How to keep Spanish language going

My son has been attending a Spanish immersion preschool for almost 2 years and is bilingual. We speak both Spanish and English at home. I am fluent and very confident with my Spanish but am not bilingual and it can be very tiring for me to go back and forth between languages. Our kids only watch movies in Spanish and we do some music and books in Spanish as well. I am trying to get my son into Washington in Point Richmond for kindergarten but we had to apply via inter-district transfer since we live in Albany. I heard from the transfer office this week that they are full for kindergarten and we'll have to continue to wait to find out if we got in. This came as a big surprise as the principal said in January at an info-session that everyone would get in as long as they applied early, which I did. I am very disappointed as I am half Mexican and was not taught Spanish as a child. Bilingualism wasn't as well understood back then and my parents were worried that we would be confused. I have watched my older son and now my younger one effortlessly learn two languages at the same time and it's just amazing. I have also watched his peers graduate from their preschool and go to English-only schools and completely stop speaking Spanish despite speaking Spanish at home. The aftercare "Spanish" programs in Albany are not for students who already speak Spanish; I've confirmed this with the teachers and director. We go to Mexico annually and I try to have my dad speak in Spanish to him but he only sometimes does. For families in similar situations-how can we realistically keep both languages going? It feels like so much pressure on me when I am not a native speaker. I am so sad at the thought of him stopping wanting to speak Spanish once he's no longer in that environment. He's very good with language and I can tell he likes that he is proud to speak two languages.

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This is such a good question.  I can share our experience.  I am Polish and my husband is an American (grew up in Oakland) and I was determined for my kids to learn to speak Polish fluently.  As such, until the oldest one turned five, I spoke only in Polish to them and my husband spoke only in English and they could easily understand and speak fluently in both languages.  Our nannies were also only Polish and only spoke Polish with the kids.  That said, as soon as my oldest one went to Kindergarten, her Polish started deteriorating though she still spoke it quite well...at some point she began speaking to her siblings in English (vs Polish) and they also became more comfortable with English. When my husband was around, we only spoke English so that he could understand.  And then I realized that they had a strong preference of communicating with my husband over me as Polish was clearly more difficult for them.  And so I made a decision to switch to English - roughly when the oldest one was 10 (and the younger ones were 8 and 6).  While I desperately wanted them to know Polish, being close to them was more important.  My parents and the nanny still spoke Polish to them - but it became more challenging.  We then left the Bay Area and moved to Argentina and our kids all had to learn Spanish from scratch.  They came back to the US and I paid for a small-in-home Spanish lessons for them and their friends so that they could continue learning.  Starting in middle school, they take Spanish daily.  My oldest just spent a semester in Spain while a sophomore in high school and we do Spanish camps in Mexico or Spain. They are all fluent.  The oldest two understand Polish, the youngest one can only communicate with my parents in English.  It's not ideal, but it's the best we could do.  

My son goes to Escuela Bilingüe Internacional (EBI - https://ebinternacional.org/ ) which is a Spanish immersion pk-8th grade school — it’s not cheap, but it’s been incredible. I know they are still enrolling for the fall.  Happy to answer any questions about our experience! 

Come join us at Escuela Bilingue Internacional! Lower campus goes to first grade- maybe transfer after that since your child will be solidly fluent and 7. Yes it’s private but they do have financial aid and the teachers are incredible. ¡Buena suerte! We could carpool :)

All of the babysitters and nannies we've had for my daughter in the past two years have been Spanish speakers. Now that she's starting pre-school in August, I'm concerned that she'll lose her Spanish quickly once she's in an English-speaking environment. My plan is to hire a Spanish-speaking babysitter to care for her 2-3 hours a day, Monday through Friday. This schedule works well for us, as the pre-school day ends at 3 pm and I need childcare for my daughter anyway.

Hi. I am responding to your post because my wife and I are very passionate about having our son speak Spanish and pass it on to the next generation so that language is not lost in the family. First of all, just want to give you kudos for all that you are doing to support your kid with his bilingualism. This country really pushes people to be monolingual, and it is important to remember that you are fighting the tide.  We have had similar struggles with our son. His first language was Spanish for the first four years of his life and now that he is six years old, he speaks both English and Spanish. He currently takes part in a bilingual program at his elementary school but even though he speaks well and knows his language basics, he has had a tendency to speak more English than Spanish at home. My wife, who grew up in a bilingual home in Mexico says that this is normal and it does not reflect what his future language mobilization will be. 

I would not consider myself native but very close since I only spoke Spanish at home in a Colombian household. From my experience being born in the USA and growing up here, the thing that made me speak more Spanish was going to Colombia every year. I would interact with my cousins and their friends which made me understand the lingo and improve my overall Spanish. We go to Mexico every year but like with your family, my wife's family in Mexico also speak more English than Spanish with our son. We try to keep it up, reminding the family that speaking Spanish will be so helpful for our son in the long-run. But honestly the relationship between your dad and son is more important, so don't worry too much if he only speaks English. Maybe find ways to interact with only Spanish-speaking folks. We did like a winter camp the last time we went and that was fun for our son. 

At home I talk and respond to my son only in Spanish, even when he speaks to me in English, I say that I don't understand or ask him why he mentioned that one word in English when he clearly knows the word in Spanish. In public, I speak to him mostly in Spanish unless there is a gathering of English speakers with other fathers/mothers but I try to keep the Spanish at all times. My wife speaks both English and Spanish with our son, but now speaks a bit more English. She thinks the most important thing is to communicate, and she will take the lead from my son. I try to remind her to speak only in Spanish but she says that gets annoying and it doesn't really help. However, we try to do "Domingo en Español '' where we all play by only speaking Spanish. It is fun for our son to catch us saying something in English -- me too, I admit -- and it keeps the language fun. Fun is the biggest part of it all. 

I recommend movies in Spanish and definitely music and podcasts! There are so many podcasts in Spanish. Our son loves story podcasts and there are some good ones in Spanish. Let me know, and I can send you some recommendations. 

Overall, it is very difficult to keep Spanish going since we live in the USA and most of our kids' peers speak English, even if they are in a bilingual program. The key ways to keep it going in my option are the following:

  1. Read books in Spanish - we subscribe to Highlights magazine in Spanish (https://shop.highlights.com/bilingue-magazine-subscription)
  2. List to music in Spanish - Spotify/Youtube music
  3. Local library event that read books to kids in Spanish
  4. Surround him around others who speak Spanish but I know this could be challenging.
  5. We'd be happy to connect!