Now that my son is 3, I’ve finally learned the difference between things I have no control over (hello, toddler tantrums at the supermarket) and the things I can control, like making sure Oliver learns Spanish. I wish for him to not only know the language but to also feel proud and confident speaking it. Yes, knowing two languages will serve him well his whole life — but, more importantly, knowing Spanish will give him such a wonderful connection to our Latin roots.
I am half Guatemalan and half Puerto Rican. I was born here in the United States, but my first language was Spanish; like so many other first generation kids, my Spanish isn’t what it should be today. I’m one of four kids and the more English my older sisters learned, the more English they brought into our home, and the less Spanish we all spoke together. I understand and read Spanish fluently, I just sound sort of “Americana” when I speak it, because, well, I am.
I remember going into primary school and already knowing the Spanish that was being taught, yet at home I stopped speaking the language with my family because I was embarrassed by the way I sounded. My Spanish just wasn’t as good as theirs. Foolishly I studied French (my favourite language) for 10 years in school, because I figured that I already knew Spanish, why not learn another language? And I do know Spanish, of course — I’ve just always wished that I could rattle it off easier. As I got older I became more and more proud that I knew Spanish but was still self-conscious about speaking it, even away from my family. It wasn’t until after college that I forced myself to start speaking Spanish again to people who were fluent. I longed for that connection to my roots.
Of course, getting Oliver to learn (and speak) Spanish is much easier said than done. We live in NYC, in a neighborhood where English dominates. I speak to Oliver as much as I can in Spanish, and the days he’s with my mum while I’m at work she speaks to him in Spanish as well, but I’m always kicking myself for not speaking to him in Spanish full-time. My fiancé doesn’t speak Spanish, so it’s easier to just stick with English when we’re all together!
But we have made progress. Since having Oliver my Spanish has gotten stronger and I’ve become more confident. It turns out that children make great practice partners. No judgments anywhere. Musica, as well as books, have been a great way to introduce the language. His favourite thing nowadays is to translate objects for me, which shows me that he’s having fun with the language. And even on the days I think I could be doing more he’ll spit something out en espanol that will take me by surprise. I’ll realise that he’s actually is soaking it all in! Kids are sponges that way.
Are you raising your kids bilingual? Tell us your tips.