This seems to be the refrain of my interactions with monolinguals these days. Talking is the big milestone for two-year-olds and would be the topic of conversation even if I weren’t speaking Spanish with my son. Because I am, though, it feels like a rather contentious subject.
SpanglishBaby readers are already familiar with the debate over code-switching and its role in fluency. We know that experts confirm that mixing languages is a sophisticated linguistic skill, not a sign of confusion. Still, getting this across to those outside our like-minded community (and feeling like we have to) can cause more stress than it’s worth.
Instead of sharing in the excitement over my hijito’s new words, the English speakers in my life hesitate to applaud him. Despite knowing plenty of bilingual adults, they don’t quite believe my mL@H method will work. What exactly they predict will happen instead is anybody’s guess. The fear that bilingualism strikes in some of my acquaintances apparently allows them to imagine that my son is going to be a mute and end up knowing zero languages rather than two.
“Don’t confuse everyone else.”
This statement more accurately reflects what people are saying when they comment on one child’s strange and indecipherable speech patterns. Everyone is afraid of that which s/he does not understand. By choosing to raise our children to be bilingual, we thrust this reality into the faces of onlookers. Parenting, as we know, invites excess onlookers. Furthermore, parenting decisions that are anything but mainstream open a proverbial “can of worms.” In the culturally-defensive, linguistically-delayed America, we can expect a lot of worms to come crawling out when there are witnesses to our Spanish use.
I love being able to communicate with my little one in public without worrying about eavesdroppers. I don’t like overhearing the details of other mothers’ conversations with their kids and I wouldn’t want just anyone to find a way into the mundane details of my parent-child dealings.
Despite what they with the big oídos and even bigger bocas may think, I am not trying to confuse everyone else. I am speaking to my child in the language that I have used with him since birth, and that is our business. No, I am not talking about you when I speak to him in Spanish.
“The Spanish will confuse him when he goes to school.”
I cannot wait for this one to be debunked. Certainly, some bilingual children appear to struggle in preschool and the early elementary years. From my tutoring experience and hearsay, though, I realize that this is yet another misunderstanding. Imagine this:
You place an English book in front of a monolingual English speaker (6 years old). He doesn’t have to guess what language the book is written in or consider the order of the words. It will reflect what he has heard in speech. All he has to do is learn to recognize the letters in print and start to pronounce them.
You place the same English book in front of a bilingual speaker of the same age. He must go through an identical process of putting letters together, but then decide which set of grammar and pronunciation rules these words follow before he can make the leap to comprehension.
Is it surprising or worrisome that the second child will take longer to learn to read?
By the same token, should we worry when our newly verbal, bilingual toddlers take longer to put together complex sentences than their monolingual counterparts?
Obviously, the answer is no.
Bilingualism, like integrity and money sense, is another tool we give our children to prepare them for the rest of their lives. It deserves merely positive scrutiny, and the only thing that warrants true confusion is why there aren’t more code-switching, “confused” children in this country.