When we were about to be parents for the first time I read in a book about bilingual parenting, that a second or a third child raised in a bilingual family were in many cases less likely to reach the same level of accuracy and fluency than a first child. I wondered at that time if this was really something to keep in mind, or even applicable to our case, IF we were going to have more than one kid (which sounded crazy at that time… go figure!). I mean, if you are the same person, following more or less the same pattern with all your kids, why would the second one have that burden…? …until you have the second child.
After our second one our life has turned more than chaotic for the first months. In our case, as the little baby girl is mummy-centric, the oldest one is more in contact with me, so his level of exposure has even increased, I could say that as a consequence I have noticed a pretty good evolution in this level of English, I can observe now more transferences into Spanish (English structured sentences with Spanish words, when he is speaking Spanish, e.g. “Mamá, la vaca está con el FARMERO”, as in “farmer” instead of GRANJERO). But if you take a look at the little one, it is true that she is having significantly less English exposure than her brother at the same age, since I used to read, play and sing more only with him in comparison. Now she is 11 months old, she is able to crawl and steal his brother´s toys as we play together, so she is getting (let´s say) “environmental” English and she is sometimes included in the game with her brother´s permission, but still it is not direct 1 to 1 interaction.
Although she seems to understand both languages pretty well (she reacts to commands, songs, animal names…), I have reacted trying to focus more on her, for example arranging more 1 to 1 moments, like when it´s bedtime, even when this means playing less with the older one. I definitely get now the reasons for the statement in that book.
BUT, as British say, “every cloud has a silver lining”, so let´s not be such a "Pechvogel" (as Germans would say). There are also positive facts that benefit the second child, especially in case of non-native parents like me. Here are some that I can recall:
- More vocabulary: With our first one, I went through a process of acquiring 20 to 30 new baby-related words and expressions per week. Baby bottle, merry-go, nappies (diapers), pacifier (binky), see-saw and so on… Alright I might not be Shakespeare right now, but the picture is totally different. Now the lion has a mane, the baby has buggers, and the boy picked up an acorn that was right next to a fern, and all come to my head instantly when I´m with the little one, with no stuttering, or rolling up my eyes looking for that word…
- Better fluency: I dedicated the first 8-10 months of the older kid´s life to get used to say absolutely everything in English, so that I got the fluency I needed (baby talk wise) for the time he was older and therefore more aware of my “non-nativeness”. Now most of the daily expressions are ready to go from scratch and I´ve had time to correct things that I got wrong or not too accurate at a first stage.
- Sing along dad!: This is the list of rhythms and songs that we sang back in those days (2 years ago). Now we keep the same songs, plus new ones, AND we have a top ten list with the ones that worked better for him. Coincidentally it´s more or less applicable to the little girl. Does this go in the genes??
- More English children-related media: Most of the days after dinner we watch some 30min of tv together. You all know how much kids love repetition, so after 3,5 years I´ve watched Kung-Fu Panda about 1.345 times, the same for Cars, The Incredibles, Toy Story (yes, the whole saga), all the episodes of Pocoyo, Peppa Pig and the latest acquisition, the entire season of Ben and Holy´s Little Kingdom… That is a lot of English exposure for dad too!! Jolly good!! Also we move from passive exposure to active interaction by commenting the episodes together.
- Much less anxiety: The Human Being has lots of trouble with uncertainty. We just can´t handle it, so knowing more or less what to expect and how far you can go gives you a certain amount of what is called "peace of mind"! Most of the “what ifs” that prompted back in those days have now an answer or at least some clear ideas about what´s to be expected.
- No self consciousness in public: I used to feel shy when I was speaking to my boy in English in public, due to the mix of awkwardness and insecurity that I felt at the beginning. Now my boy and I can maintain a full conversation about many things, we play jokes, we sing songs and he asks me his 25 questions per minute about everything, all in English. And I feel proud of him. I know cases of kids with both native English speaker parents, same aged boy/girl, and he/she doesn´t have as much vocabulary neither he/she shows the same fluency and accuray, so in our case his achievements are entirely his, not ours. We are impressed by how far we have gone together, and sometimes I can even detect some jealousy in the people listening around, so now I´m more than fine with speaking clearly and out loud with him and therefore with my little one too. And I think he notices this and considers our pattern as normal. And I´m sure I may be making some mistakes, but now I have the routine of researching and correcting them on a weekly basis, and that´s proven to be a great thing.
For all these things we are willing to challenge that statement and include “me fruity pancake” all the way in our English fun. Now I´m sure my boy is all in with me, and I´m sure we´ll get there, because he is a hell of an assistant!