Raising bilingual children


I’m a Mom and I brought up two children. So what? No big deal.


My daughters ready to enjoy all the fun of the fair! ¡Viva la Feria! 

The big deal was that their father and I raised them bilingually. My daughters are native speakers of both Spanish and English and I feel it’s one of the best gifts we could have given them as parents.

There will be many parents who have done the same thing, with joyous results. There are families who have been able to raise children as native speakers of several languages. Fabulous!

What to speak at home?

As a teacher of both English and Spanish for over 40 years now (!), one of the questions  I have been asked most by many parents was if their child could ‘get confused’ or ‘be negatively affected’ in some way, if they spoke to their children in two languages.

It’s understandable. You want the best for your child; you certainly don’t want to do anything that could jeopardise their progress or achievements in life.

For some parents, who already have different mother-tongues, this issue can become important. They may hold differing views about how best to go around the linguistic diversity in the home.

Language acquisition research

The problem is that there are literally dozens of differing theories concerning language acquisition and it is very difficult to wade through the research.

An example of the diversification of views by expert linguists can be found on           The Linguists List. Just a brief glance at this will make you realise that even eminent linguistic experts differ in opinion about language acquisition and especially on how best to raise bilingual children.

My Experience

So all I want to do here in this article is give you the benefit of my personal experience, as a parent of two bilingual daughters.

  •  I am British-born. Mother tongue: English .  I studied French and Spanish in Secondary school in England. I graduated in Spanish (major) and French (minor)I met my Spanish husband-to-be.
  • He is Spanish-born. Mother tongue:Spanish He had studied French at Secondary school in Spain.

We met and communicated only in Spanish as clearly my skills in Spanish were far greater than his skills in English. The only English he knew was the lyrics to some of the Beatles songs, which he could sing along to, but had no idea what they meant). 

  • Husband-to-be became husband. Country of residence (i.e. majority and community language for child: Spain and Spanish.
  • Children born.

We had a long conversation, over several months while waiting for baby to arrive about how best to deal with our linguistic situation.

So we decided that because they would get plenty of Spanish later on at school and in the community, I would speak to the child/children in English at home. He had no choice but to use Spanish with the children as he was monolingual anyway. So we imagined that I  would address the children ALWAYS in English, even when he was present. This approach is called OPOL (One Parent-One Language)

How wrong were we…then reality kicked in!


It could have worked, …in theory…

We made a big mistake.

When I was alone with the children, I spoke in English, always, but as soon as Papá arrived, I would have to communicate with him in Spanish. It became so unnatural to be chopping and changing in a family conversation from English to Spanish and back again that I’d get completely mixed up myself. We felt we were on stage thinking constantly about which language I was speaking to which family member. My speech was halted and deliberate to the children. There was nothing natural about the way I was speaking.  I was supposed to speak to him in Spanish but to the children in English, in the same conversation. 

Realisation of mistake

So we decided to do what came most naturally to us, and that was, as a family ,we would both use Spanish to communicate amongst ourselves as we had always done before the children were born and that when alone with the children I would use English.

Bedtime stories were bonus times, when I would read one daughter a story in English, while Papá read to the other in Spanish.

Recommendation….A great website that Bilingual Monkeys will provide any parents interested in raising bilingual children with lots of inside information and interesting activities to promote bilingualism in children.

The key point I was wishing to make is that whichever way you choose, it must be a way which comes natural to your own personal situation. More than anything your relationship and communication with your family has to be warm and comforting, and never like a laboratory for linguistic analysis.


The outcomes of this situation meant that the girls’ Spanish skills became stronger than their English skills for a time, as they were attending the local Spanish state school.

I then was lucky enough to get a teaching post in a small, private school. The girls were able to attend, as my contract stipulated that teachers’ children could attend the school on reduced fees.

During this time, my girls became more exposed to English language although through school subjects, but socially were integrating mainly with other Spanish children attending the school mainly in order to learn English. Of course during “play-time” or “recess”, children will home in on other children who have a similar linguistic background. It’s only natural!

