One of the things that really throw people off when they try to speak to Sabrina (my Spanish dominant toddler) is the fact that she really doesn’t understand English. In fact, I have to remind friends and family that she speaks and understand more Spanish than she does English. We have done a pretty good job of speaking to her 100% of the time in Spanish. Sure, Spanish and English flow back and forth between my husband and I (and friends), but we have made it a point to only speak in Spanish to her and it has been quite effective.

In fact, if I decided that tomorrow we would only speak English she would have a hard time. A couple of times I have “tested” her to see if she understands when I say things in English like, “Sabrina, please touch your head” or “Sabrina, would you like to ride your bike?” My little nena just stares at me as if she’s wondering why I am speaking with those words. So, of course, I reiterate it in Spanish and we are back in business.

As most people who have kids know, strangers will come up to your little one and try to talk to them. Since we live in the U.S (and even though they may hear us speaking only in Spanish) people generally approach us in English. Many times Sabrina is shy, like most toddlers, but I really do not think she knows what they are saying when they ask her things like, “What are you drinking?” or “What is your name?” These are questions I ask her in Spanish and she answers without any hesitation. Sometimes, she will attempt to talk to strangers (like a cashier), but always in Spanish. Unfortunately, most of the time they don’t understand so they also don’t realize she’s speaking to them. This happens a lot with other children who only speak English.

It breaks my heart to see her try and communicate in Spanish and gets no response. This, I know, will be the main reason why she will eventually choose to speak more English as she gets older. It saddens me that at the tender age of two she is attempting to communicate in Spanish, yet many times she doesn’t get a response. It is adorable to see how she seems to think that everyone else speaks Spanish, too. This is when I act as a translator, but the conversation doesn’t seem to flow.

One of my goals is to see my daughter speak with her peers in Spanish, though I wonder how likely this will happen since most of her peers in the Spanish-immersion daycare she is enrolled in come from English-speaking homes. What I am getting at is that we, parents who want to raise multilingual children, have constant battles to face.

Personally, the questions I get from strangers that remind me how much people, in general, do not get how difficult it is to raise a bilingual child in a country, like the U.S, where we have nurtured a monolingual identity include ones like, “So, when do you plan on exposing Sabrina to English?” This question alone represents how little people know about language acquisition. The response I wish I could have given: “We live in the U.S., she is exposed to it everyday!” but instead I grinned and said, “Oh, her friends do a pretty good job of teaching her English (at her Spanish immersion school).”

How do you handle these kinds of questions? How have you dealt with the times your little one isn’t acknowledged when she is speaking a foreign language to a peer or a stranger? Do you translate?

{Photo by mamanat}

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