Bringing Up Baby Bilingual in English, Spanish, and Rubbish

A common question Marina and I are asked, as a Spanish-British couple, is ‘What language do you speak to each other?’

The answer is that we absolutely interchangeably speak English, Spanish, and rubbish.

Let me explain: We are both very good at each other’s language, so we can easily talk to each other in English, or Spanish, and communicate perfectly. I would say we speak a touch more Spanish, but it really depends on factors like how tired one of us is (I always defaults to my own language when I’m tired)…

The problem is that our easy interchange between English and Spanish doesn’t just happen on a daily basis. It doesn’t just happen on an hourly basis…

It often happens on a sentence to sentence basis, or worse, a word to word basis!

For example:

Marina to Ben: You look exhausted, qué te pasa love?
Ben to Marina: Nothing, I’m just feeling a bit agobiado

Oh dear. You see the thing is, in sentences like this we’ll change languages when a single word or phrase works better in one language than another. Qué te pasa just works better than ‘what’s going on’ for Marina in the above example, and in the case of my reply, I use the word agobiado becuase it does a one-word job that English doesn’t have to explain a general feeling of stress/anxiety/over-work/too much on my shoulders.

And Marina understands what I mean perfectly, just as I understood her! Why speak in one language at a time, after all, when we have all the wonderful lexical tools of two at our disposal? We have a reached perfect, hybrid-bilingual communication at a sentence to sentence, word to word level.

Here´s the problem. Well two problems really.

Problem one, things get worse. Our hybrid-bilingual model quickly gets out of control. Let’s take my sentence from the above example again, and look at another version, that is almost more likely to be used these days:

Ben to Marina: Nothing, I’m just feeling a bit agobiated

AgobIATED! Spanglish at it’s best! Yet it just sounds right, and I know that Marina knows exactly what I’m talking about, even if I am effectivily speaking the third language of rubbish!

But here’s the biggest problem of all: We are trying to bring up our baby to be bilingual. What chance has he got with words like ‘agobiated’ flying around the house?

Time to ditch the private language I think, and stick to those good old staples of English and Spanish, and preferably just one at a time!