Thus far, I have written a lot about my struggles and successes in speaking Spanish with Isaiah, but very little about his use of and exposure to English. While there are distinctions in his life between the people with whom he speaks each language, he has a peculiar mix of input methods because he has two houses with two distinctive language setups.
Last year, when Isaiah and I moved in with my mother, he began getting daily exposure to English, though not as much as to Spanish (since my mother works full-time). So, most of the time, he conducts his daily activities in about 75% Spanish, 25% English. When he goes to his father’s house, which is now quite often, he speaks only Spanish to his papi and his abuelos and English to his primas. So, we are sticking with our original plan of using mL@H, but he gets a bit of OPOL at my house because his grandmother does not speak Spanish.
As we all know, home language use is only part, although arguably the most important part, of what makes up a child’s language skill and understanding. Isaiah is not yet in school, partly because his father and I are wary of placing him in an English-centric environment too soon. His English is already advanced for his age, and he does not show an aversion to it. In fact, he seems to concentrate dutifully on pronouncing English words correctly and without a Spanish accent.
Recently, I have had to remind myself to celebrate his English gains just as enthusiastically as his Spanish ones. He frequently says adorable, amusing, or even astounding things in my native language, and I sometimes feel guilty for jumping out of my cerebro hispanoablante to say “Wow! That’s right,” or something equally affirming, in English. Knowing how important these first few years are for linguistic development has given me a serious case of tunnel vision; I have fought to make Spanish a priority to such an extent that I have forgotten how fascinating even the acquisition of ONE language can be.
In America, language choice and use are the stuff of political debate and cultural clashes. They are also fodder for parental competition. Being defensive about our decision to raise bilingual children can prevent us from relishing their everyday developments in the language that we tend to view as invasive. I have learned that I do not have to push English away in order to include Spanish in my son’s life.
Witnessing slow and steady growth, especially in the uniquely human form of speech, is no less miraculous than witnessing the sudden arrival that is birth. Slowly and steadily, my son’s English is growing to support his Spanish, and I couldn’t be happier to share both means of communication with him.