Bilingual is Better

My six week trip home to Chile is coming to an end. This is by far the longest I have spent here in many, many years. In my last post I mentioned how happy I was to have my son hearing Spanish everywhere, improving his vocabulary and really practicing the language. But I also realized, that I a native speaker have also benefited from a complete language immersion. Spanish 100% of the time. No English whatsoever. No Spanglish, no filling in words with English. Nada.

And I tell you, it really does the brain some good. I too improved upon my Spanish, expanded my vocabulary and got up to date on the latest in Chilean Spanish. I say that because in the US I feel I speak a more neutral Spanish in order to accomodate with other variations of the language. I guarantee no one would understand my Chilean slang!

I also talk to myself a lot (I know, weird, but I’ve done this since I was a child). I noticed that I started talking to myself more in Spanish than in English and my dreams are all in Spanish whereas before they were a mix. I believe that a language that is not used, practiced, heard, or experienced culturally gets lost. And this I feel is what will happen with many Spanish speakers in the US because of lack of connection with the culture. Something we (especially as mothers) need to keep alive.

The first week we were here, Matías still spoke half in Spanish and half in English. Five weeks later, he is speaking no English at all to me, not even to fill in words and using Chilean sayings in the right context. He gets it! Even making jokes and developing a very cute Chilean accent “Si po’ mami” (“Po” is used here instead of “pues”). Even his beloved Backyardigans are all in Spanish and he pointed out to me “Mami, ellos dicen español”.

This language transformation, as I like to call it, has just reconfirmed what I felt was right all along and has also been the deciding factor for placing him in a Spanish immersion school. I am very lucky that in the Northern Virginia area, specifically in Fairfax and Arlington County schools there are many immersion programs, although now they seem to be in greater demand and the waiting lists are long.

I know that once we are back in the United States, back in our bilingual household he will slowly fall back on his Spanish and probably not speak it as much, but I will stand my ground. Even in our tiny corner of the world, I want him to hear it, speak it and experience it. I have spoken to him in Spanish since birth and I don’t feel comfortable switching over to English.

Our entire relationship is based in Spanish and that to me is a precious thing, one that I cannot see changing.

>{Image via patrickcoe}

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