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.