For a long time, speaking to my baby son in Spanish felt odd. Talking to a baby is basically a monologue, except for a few coos and gurgles here and there. I knew that my son was soaking in every little word, and that all our little rhymes and descriptions and baby-talk had their purpose. But it was pretty annoying listening to myself, talking and talking– I know how to baby-talk in English, but in Spanish? I was so aware of the monologue, which I at least wouldn’t be busy correcting had it been in English. Thank goodness most of the time no one around understood me.
Now my son is 20 months old, and busy learning new words every day. He seems to say words in whichever language is easiest. We say, “Di hola,” and he says hi, or “¿Quieres ir arriba?” and he replies with up. But agua, chau, arroz, papá and others he can say as well. And he understands everything we say in both languages! It is a delightful and fascinating thing to watch a child learn to speak and understand, and even more so in multiple languages.
I suspect there is an ebb and flow to having a bilingual family, as the complexity increases and our children grow. Janio isn’t old enough to have a language preference, we don’t have to make schooling decisions yet, and friends aren’t center stage at the moment. Right now we have simply arrived at the extremely rewarding time of toddler-hood, in which our work begins to pay off visibly and we can burst with pride over his little linguistic triumphs every day.
If you are parent with a new tiny baby and wondering whether it’s worth it: it is! If you are not a native speaker, you may be feeling foolish listening to yourself all day. Hang in there! Before you know it, that precious first word in the second language will come along, and it will be a close contest between who is more is more pleased and proud: baby or you. Janio took his time to begin speaking, but now there is a definite response to all of our talking. There’s no question that raising bilingual children is a lot of work, and at times discouraging work. It’s also true that multicultural marriage requires quite a bit of sacrifice, more than we imagined as we excitedly took our vows almost 5 years ago. That’s why we’re savoring these sweet days of bilingual discovery and enjoying the rewarding moments that come from this Peruvian-American life we have.