Bilingualism in the U.S. Across Generations

In many ways I feel the same way as Roxana when she wrote, in an earlier post, My Daughter is Bilingual Thanks To Her Teachers, about the important role teachers have played in developing my daughters bilingualism. For the past six months my nena has been hearing English for the majority of her day. I can attest that she is an example of how children acquire language at what seems like a pretty fast pace compared to older children and/or adults, and for my daughter it has all been thanks to her amazing teachers.

That being said, my husband and I continue to speak to her in Spanish 100% of the time, and she continues to do the same when speaking to us. The few times we have heard her speak in English have always surprised us because we really aren’t aware of how much she actually knows.

One of my tactics in raising her with Spanish has been to never translate for her. In other words, if a stranger or friend speaks to her in English I simply prompt her (in Spanish) to respond. As a result, she now translates when I prompt her to respond. For example, recently we went to the pediatrician’s office for her yearly check up and the following conversation emerged:

Doctor: Hi, Sabrina.

Sabrina: Hi, that’s my mommy (pointing to me).

Me: Sabrina, cuéntale a la doctora de tu owie

Sabrina: I have owie. I no like it.

There have been other instances, like the one above, that have completely tickled us because she also seems to have acquired a Spanish accent when she speaks English, which we LOVE. My next move is to help her realize that some people are bilingual and that she can use her Spanish with them.

Unfortunately, and as I expected, if the bilingual adults in her life use Spanish and English with her she pegs them as English speakers. This is simply another indication of the power English has in our society. That is to say, my daughter has picked up on the language with the highest status, which was also something I expected to happen. When I reflect on how she has developed her linguistic skills I feel confident that other parents like myself, second generation immigrants, can do the same!

Statistics indicate that the third generation (like my daughter) is more likely to not speak their family’s native language, which in our case is Spanish. Have you, as a second generation immigrant (parents are from another country, but you were born in the U.S.), managed to raise a bilingual child? If so, what are some of the strategies you have used to develop child’s bilingualism?

{Photo by  UNC – CFC – USFK }

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