Bilingual Musings: Mami, Do You Speak English?

{Photo by: andrewmalone}

When Vanessa was younger I used to tell her I didn’t speak English, but now that she’s in kindergarten, she’s pretty much figured out that’s not true. Although we speak only Spanish at home, because she now spends a lot more time in the outside world, she’s heard me interact in English in more than one occasion.

The other day, though, I was really surprised when she asked me – in Spanish – if I spoke English. When I said yes, she said:

“Pero solo un poquito, ¿verdad?” (But only a little bit, right?)

To which I said yes because I figured if I could milk the whole thing a bit longer, why not?

Then she went on to say that she also speaks just a little English because there are a lot of words she doesn’t know. I must admit I got a bit worried when she said that and so I proceeded to dig deeper.

When I asked her what she meant she said that sometimes at school there’s words she doesn’t understand.

“Como ‘stockings’. Cuando la maestra dijo que pintáramos nuestros stockings, yo no entendí lo que estaba diciendo”. (Like stockings. When the teacher told us to draw our stockings, I didn’t understand what she was saying.)

I felt bad because before then she’d probably never heard the word stockings, even though that’s very obvious Christmas vocabulary to be found in books, movies and any conversation related to the holidays. But, as I said, we only speak Spanish at home and so we refer to stockings as ‘botas de Navidad.’ (BTW, I’m sure my family is the only one that calls them that.)

Anyhow, Vanessa went on to tell me that it didn’t take her long to figure out what the teacher meant and all was good.

She didn’t seem too worried about it, so I followed her lead… even though part of me still wonders.

How would you deal with this issue?

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