If there was a chart for this, it would show that at different ages, and in different situations, the development of either Spanish and English in my daughters was different during their upbringing. Their language development in Spanish and English  could not ever have been parallel. Life is not parallel. Stuff happens and situations change.

Be natural.

Children learn…that’s their job.


Two bilingual daughters in Spanish and English…

One chose to graduate  in Astronomy and later in Microbiology (in English) in the UK.

The other chose to graduate in Dentistry and then later in Orthodontics (in Spanish) in Madrid.

Mission accomplished somehow. Just by being natural.


Are you a parent of bilingual children?

Do you want your child/children to be raised bilingually?

Have you any fears about doing this?

Have you any tips or suggestions to add to this discussion?




How to spread gossip…in Spanish

We all like a bit of harmless gossip (chismorreo), don’t we?

No harm to anybody, right?

(Photo: G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection. 1914)

So what harm could there be in chatting about what someone else has or hasn’t got? None whatsoever! 

Join these ladies pictured above having a chat about what their neighbour has or hasn’t got…in Spanish!

Tiene una bicicleta.  She has got… a bicycle

Tiene una amiga.     She has got …a friend (who is a girl) / one friend

Tiene una casa.       She has got …a house / one house

Tiene una flor.        She he has got…a flower / one flower  

Tiene una falda.      She has got…a skirt / one skirt

Tiene una mesa.      She has got …a table / one table

Tiene una bolsa.      She has got…bag / one bag

Tiene una nieta.     She has got…a grand-daughter


Now you need to ask for a bit more information to clarify your neighbour’s situation, just so you’re  not ever accused of spreading wicked rumours.

Notice the up-side-down question mark at the beginning of the question.

Also remember to put a questioning lilt (?) in the voice so we all know that they are  questions, otherwise they will sound exactly like the affirmative statements above! 

¿Tiene una bicicleta? Does she have/ has she got …a bicycle?

¿Tiene una amiga?    Does she have/ has she got…a  friend (who is a girl) / one frie72px-vraagteken-svgnd?

¿Tiene una casa? Does she have/ has she got…a house / one house?

¿Tiene una flor? Does she have/ has she got…a flower / one flower?  

¿Tiene una falda?    Does she have/ has she got…a skirt / one skirt?

¿Tiene una mesa?   Does she have/ has she got…a table / one table?

¿Tiene una bolsa?     Does she have/ has she got…bag / one bag?

¿Tiene una nieta?     Does she have/ has she got    a grand-daughter?


Poor lass! Now for the list of all the things she hasn’t got…

No tiene una bicicleta.  She doesn’t have/ she hasn’t got…a bicycle

No tiene una amiga.    She doesn’t have/ she hasn’t got …a  friend (a girl) / one friend

No tiene una casa.       She doesn’t have/ she hasn’t got a house / one house

No tiene una flor.       She doesn’t have/ she hasn’t got…a flower / one flower  

No tiene una falda.     She doesn’t have/ she hasn’t got…a skirt / one skirt

No tiene una mesa.    She doesn’t have/ she hasn’t got…a table / one table

No tiene una bolsa.    She doesn’t have/ she hasn’t got…a bag / one bag

No tiene una nieta.     She doesn’t have/ she hasn’t got… a grand-daughter 

So after all that chismorreo (gossip), we get to practice those sentences, saying them aloud and repeating them as much as possible. 

To remember the great advantages of repeating aloud sentences in Spanish, see my previous post : Repeat, repeat, repeat…

I hope this helps…


Have you got a….bicycle?

We all love having things. You have things…your friends and family have things. Now’s the time to really let them know that you know what they’ve got…

It’s time to tell your son: “But you already HAVE a bicycle!”


19th Century bicycle, known as the ‘penny-farthing’ (The big wheel likened to a ‘penny’ and the smaller wheel to a ‘farthing’ = a quarter of a penny)


It’s time to tell your friend she is so lucky because she has a bag: “You HAVE a bag!”

It’s time to tell your daughter that she has a skirt, even if she wants a new one:”You HAVE a skirt.”

It’s time to tell your friend that she indeed has a bag: “You HAVE a bag.”


