

So, no, she won't be put with disabled kids. And this is preschool. She will learn Spanish, because she will want to at some point, or because she will need to to get what she wants (two sides of the same coin).

I won't say it there won't be some price to pay somewhere along the line for the inconvenience. For decades I rejected speaking French because my lack of proficiency in English caused me some emotional pain in school on occasion. I've only returned to the language after learning two other Romance languages as an adult (well, three if you count Latin.)

What you do at home is between you and your wife, but if I could have done it over my way, I would have liked to have learned English at home before going to school (my parents knew and spoke English outside of the home, but never to us.) I might not have rejected their native language if I had.

  • 1
    Indeed, much too early to be of any concern. My grandma tells me her family only spoke Pennsylfanische Dietsch at home, and when she went to Kindergarten at a Stolzeleid ("proud people", non-Mennonite) school, she was forced to learn English because there was total mutual incomprehension. So... she did. Then she became a teacher of English teachers for the Toronto District School Board! And OP's daughter has a two-year headstart on my grandma :) Jun 9, 2021 at 3:17
  • "And this is preschool." In Spain they start school at age 6, so its probably 'real' school. Your point is still valid. I started school in the Netherlands when we emigrated when I was 6. Picking up the language was painless, as is common for children that age :-)
    – Ivana
    Jun 10, 2021 at 15:23

It feels hard now, but stick with the program. Assuming you are still in Spain, your wife has the right idea.

Having seen it happen, I give it 8 months of school before your daughter is fluent. She has the capacity to pick up 1000 words a year, but right now it feels like hard work and it will be her friends that motivate her, not adults. She likely is afraid of making mistakes and feeling embarrassed. Work with her teachers to improve her self-confidence and one day it will just click. You will then have the opposite problem.

Kids see the world in a funny way. I met a grandmother who said that her grandson, who fully understood his Spanish mother, refused to speak his first day at school in Spain because "boys speak English, girls speak Spanish".

Don't make a big deal over it and it won't be a big deal.

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