Two (or Three?) Words for Everything

When Guapa wants a cookie, she’s ready to use three languages to get her way.

So watch out.

We were recently visiting my parents (to Guapa, this is Nana and Papa), and Guapa and I were alone in the kitchen. Of course Nana has a cookie jar because that’s what good grandmas do, right?

So Guapa says to me, “I want gee-gee.” In her world, gee-gee is Guapa-Speak for Spanish galleta (English cookie or cracker, depending on the context).  

Being Mom, I said no.

Being a toddler, she insisted. Gee-gee. Gee-gee.

Being Mom, I kept saying no. No. 

That all changed when Nana entered the room.

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Language Evolution: How “Gat” Becomes “Gato”

The first time I heard Guapa say “cat”, I was super confused.

We were in Costa Rica visiting Tico’s family, and Guapa was fighting her afternoon nap. Picture this: A sunny afternoon in a bedroom with transparent curtains, a pack’n’play with Guapa, and a double bed with me (almost sleeping already). Guapa’s portable crib was right next to the window, and I cracked my eyes open to realize she had pulled back the curtains and was looking into the flower-filled alleyway.

“GAT!” She declared.

I’m like… um, what?

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Language Inventory at 2 Years Old

I gave up on this post a few times…

I have tried. I have made valiant efforts, I promise.

And I have to finally admit it! I can’t keep up!


Her language abilities are evolving daily, if not momentarily, and keeping a list of words she can say is no longer adequate.

So here’s my best effort at a language inventory, because something is better than nothing, right?

We’ll include a few videos this time around so it’s not just me talking about her talking, but you can actually hear her for yourself!

(Bonus: She’s just so stinking cute!)

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Series Post: How Does It Feel to Be Bilingual? (Full of Surprises)


If you’ve missed any of this week’s posts on how it feels to be bilingual, check out why what some call “Spanglish” might pop out of my mouth from time to time (here).

We’ve also discussed necessary language pep talks here.

A final factor in how it feels to be bilingual is that I regularly surprise people that I speak Spanish.

This part is so fun!

I often forget that my face doesn’t match my second language (as far as general assumptions and stereotypes go), so I just start speaking Spanish without thinking, until I noticed that look. You know, the LOOK.

I recently received the LOOK from an Indian woman working as a cashier at Target. I was with my mom and sister waiting for them to pay for their purchases when I overheard this cashier a few lines over asking her manager if anyone was working that could translate for the customer. I left my mom and sister with quizzical looks in their eyes too as I walked into a situation of translating for strangers.

I interrupted the conversation (tactful, I know), “I speak Spanish.”

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Series Post: What Does It Feel Like to Be Bilingual? (Pep Talks)


Favorite author moment: Sandra Cisneros. If you have not discovered her written jewel The House on Mango Street, please stop reading this blog and go check it out at your local library. You won’t regret it!

I even chose my favorite quote from Mango Street and painted it to hang in my house for forever.

Anyway, Sandra hits the nail on the head by describing how she can chatter away like a parrot in her first language (in her case, Spanish) and how she does not yet have confidence in her second language (English).

For me, I’m the confident English parrot and the insecure Spanish wallflower.

Speaking only Spanish still requires self pep talks.

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Series Post: What Does It Feel Like to Be Bilingual?

I seriously did this the other day while talking to my husband:


And then two seconds later, I clapped my hand over my mouth and said, “Did you just hear what I said?!”

Yup, I changed languages about 5 times while speaking the same sentence.

A good friend asked me the other day: “What’s it like to be bilingual?”

I’d never really considered “what it is like,” let alone how to explain to someone else the feeling of two languages forever active in my brain. In that particular conversation, I jumbled out some scratch-the-surface answer and of course kept thinking about it later. If I could go back to that conversation now, here’s (a long version of) what I might say:

First and foremost, it feels like having two radio channels in my brain.

If I need to speak English, I switch to channel 1. If Spanish is what I need, I switch to channel 2.

It’s like having an invisible remote control that I can use to adapt my own thinking radio channel. (Apparently, they call this executive control.)

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Series Post: Is Your Bilingual Baby Confused? (And What the Classification Stage Looks Like)

It’s the last day of our series post about a common question: “Is she confused?!”

While exposing our toddler to two languages, we have been proactive in teaching her sign language, being aware that she is in the sponge stage, and patiently awaiting this classification stage.  

While the current toddler stage Guapa is in we could call the sponge, there will eventually be a stage of classification. This is the current stage for most of my 4th grade dual language students.

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Series Post: Is Your Bilingual Baby Confused? (And How to Relax in the “Sponge Stage”)

We’re tackling a common question this week: Is Guapa confused while being exposed to two languages?

Yesterday, we talked about how sign language has served as a wonderful bridge in Guapa’s ability to communicate, no matter the current language situation.

Today, I would like to describe what I have come to call “The Sponge Stage”.


When a sequential bilingual (i.e. Tico or me) enters into a language learning process, there is often a 6 month period in which the learner does not speak in the second language. Oftentimes the learner is absorbing so many new things all at once and does not have the mental stamina yet to quickly engage in conversation.

Among educators, we call this the “silent period”. I like to call it the “sponge stage” because the second language learner is absorbing everything around them via listening and reading. They’re not ready yet to speak and write!

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Series Post: Is Your Bilingual Baby Confused? (And How Can Sign Language Help?!)

The question this week: Is Guapa confused?

This has been the most common question that we’ve received about our decision and daily lifestyle of exposing Guapa to both Spanish and English first as a baby and now as a toddler.

My one second answer to this question? NO!

My ten second answer? Guapa knows exactly what she wants to communicate and she has three languages to use!


As mentioned in a previous post, Tico and I tried to be proactive about potential language confusion by adding a third language to the mix: sign language. Guapa has adapted well to using lots of gestures to communicate what she wants (at 20 months, she had 65 signs!), and the best part is that her gestures are not limited to just pointing and grunting at us. The gestures she uses are real signs (or at least her own version of the signs!) and we are also able to use those signs to reinforce what we are saying to her in Spanish.

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