Grammatically speaking, this is the ‘second person singular’ of the verb: TENER (to have)


Tienes una bicicleta  You have/ You’ve got a bicycle

Tienes una amiga   You have/ You’ve got …a  friend (who is a girl) / one friend

Tienes una casa       You have/ You’ve got…a house / one house

Tienes una flor        You have/ You’ve got…a flower / one flower  

Tienes una falda      You have/ You’ve got…a skirt / one skirt

Tienes una mesa      You have/ You’ve got…a table / one table

Tienes una bolsa       You have/ You’ve got…bag / one bag

Tienes una nieta        You have/ You’ve got…a grand-daughter / one grand-daughter 

Pronunciation, for English speakers: 3 syllables:  TEE-AY-NESS. Once you have mastered   the separate syllables, start rolling them together a bit  faster.

Commit them to memory and then make up your own sentences, imagining you are speaking to a friend or family member.

Use an on-line  dictionary to find more vocabulary of items that make sense in your sentences. (I love Spanishdict.com as it is free and easy to use.)

But what if you want to ASK if your friend or family member has something? In English we have to do all sorts of acrobatics and turn stuff around in our heads just to ask a simple question.

How easy in Spanish, when all you have to do is put on a little bit of a questioning voice???

So when speaking, there is absolutely no difference between the affirmation (saying it affirmatively, positively and a question (or interrogative). Just a questioning lilt is required. In written Spanish, however, you can’t hear the questioning tone, so a clue is given so the reader knows there’s a question coming up. ¿ . An up-side-down question mark! It looks a bit weird, right ¿ . You’ll have to get used to it because it pops up (or down) a lot of the time.  72px-vraagteken-svg72px-vraagteken-svg

¿Tienes una bicicleta?  Do you have/ have you got …a bicycle?

¿Tienes una amiga?   ..Do you have/ have you got ….a  friend (who is a girl) / one friend?

¿Tienes una casa?     .Do you have/ have you got …..a house / one house?

¿Tienes una flor?       .Do you have/ have you got ….a flower / one flower?  

¿Tienes una falda?      …Do you have/ have you got …a skirt / one skirt?

¿Tienes una mesa?      .Do you have/ have you got …..a table / one table?

¿Tienes una bolsa?      .Do you have/ have you got …..bag / one bag?

¿Tienes una nieta?        Do you have/ have you got ……a grand-daughter / one grand-                                                                                                                                             daughter?


Ask  aloud all the questions. Commit them to memory and then make up your own questions, imagining you are asking a friend or family member.

Use an on-line  dictionary to find more vocabulary of items that make sense in your questions.



We spend our lives trying to be more positive, but there area few occasions when we have to succoumb to a bit of negativity!

No tienes una bicicleta   You don’t have/ You haven’t got …a bicycle

No tienes una amiga     You don’t have/ You haven’t got…a  friend (a girl) / one friend

No tienes una casa        You don’t have/ You haven’t got…a house / one house

No tienes una flor        You don’t have/ You haven’t got…a flower / one flower  

No tienes una falda      You don’t have/ You haven’t got…a skirt / one skirt

No tienes una mesa      You don’t have/ You haven’t got…a table / one table

No tienes una bolsa       You don’t have/ You haven’t got..bag / one bag

No tienes una nieta    You don’t have/ You haven’t got..a grand-daughter /one grand-                                                                                                                                                 daughter 

Now you are equipped with a great set of sentences, questions and answers, positive or negative!  Commit them to memory and then make up your own questions, imagining you are talking to a friend or family member.


Asking and answering lots of questions about life!

Now you can invent your own conversations. For example:                                                       Conversation 1:  Have you got a skirt? Yes, I ‘ve got a skirt.                                                     Conversation 2:  Have you got a skirt? No, I haven’t got a skirt, but I’ve got a bicycle.

You can replace words in italics with your own vocabulary to make a conversation.

Use an on-line  dictionary to find more vocabulary of items that make sense in your conversations.

I hope this helps…

Please ask me about any doubts you have about Spanish grammar in comments below.

More next time…