As a first generation Latina it is of the utmost importance for me that my children learn to speak and write proper Spanish. Much more than that, I find myself lecturing my closest friends and family — also first generation — when I hear they don’t speak Spanish to their children.
The answer I often get from these parents is that it is effortless to talk to them in English because they are learning the language in school and they struggle when trying to get their message across in Spanish, so they go for what is “easier.” Really?
I totally disagree. It does not matter how much English I know and how it continues to improve as my years living in the United States go by, it will never be easier for me to talk to a loved one (specially not my children) in a different language than Spanish. It’s just not natural to me. That’s why they call it “mother tongue,” it is meant to be passed from generation to generation.
Some say I have become “the bilingual mom police.” I can’t help but encourage any Spanish-speaking parent I know to pass along the language. Moreover, I usually ask any parent I meet, whose first language is one other than English, if they are passing on their language and culture to the children. I cannot stress enough the importance of being bilingual and how many people pay to acquire another language while we can give it to our children for free.
Currently, I am at the easiest stage of making my daughter bilingual. Since she is just a toddler and not going to school yet, I am teaching her Spanish only. To reinforce my belief that there is no way someone born and raised in the U.S. will not learn English because their parents talk to him in a different language, my daughter is learning English words from other people and cartoons at an impressive pace.
Achieving the goal of bilingualism is hard work. It is easier said than done, I know that. I’ve seen it with friends who have children in the school system already who refuse to speak Spanish. The common trend is that siblings will talk among themselves in English while at home.
My friend Maria has to repeatedly ask her daughters to answer in Spanish. She only talks to them in Spanish, but ever since they started school they want to speak their mother’s language less and less. However, these kids are in fact bilingual. I’ve seen how the oldest (8 years old) will help the middle sister when the mother asks “en español Emily por favor,” and the second one cannot answer properly.
This dynamic can indeed be frustrating, but it works. By asking one of the children to say something in Spanish, the mom engages the other one who comes in to help, while the third one is listening. After witnessing both sides: the parents who give in and fail to teach their children their own language and the ones who struggle on a daily basis with it but stick to their belief and succeed, I am determined to be in the second group.
How do I intend to do this? There is no secret formula, but there are a few things I think can — and will — help me focus in achieving my goal: being restless and consistent about keeping Spanish the official language in my household; showing my children it is not “impolite” to speak Spanish in public; teaching them the importance of knowing more than one language; and ultimately, making Spanish a way of bonding and communicating at a deeper level, something that will bring us closer together instead of separating us.
As for being “the bilingual mom police,” I’ll try to approach those around me in a way they don’t feel criticized. However, I think trying to create awareness on the importance of keeping our culture and our language is something that I have to continue doing. I may make a few people uncomfortable in the process, but if some of them eventually listen, that will be more than enough for me.
Felicidades Dania! Que bueno que hay mamás como tu que tienen esa perspectiva mucho más amplia de la vida y saben la importancia de ser bilingües. Si yo estuviera en tu lugar seria la “bilingual mom tyrant”! jajaja!
Un abrazo y bonito dia!
Me encanto este articulo. Creo que me recuerda como soy…Es dificil mantener Espanol con mi hijo todo el tiempo y muchas veces olvido hacerlo pero vale la pena ser “a bilingual mom police”. Es un esfuerzo que pagara mil veces mas en el futuro!
Nice article-I think it is easier said than done. I have a very hard time being consistent with speaking only in Spanish to my 2 boys and find myself doing the spanglish thing which I think is not the right way to go. I am an ecuadorian/cuban american that does not get to practice my Spanish very often. I have some friends from South America that question why I don’t speak to them only in Spanish and I tell them it is not as comfortable and I cannot express myself as well. I think it not only is about the hard work involved but also being able to teach the correct way of speaking the language and not confusing the kids.
Great article! I love reading about all of the mami’s out there doing the same thing. Great to connect with all of you.
