Lately, I have taken frequent note of the hypocrisy surrounding Spanish speaking in America. While many monolingual (English-speaking) Americans feign support for Latino culture, they back up when it comes too close. The message I hear is: Go ahead and teach your kids Spanish, but speak English around me because I don’t want it to take over my world. This is why many parents enroll their children in Spanish classes or expose them to Spanish baby books but fall short of encouraging fluency – because it cuts them out of a part of their children’s lives.
In my interpretation, this fear stems from the misguided assumption that there is such a thing as cause & effect in parenting. Por ejemplo, some parents believe that if they don’t allow their kids to watch television, the kids will be protected from violent and vulgar influence. Others believe that if they pay for private school and pressure their kids to make good grades, their little ones will become big ones worthy of emulation. It’s the same (faulty) logic that is leading far too many high school seniors into four-year universities, even when economic statistics warn against such a costly venture. Although we can expose our children to a variety of choices and experiences, nothing we do will necessarily result in a precise outcome.
Just like teaching our kids to play sports, enjoy music, and cook dinner, teaching them a second language is a way of imparting our values. All we can do is hope they will gain something from the knowledge. Additional benefits of bilingualism, such as easier multitasking and prevention of Alzheimer’s, are but the proverbial icing on the cake. Cognitive advantages are not THE reason we choose to parent bilingually, but a possible upshot.
When Americans who do not know Spanish presume that we are trying to arm our kids with weapons that will be used against their kids in school or the working world, they neglect to consider that we may simply enjoy sharing a passion for the Spanish language and its various associated cultures – a passion for where we came from, or (as in my case) our children’s heritage. In part, it’s the responsibility to prepare children for what’s coming that props up our desire to speak two languages at home, but it’s no better or more interesting than a father teaching his son to take apart a car, or a mother teaching her daughter to swim.
We share what we know, and no one should interpret our Spanglish speaking as a threat or a radically different way to parent. We’re doing the same thing you are. If you’d like your kids to know Spanish, we’d all be happy to help spread the bilingual love. If you run away from something you don’t understand, your kids will hear your unspoken message rather than your outward encouragement.