Let's talk about raising a bi-lingual toddler.

12/07/2011 03:01:00 PM

I don't know what Lila's saying.

I have no idea what the child is saying at least 40% of the time.

What kind of parent am I? A confused one.

My child is around a lot of Español everyday. This is more than a half an hour of Dora here or there, kids. This is living Rosetta Stone. This is immersion.

Lila is 2 years and 5 months old and her counterparts in the States have been speaking full, comprehensible sentences for quite some time. But they're primarily hearing one language, not two.

She goes to preschool everyday [that she's not sick] from 9 am - 1:30 pm -- and she loves it. There, she's one of three Americans in her class. (Lila's cousin Brody is in class with her. Love that.) While she's there, she is taught in English and Spanish but all of her little cohorts, save a few, speak Spanish.

When she's not at school, during the day she's at home until 5 p.m. with Nelly -- who doesn't speak a lick of English. Well, she does speak the words that Lila has taught her: milk, cheese, bread, cake, swing, high, etc.

Enter: our current language barrier.

I remember when we first started communicating with Lila beyond sign language when she was about 12-15 months old... it was incredibly frustrating because she had something to say, but she couldn't verbalize it. I remember everyone saying, "Oh, it'll get so much easier once she starts talking more."

Um, she's talking more.

Still confused.


She's mixing languages. And from what I hear from family and friends down here, this is normal.

When we were in Ohio we met with a Syrian pediatrician whose children are being raised in the States bi-lingual. He explained that Lila is right on par with any child who is learning two languages. They understand both languages, however their brains are learning when to use which language. So, this obviously takes some time and in the interim, you'll have a mixture of both languages.

Her pronunciation throws me. Dare I say she has a Spanish accent?

Her: "I wannu opeene eat."

Me: "You want to eat?"

Her: "I wannu opeene eat"

Me: "You want to open it?"

Her: "Yes, pease."

Spanglish is everywhere.

When I picked her up from school today, her teacher told me that they've been working on their Christmas lists. Today she asked Lila what she wanted for Christmas and her teacher had NO idea what she was saying.

So in front of me she asked Lila, "What would you like for Christmas?"

Lila's response: "ites."

She said this several times: ites, ites, ites.

[Her bilingual teacher was like, "I have no clue what that is.")

Me: "Lights? You want lights for Christmas?"

Her: "Yes, pease."


There you have it.

The point of this post: right now I can only understand my child 50-75% of the time. It's challenging. Thank goodness she can SHOW us what she wants/needs... most of the time.

I am proud that her teacher and our nanny both say that Lila understands everything they say to her in Español. And I can safely say that she understands everything we say to her in English.

Now, if only we could understand her.



  1. As frustrating as it is, that's not a bad problem to have. I'm fluent in French, but I doubt I'll have the patience or skill to really raise my child in a bi-lingual household. Lila is ahead of the curve for sure!

  2. I think it is so cool that she is bilingual! I'm sure it's tough on you...but how advanced is you 2 year old?!?!

  3. It is so awesome that she is learning and understanding Spanish. I wish I learned it when I was a toddler. I took six years of Spanish in high school and college and I know like 10 words! (Okay maybe more than that but I can't have a conversation!)

  4. I am sure that has to be a little frustrating at times but that is AWESOME that she is learning and understanding two languages. That will be a HUGE advantage for her as she grows up!

    And like you said, at least you all can point at things! :)

    (I think it is cute she has an accent!)

  5. We had the same situation with my son when he was about Lila's age. It was discouraging to feel that he was "behind the curve". He's 3.5 now and speaks both languages really clearly. He can even intuit which language is a person's primary language and he'll switch to that language for that person.

  6. Hey sweet Ky! In agreement with the previous comments, this situation, albeit temporarily frustrating, will reap many advantages. In time, the languages will get sorted out and she'll know when to use what. How amazing that her ears are trained in both languages. She will soon speak both and sound like a native to each. We spoke both English and Arabic in the home, and I remember taking a verbal vocabulary exam in school one day. The counselor told my parents that I identified some pictures in Arabic. (I had the right answer, but the wrong language). Over time however, the languages sorted out accordingly. I think right now, the girls think of both languages as one complete communication world. They'll learn when to use what soon :) Way to go!


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