Bilingual is Better

The following question was sent by Megan. You can also send your question to the Experts by clicking here.
“Hi experts!

We are expecting our first bilingual baby in August 2010 and would like to speak mostly Spanish in the home. (I learned Spanish as young adult and my partner was raised in a Spanish-speaking household in the U.S.). How can I convince my monolingual English-speaking mother that this choice is not rejecting “my side of the family” or closing her off from her grandchild-to-be?

Thanks,  Megan.

Bueno, Megan … let’s habla!  I so remember my mom being full of free, unsolicited advice during the birth of all three of my children so realize that this is not the first, nor will it be the last time she (and other well-meaning family members) throws in her two cents worth of advice and/or commentary!

Convincing someone of something so personal takes diplomacy and tact!  Tread lightly amiga and with kindness and smiles.  You will accomplish much with a positive approach.  I know you probably already know that but during the last few weeks of pregnancy, being kind to all of these free advice givers is not always easy.

Here is a step-by-step path to follow to help win her over to you and your husband’s bilingual efforts:

1.    Place post it notes around your home reminding you to smile and be kind.  Daily reminders in writing work wonders. Make them funny, kind of like an inside joke between you and your husband.

2.    Check out the book titled The Bilingual Edge or, better yet, buy it for your mom and ask her for a favor.  Ask her to read it before your child is born.  The book is an easy read and one that’s very convincing from two moms who happen to be Ph.D.s in linguistics.  Let these authors do the “expert” convincing for you!

3.    Invite your mom to family gatherings where both English and Spanish are spoken – before the birth of your baby and as your baby joins your family.  She will witness the amazing flow between both languages and perhaps even inquire as to how she can pick up some basic vocabulary in Spanish.

4.    Find out about local library events that showcase Spanish or Spanish and English, local arts & crafts festivals where the flavors of Latin American culture are highlighted via the sights, smells and sounds, and encourage your mom to join you and your husband and baby.

5.    Avoid taking the defensive when the subject is brought up by your mom.  Realize that being close to you and your family is one of her top priorities in life, and she views the language barrier as an obstacle for getting and staying close to all of you.  Instead, take the loving, upbeat approach and speak Spanish with a sonrisa/smile … one large enough to melt any mom’s heart and win her over.

¡Buena suerte Megan!  You can do this and have everyone come out feeling great!

Beth Butler.-Bilingual educator of young children and strives to create better communication within our increasingly diverse society. She is the founder of the internationally acclaimed Boca Beth language learning series which has garnered various parenting awards. Ms. Butler lived in Chile and Mexico where she learned Spanish as her second language and has been bilingual and biliterate for more than 30 years. She has spent over 25 years in the field of preschool and elementary education writing and recording four bilingual music CDs in Spanish and English, as well as producing three bilingual educational movies for children. Read Beth Butler´s answers here.

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