Bilingual is Better

cultural travel in Chile, Avenida Perú en Viña del Mar

Every time I come to Chile I am reminded of how lucky and priveldged I am to be able to travel and actually have a relationship with my family, that culturally I am well connected and most importantly that I speak the language, without that, I would be lost. I know that many who have come to the US have not been able to visit their country and if they have, maybe it’s once every few years. Growing up, I had no idea just how lucky I was to be able to travel to Chile every two years and spend our Christmases or summer vacations here (despite it being winter). My parents never intended on staying in the US, my father had been offered a job opportunity, but we never had plans to settle there. However, things happen, things change and after a few years in Chile we were back in the US and my mother made every effort to keep our Chilean identity no matter what — starting with the language.

There are so many things you don’t appreciate as a child. I despised when my mother spoke to me in Spanish in public, but she never once spoke to me in English. Not once. In our home we only spoke Spanish and it is still like that to this day. And because we traveled so often we were never completely disconnected from Chile. I often get asked, do you feel more American or Chilean? The truth is it’s 50/50 because of my connection and experiences here. I also get questioned about my Chilean “authenticity” because I don’t have an accent, but it’s my litte badge of honor and being fully bilingual is my secret weapon.

Now I’m in Chile again, this time it’s been three years since my last trip. My son is 3 years old and everyone in my family is in complete and total awe that this little American boy speaks perfect Spanish despite coming from a home where I am the only one who speaks to him in Spanish and my husband speaks to him in English. To be honest, I am beyond proud, I am glowing. I got emotional when I heard my son and my Opa (my abuelo) having a conversation in Spanish. But I know this is a pivotal moment, I am literally sitting on the bilingual fence here. I am living in a time where the language could easily be lost if I don’t work at it and make a concentrated effort to educate my son bilingual. I could just give up and speak to him in English, but I don’t. Good thing is, it is not an effort for me, it comes naturally and he senses that.

Having come to US at a later age increased my chances of keeping the language, but it decreased when I married a non-native speaker and we don’t live in a Spanish speaking country (you could argue this). I do think the Spanish language in the US will be lost if it’s not for persistance from us parents. Yes, it is a lot of work to raise a bilingual child. It takes patience, perseverance and you also have to consider the child’s learning style and capabilities. My brother was raised the same way I was, spent the same amount of time in Chile but has a more difficult time reading and writing. It just didn’t come easy for him. So when I hear Matías translate for my husband or say that he wants to teach Oma, (my abuelita) English, I realize he has a gift, he has an ability and one that needs to be nurtured and managed. This is the only way the Spanish language will continue to thrive and strengthen within this new generation of speakers.

How difficult has it been for you to raise bilingual children?

{Image courtesy María José Ovalle}

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