I love this article! I am first generation on my Papa’s side and my Mami is Anglo but she made an effort to make sure we were bilingual. She learned Spanish with the Cuban refugees and my Papa is from Mexico city. I am definitely more comfortable in English but I make the effort and both my 11 and 4 year old speak, read and write in Spanish. My little one is still more comfortable in Spanish because it was his first language but my big boy is more comfortable in English now that he is older and has only English speaking friends even though like me his first language was Spanish. In this country I agree that it is so difficult to maintain your native tongue because it is not appreciated even by some immigrants and first generation parents. None of my in-laws teach their children Spanish even though they are from Mexico. We need to set the precedent. Estoy de acuerdo! I vow to always continue “being restless and consistent about keeping Spanish the official language in my household; showing my children it is not “impolite” to speak Spanish in public; teaching them the importance of knowing more than one language; and ultimately, making Spanish a way of bonding and communicating at a deeper level, something that will bring us closer together instead of separating us.” Gracias!
Great article, Dania! I was born and raised in the United States, but I insist on speaking only Spanish to my children as my parents did with me. As I always tell people, English is the dominant language in this country. There is NO way for a small child not to learn the language unless they live in a cave, and even then, I am sure the signs are in English!
Also, I see so many American children mastering the Spanish language in immersion programs. One of the tragedies I see is these American children have a leg up over a Latino child who was never taught to read and write in his/her own language. Sad.
Excelente articulo! Me identifico mucho con lo que describes como”The bilingual mom police”. El punto mas importante es que se cumpla la regla de oro: “entre nosotros hablar solo en espanol”, si estamos con otros amigos que no hablan el espanol, pues por educacion hacia ellos, hablaremos en ingles para todos!
Thank you for sharing your point of view! It’s nice to know I’m not the only mami trying to teach my baby Spanish. I’m first generation American, but grew up speaking Nicaraguan Spanish in the home and spoke English outside of the home. I find it more challenging to teach Spanish since I am bilingual (English and Spanish). I remind myself “Spanish only, Spanish only”, it’s work but well worth it and I’m trying to have fun with it. Another twist is that my husband in English speaking only. The goal is for baby to learn Spanish from mami and English from papi. I’m not giving up! Like some of the previous posters state, it’s unfortunate that being bilingual isn’t embraced like in other countries.
I want to thank all of you for your comments. Below are individual responses to your insights. Me alegra mucho que les haya gustado el artículo y sobre todo que estén decididas a hacer de sus hijos bilingues. ¡Un fuerte abrazo a todas!
@Sue: ¡Muchas gracias Sue! Jajajaja, lo de tirana no me vendría mal. Sí, creo que es importante destacar el bilingualismo entre nuestros hijos y ayudarlos a estar en contacto con la cultura. Un abrazo para ti también.
@Marcela: Me alegra que te haya gustado el escrito. Sé que es difícil mantener eso, sobre todo cuando uno habla inglés. Incluso conozco padres que casi no saben inglés y les pasa lo mismo, pero hay que tratar de ir un poquito más allá y darles ese regalo a nuestros niños.
@Sandra: Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you that it is easier said than done. It is hard work to try to go all-Spanish. How I said in the article, I know I am at the easiest stage right now, but I am preparing for when it gets harder. I understand that in your case you feel more comfortable in English, perhaps because that’s truly your first language and I see your point about not confusing or teaching the wrong Spanish. What I can think of, if you want your children to be bilingual, is that maybe you all can enroll in classes and this could be something fun you all do together and will help them and improve your knowledge. Good luck to you and thanks for reading!
@Valentina: Thank you Valentina! I’m glad you enjoyed reading and you are trying to achieve bilingualism in your children as well.
@Eliza: Thanks so much for your comment! I’m really glad you liked it. Your example is one of many, that even though it is not easy to teach Spanish to our kids, it’s certainly achievable. There always be a language of the two in which a person feels more comfortable communicating, and for our children who are being raised here, its okay if that language is English; we just have to work hard so they don’t forget Spanish and they are able to communicate properly in Spanish as well. There will always be people who don’t see the importance in making their kids bilingual, but those of us who do care should continue to work on it and maybe change some mindsets in the process.
