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Meet Bilingual Mom Pilar Peña

This mamá took up the challenge of teaching three languages to her child – only one of which is a native tongue.

What's your bilingual story?

I was born in the north of Spain. I’m a freelance translator with a background in language studies. I have friends all over the world, and I’m passionate about learning languages and about different cultures. I have a 3-year-old boy who I’m raising trilingual – English, Portuguese and Spanish. My husband speaks to him in Spanish and I speak to him in English and Portuguese.

Why did you decide to raise your son bilingual?

I wanted to share my passion for languages with my son, and I wanted him to be tolerant and open-minded about the world. I’m not a native English or Portuguese speaker, and so I was concerned by the linguistic theories that advise against speaking a language to a child that isn’t your native language.

While I was hesitant to try, I was assured by the experiences of a close friend. My friend was raised in a bilingual environment; at home she spoke Spanish to her father and German to her mother. Her parents were language teachers and they received a lot of backlash. My friend’s father wasn’t a native Spanish speaker, but he had lived in Spain for a year and had learned enough child-related vocabulary and songs that he was eager to raise his daughter in Spanish.

Today, all of his children are German and Spanish bilingual adults. That was the starting point for my own adventure. Theories said one thing, but personal experience showed something else.

What has kept you motivated?

At a year old, my son understood everything I said, but would mix both Spanish and English when speaking. When he was one-and-a-half, we became close with a Brazilian family we had met and had weekly play dates. That’s when I decided to add Portuguese to our list.

At first, my son didn't pay much attention to me when I spoke to him in Portuguese, but over time – three weeks – he was able to understand and interact with the Brazilian family. The family has moved back to Brazil, but I continue to speak to him in Portuguese on the weekends.

Any words of advice to the MamaLingua community?

I surround myself with tools I can use in the minority language, such as books, cartoons, songs and so on. Attending story time and local activities in the target language has helped us in our journey. I’ve also created an English playgroup here in Spain to help promote the minority language among friends. Now I’m trying to find some Portuguese families so that my little one can practice. Community is important!

Anything else you would like to add?

You have to be consistent and patient, but I think this is the best present we can give to our children. They become more tolerant, more open and they don’t see barriers and borders across the world.

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