Bilingual is Better

While the majority of children in the United States will be going back to school this week, Vanessa just finished her third week in first grade. Recently, my husband and I were invited to a sort of parent/teacher conference so Vanessa could get an assessment in terms of her reading, writing and math skills. It was an opportunity for us to let her teacher know about Vanessa’s learning style, her likes and dislikes, and also for us to get to know her teaching style.

Vanessa was acting really shy when we entered her classroom and sat across from her first grade teacher. Mrs. R started by asking her a few questions about her reading, but  my daughter barely looked at her, and kind of hid behind my arm. I know Vanessa can be shy when she first meets somebody, but this was different since she’d been in Mrs. R’s classroom for nearly two weeks. Prior to the assessment, I had explained to Vanessa what we were going to be doing and how she’d be asked a few questions. So when she started acting like that in her classroom, I gently reminded her the purpose of the meeting and asked her to please answer her teacher’s questions.

Vanessa then started to nod “yes” and “no” as her teacher continued with her questions and gave barely audible answers to simple questions. Honestly, I was pretty confused because Vanessa is so talkative and she loves school. My husband kept making faces at me to leave her alone as I desperately prodded her to answer in full sentences. (By the way, Mrs. R didn’t seemed fazed by any of it. I guess that comes with 21 years of experience!).

And then, Mrs. R asked Vanessa a question about a math problem they had done in class a couple of days before. She told us Vanessa was very good at math — no idea who she got that from! — and asked her to explain to us how she came up with the solution to the problem. Vanessa just kind of looked at us and then Mrs. R said, “Go ahead! You can tell them in Spanish if you want.” Vanessa turned to look at me and told me exactly step by step what she had done to solve the math problem… in Spanish!

Long story short, when we left the assessment, I couldn’t help but ask my husband if he thought Vanessa had acted like that because she lacks the vocabulary necessary to communicate in English. He, of course, thought I was absolutely out of my mind. “She’s just shy,” he assured me. “You know how she gets.” But I’m not so sure and I’ve been left wondering if we need to change our bilingual strategy a bit.

Could it be that Vanessa is not as bilingual as I thought? To be sure, she excelled in kindergarten and is currently reading above grade level. I’ve heard her interact in English without issues when I’ve volunteered in her classroom, and with her little friends during playdates and birthday parties. I know she can obviously communicate in English, but I also know her Spanish vocabulary is way more extensive.

I probably shouldn’t worry about this, and I know lots of parents raising bilingual children wish they could say the same about their children’s vocabulary in Spanish. But I’m not going to lie, I am a bit concerned. I’m thinking I need to do something about it, but what? Should I start speaking English to her? Or am I worried for no reason? What would you do?

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