Raising Bilingual Kids Against All Odds

Over the weekend, my husband and I had a freelance television production gig and we got to meet a pretty neat Mexican family. The story they shared with us for the TV program we were working for has nothing to do with bilingualism, but I had to conduct all the interviews in Spanish and I must say I was very impressed by how well it was spoken by the children in the family. What surprised me the most is that both, the young man and woman, were born in the United States and have only been back to Mexico a handful of times.

The most amazing thing for me is that these young people were raised by a single mother who has spent the majority of her time  working at least two jobs to ensure her children got the opportunities she never did. In other words, it’s not like she was home with them making sure they were exposed to the language on a regular basis. And yet, she managed to raise two bilingual kids who today, at 21 and 27 years old, are able to be interviewed on camera for a television program solely in Spanish!

It might not seem like a big deal to some, but in all my years as a journalist I’ve often found that the children of immigrants — particularly the working class — are more or less able to communicate with their Spanish-only speaking parents, but their vocabularies are limited and English is definitely their preferred language. But this was not the case with the Mexican family we met this weekend. The kids English was impeccable, but their Spanish was not far behind. There were no issues with verb conjugations — one of the easiest ways to botch the languages — and there were only two times that the young woman couldn’t remember the words she wanted to use in Spanish.

I was so happy about all that that after the interviews were done I congratulated both the kids and their mom and I asked her how she managed to do it. She said that there was never a question in her mind that — even though they were born here — her children wouldn’t speak her native language, Spanish. She didn’t know anything about methods to raise bilingual children nor the countless myths surrounding this topic, for her it was only natural — and logical — that her kids would speak Spanish at home and learn English in school.

Now, her 27-year-old son is married and thinking about having children. I was delighted when he told me he definitely wants to pass on the bilingualism gift to them. He said he plans on doing it by speaking to them only in Spanish, even if that means his monolingual wife won’t understand. Luckily, she’s all for it!

{Image via kate.gardiner}

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