I don’t know why, but lately I’ve been bombarded by information related to the loss of heritage languages in this country. It probably has to do with the fact that I’m currently working on a newspaper story about how some second–or even third–generation immigrants who were not taught Spanish by their parents are choosing to do the opposite with their children.
I recently found out my husband works with somebody who was born in Mexico, but moved to Colorado when he was a child and–as it happened with many children not too long ago–was virtually punished in school if he spoke Spanish. The result: he ended up having to re-learn it when he went to college.
During a recent interview I conducted with the head of a full immersion school, which will open its door in Denver in August, I was surprised to find out that many first-generation parents were genuinely not interested in such a program because their biggest desire was for their children to learn English–not Spanish–so they could have the kind of success that eludes them due to their lack of English skills.
Finally, just this weekend, I came across an online discussion, in a Facebook group I belong to called Wise Latinas Linked, that dealt with this exact subject matter. The member who started the thread said, “My parents were among the generation that was whipped for speaking Spanish in school, and as a result, my grandparents stopped speaking in Spanish to them so they could learn English better.” As a result, she was not taught Spanish and is now having a very hard time trying to learn it in college.
Apparently, she’s not alone. As the head of the immersion school explained, research suggests that Spanish is all but dead in the third generation. This is how she explained it to me: first generation immigrants usually learn enough English to survive, but conduct themselves mostly in Spanish in their daily lives. Their children–or the second generation–(whether they were born here or came when they were young) maintain their Spanish (mostly spoken only), but conduct themselves mainly in English in their daily lives. Their grandchildren–or the third generation–speak only English. (By the way, this is also true of heritage languages other than Spanish.)
I know that speaking Spanish is not the only way to define Latinos, but it can’t be denied that it’s very tightly connected to our culture. Furthermore, although not entirely impossible, it does become very difficult to choose to raise your children bilingual if you weren’t raised that way. I guess, it just wouldn’t feel natural.
I’ve been truly flabbergasted by all this information. More than anything, I have been very saddened by it. My kids are still so young, I have no way of knowing what’s going to end up happening with them when they become adults. I can only hope I can instill in them enough pride for their heritage that they choose to gift their own children by raising them bilingual and bi-cultural, too!
It would be a shame for this to be a trend on the rise. I feel, based on no scientific evidence or research, that thanks to this new era of abundance of information, cross-cultural exchanges and interracial marriages that language has become a source of identity. A flag to define who you are.
This is just one more reason why what we are all doing to raise bi and multi-lingual children is so important.
Also, learning to speak the language really isn’t enough. We need to encourage them to be bilingual/biliterate to be successful now.
I agree with AnaLilian. I hope the trend is that more families are reviving the heritage language. Of course, my parents only have two out of five grandchildren who are bilingual, mis hijos.
So sad, but so true. But, that said I count myself lucky to be raising my children in a time and place where embracing and supporting the Spanish speaking part of their culture and heritage does not invite judgement or exclusion from their peers. My parents and grandparents were not so lucky.
This is a wonderful post. I’m going to make an effort to not lose my Language and my Heritage with me. I hope to pass my mother’s and grandmother’s EVERYTHING to my Izzy.
I agree with Teresa U. We need to endourage our people to be bilingual, biliterate and bicultural.
I come into contact with Spanish-speaking parents, everyday. At each meeting, I encourage them to talk to their children in Spanish and to have their children answer them in Spanish. I give them information where, they can take their child to hear books being read in English and Spanish.
I agree deeply that the effects of hertiage language loss are far reaching. I have been conducting research for my thesis on just this very topic, what are the effects to one’s identity when heritage language loss is experienced. I agree that past generations have experienced extreme punsihments many non visable, as a means to hinder the speaking of the Spanish language. As a forth generation Mexican-American I am not a fluent speaker only learning the language as an adult and believe this loss had impacted me as a member of the mexican-american community. I desire to learn more about others experiences with such a loss….
What I have uncovered however is where an individual lives greatly impacts their experiences. Ana Lilian bought up a great point about the cross cultural exchanges that occur today and how this impacts these experiences, or lack thereof.