Bilingual is Better

photo by Barkaw

They’re much milder now, but my boys’ speech delays were so very pervasive for the longest time. We went from no speech to echolalia (our own speech parroted back to us) to practicing simple requests over and over and over.  I was always somewhat amazed by other children their age when I heard them speaking on the playground, stringing together such complex thoughts so effortlessly. A friend of mine, whose daughter is two years younger than my sons, once asked me if I was tired of all the constant “why, why, why” questions. She was stunned when I replied that neither Primo nor Secondo had ever asked me a question, ever.

Not surprisingly, asking questions was made a goal in both of their IEPs (Individualized Education Programs). The questions did start coming, when they were about 5 years old. Simple ones, at first. Then Secondo began asking, ¿por qué? every time I said anything at all to him—I think he just loved the novelty of asking. And if I did start to get annoyed by all the questions, I would breathe, bite my tongue, and remember how I’d longed for this day.

The newest question, one they both ask many times a day now, is: ¿Cómo se dice? I think this is largely due to school. As their world expands, as they learn new things, as they are able to express themselves better, they have more and more to say, and not enough words to say it all—at least, not in Spanish, because they’re learning it in English. They’ve remained remarkably consistent about only speaking to me in Spanish, and they will happily chat with me about their day, in Spanish. But they struggle with the vocabulary and often stop, mid-sentence, to ask, ¿Cómo se dice field trip? ¿Cómo se dice pencil sharpener? Frost. Reindeer. Holiday. Sorting. The list of words they want to know how to say goes on and on. Sometimes the ¿cómo se dice? questions come at me so quickly that I despair—it feels like I’m bailing out a sinking ship with a paper cup.

They look to me to fill in the gaps, and I do the best I can. When I can’t, we often look things up together. They love that I have a bilingual dictionary right on my phone and that we can look words up at home on the computer, and I’m hoping that the technology angle makes it seem cool and not tedious.

For now, we continue to play games in Spanish and read books, the best way I can think of to build vocabulary. And I am grateful that they still have so much fun with the language, are so eager to learn and ask questions about it, and hope it’s a long, long time before it seems like a chore.

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