Bilingual is Better

He Forgot his Spanish…

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Vanessa + her older brother, Joseito

Just the other day, Vanessa announced to both her father and I that she likes Spanish better than English. I just stood there as proud a mamá as can be and then I wondered: “How long will that last?” She is, after all, only 3 1/2 years old and hasn’t really been exposed to her reality: English is dominant and Spanish still isn’t given the value it deserves. (More on that in a later post…)

I hope that as long as I’m able to create a perceived need for Spanish, she will continue to want to use it on a daily basis. She has know figured out that both her father and I speak English and although she hasn’t said anything about it just yet, I’m sure it’ll come up soon.

I want Vanessa, and eventually my baby boy, Santiago, to always feel that Spanish is just a normal part of their lives. The holidays were a great time to help make this happen. My cousin, her husband and their 10-year-old daughter, Vanessa’s second cousin, came from Mexico for a week during Christmas. Besides the fact that we had an awesome time, it was an incredible opportunity for my daughter to bond with our family, in our language. She might not realize it now, but I know eventually this type of experiences and the relationships she’s building with her extended family, will make a whole lot of difference when the inevitable happens and Spanish starts losing ground. Vanessa spent a whole week immersed in Spanish spoken mostly by one of her peers, another child, albeit a few years older. Nothing could’ve been better.

But, speaking about the inevitable happening, one of the most interesting things that took place over the holidays was something that took me completely by surprise, something new I learned about this bilingualism journey.

My 19-year-old stepson, Joseito, spent Christmas with us this year. As I have mentioned before, he is bilingual and I saw with my own two eyes how the mL@H method was successful with him. He used to live with us, until a little more than a year ago, when he decided to go back to Florida with his mom. Anyhow, fairly quickly into his stay, I noticed he was speaking to us mostly in English – the opposite was true when he lived with us. I nudged him by speaking to him only in Spanish. He tried, but it wasn’t happening and he finally said in frustration that he didn’t remember how to say a lot of words in Spanish. W-H-A-T?

The culprit, we found out, is that even though he lives in Miami, surrounded by our culture and our mother tongue, irony of ironies, he conducts his life mostly in English – even at home with his mom.

I was stunned by the possibility of losing a language even when you’d assume that after so many years, it’d be cemented. Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as if he couldn’t speak Spanish at all, it was more like it wasn’t flowing. It was a real challenge in terms of vocabulary.

Even though I never considered myself fluent, I’ve experienced this with French; however, I wasn’t raised with it from birth like my stepson was with Spanish. In other words, I was surprised – and warned, in a way – by the fact that although I know it’s a cliché, if you don’t use it, you truly can lose it!

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