Bilingual is Better

I began to learn Spanish a bit in grade school, and then in high school began the typical Spanish classes an hour a day. When I was a freshman, I traveled abroad for the first time to Peru with my dad to bring home my newly adopted brother and sister. This trip changed my life in uncountable ways: experiencing and living the language in bustling Lima and magical Cuzco cemented my love of Spanish and Latin culture.

In college, I changed my major to Spanish in part so that I could study abroad — not once, but twice (Spain and Ecuador). Most of my friends were Spanish-speaking, and I became very fluent. At the same time, I met my future husband — an exchange student from Mexico. I became a Spanish and ESL high school teacher, and we traveled frequently within Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Spain.

Evaluating my education and experiences, it would seem that raising bilingual kids would be a piece of cake. I am a huge advocate for multilingualism; I have multiple degrees in second language teaching and education; my Spanish is as near-native as it can be; I have many friends raising bilingual children; half of our family lives in Mexico and communicate almost exclusively in Spanish; plus, I love Spanish.

And yet… I still struggle. My kids answer me in English. And (voice dropping to a whisper) there are days that are so hectic and distracting that I admit I speak more English than Spanish. Much more. With my husband working long hours, using the OPOL (one parent one language) method cannot work for our family.

I have tried to step back and analyze what it is that inhibits me from communicating solely in Spanish. I enviously observe several successful friends in my exact situation who do an amazing job of maintaining a monolingual (Spanish) home environment, and I wonder why I am different?

The only answer I can provide is that as our family has grown and taken on more activities, and a fuller schedule, I have very slowly gotten out of the habit of sticking to Spanish. This is the first challenge: when I am in a hurry, or trying to do 10 things at once, or disciplining… what naturally comes out of my mouth is English.

My second challenge has to do with my own feelings of ineptness. When they were babies, I would play, and sing, and read to my kids in Spanish— but in the presence of anyone that spoke English I would switch. As our lives became more “social,” I found myself speaking more and more English. I then became hesitant to speak Spanish with the kids in front of anyone Latino. No one has ever said anything to me, but I have this tiny worry that I may use the wrong grammar or pronounce something wrong, or forget a word and have to mutter in Spanglish… I guess I worry that people will judge me?

With chagrin, dismay and deep-rooted guilt, I am admitting that I have put my own anxiety in front of my children’s need to hear more spoken Spanish.

I don’t mean to appear pessimistic. We are still a bilingual family. We still practice reading in Spanish, watch movies in Spanish, are spending the summer in Mexico, play with Spanish-speaking families, and my daughter loves to text my husband in Spanish. They really do understand 99%, and when they are with Spanish-speaking relatives, they participate in the conversation and play with their cousins.

The reason for this confession is to soundly proclaim (if only to myself) my New Year’s resolution. I am determined to turn a corner in our language journey, and adhere to a Spanish-majority home environment. My goal for 2013 is to help my 4 children develop oral proficiency by being a proper role model. How can I ask them to speak Spanish, when I am modeling English? Henry Ford once said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” I think I can — I know I can — and I will do my best to speak Spanish with my kids this year. This is going to be the year that I transform our family language system from OPOL (one parent one language) to mL@H (minority language at home).  Who’s with me?

{photo by  SanShoot}

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