When I first started writing for SpanglishBaby, my son and I were going it alone. I was a single parent trying to keep up with speaking my non-native language to him full-time. It was challenging, but relatively predictable.
Now, I have taken on a whole new set of challenges regarding parenting and bilingualism. I am in a relationship with a wonderful man who has two daughters, ages 9 and 11. The girls both know Spanish, but have quite different views on speaking it. While the older sister comes out with Spanish voluntarily and gets excited about learning new phrases, the younger is resistant to the brink of tears. Although she attends a foreign language academy, she is afraid to make a mistake, and doesn’t even want to speak to her abuelos in Spanish.
With all three kids, we have attempted heart-to-heart talks about their Latino identity and incentives for speaking their heritage language. We’ve even played “the Spanish game,” where the first one to slip up and use English is the proverbial rotten egg.
Still, despite her perfect accent and comprehension, the 9-year-old wants a translator and asks for English TV shows when she visits her relatives in Puerto Rico. Even more worrisome, my son has picked up on his stepsister’s opposition and claims he doesn’t want to speak Spanish at our home because she won’t understand him.
All these intricate relationships with the Spanish language and blended cultures in one family have expanded my understanding of what we all mean when we say we are raising bilingual children. No matter the availability of books, movies, Spanish-speaking relatives, and immersion opportunities, things will sometimes go awry. A simple preference for one language or a general dislike for language learning can come about as children grow and develop a sense of individuality.
Even more than learning how to be a mother figure to two preteen girls in addition to raising a stubborn 3-year-old boy, this has taught me – once again – that it is not the result of parenting that matters; it is the chain of events that make up our daily lives. We should not expect that there will be a day when all our efforts come to fruition and our children are as fluent as we tried to make them. Instead, we have to supply them with the tools to arrive at some form of fluency, even if it is not exactly what we would have chosen.