@Elisa: Thank you! You are one of the many Latinas from here who make us proud and reinforce that speaking in Spanish it’s a birthright for our kids. Obviously, the reason you are doing that it’s because your parents did it with you and that’s the beauty of it. If we succeed, our children will pass Spanish along to their kids, and the chain will continue. You are so right about American children learning the language and being able to speak, read and write better than so many Latinos. We need to work to change that, one child at a time.
@Ingrid: ¡Muchas gracias Ingrid! Creo que esa es la idea principal, hacer que el español sea el idioma de la familia, como su código especial y particular. En España, por ejemplo, podemos ver como los catalanes aprenden español en la escuela por ser el idioma oficial, pero todo el mundo habla catalán por ser el idioma de la comunidad y el de sus padres.
@Valeska: Thank you for reading! I am so happy to hear from you and the others how they do care about teaching Spanish to their children. Little by little there will be more of us. You are doing a great thing, and I agree, when you know both languages it gets harder because kids know you can understand them if they speak in English. But, it’s a daily thing to remind yourself “Spanish only,” like you said. You’ll see the payoff. Living in NY has given me the encouragement to continue, because most Latinos I know here are bilingual, they can speak both languages without problem. Keep it up! Let’s continue with our goal!
Gracias, Dania. Knowing about people like you and Spanglishbaby in general helps me so much. It gives me reinforcement when I start to feel like a lone voice in the wilderness with my constant “español por favor”. Ironically it’s my side of the family, monolingual in English, “white bread” from the Midwest of the USA, who are totally 100% supportive of us raising our son bilingual with Spanish. My husband’s family have limited English skills and they are the ones who end up pushing English. I’ve wondered a lot about that. I just think people truly do not understand the treasure they are throwing away, that the children will become dominated by English if they don’t work a little to preserve their own language and culture with them. As a monolingual English speaker (I was for the first 30+ years of my life) I’ve known many hispanic people who sort of understand some Spanish but can’t speak. That’s a sense of perspective lacking when someone is living, going to school, working, socializing pretty much all the time with other recent immigrants only. Here in Houston we have huge neighborhoods full of people in that situation. At the playground for example I constantly hear people talking to their little, little children in broken English and it breaks my heart. If they only knew how much better it would be for the child’s overall language development if the child were hearing a “rich model” Spanish language instead. In addition to the whole preserving the culture thing (don’t people realize how beautiful it is??? maybe it’s like the say you just don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?) Sometimes I say something. I feel like a missionary…
Thank God my husband supports what we are doing even if his family doesn’t always.
I understand completely what you are going through. I did not mention that on my post, but yes, many of the people I hear talking in English to their children don’t know proper English themselves. So, it is twice as bad for them to be talking in English to their kids (that way they’ll both lose their parent’s Spanish and also learning a language from a non-native speaker to put it gently). Also, many Hispanics are so eager for their children to learn English as if it was possible for them not to while going to school and living here. Fortunately, you are not alone. It seems we don’t exist, but there are many Latinos, like me and the ladies who commented above who are trying to instill pride and giving their children the opportunity to be bilingual. Keep doing it and your son will thank you when he grows up.
Thanks for your comment and for reading!
Let me first say that I’m so glad I found this blog. I’s also a Blogger and a mother. This is a great article, being one of the mom struggling to teach my kids Spanish, let me tell you it’s not as easy as it seems. This is specially true when the father/husband is monolingual and doesn’t speak or understand Spanish. I’m still trying to raise my kids bilingual, the tips and advice here certainly help.
Diana, coincido contigo en todos los esfuerzos que teenemos que hacer para asegurarnos que nuestros hijos crezcan firmemeente bilingues. Estamos en la misma batalla y en la misma aventura. Deberiamos encontrar la forma de crear y agrandar nuestras comunidades bilingues hispanoparlantes para facilitarnos el trabajo a nosotros mismos. Hay algun sitio web donde se pueda encontrar in listado de grupos por areas para unirse y hacer cosas juntos? So no lo hay tendremos que crearlo. Saludos y animo, vamos pot burn camino.