I really admire my mother-in-law for raising two bilingual children. Her task was especially challenging since she did so in an era when it was not popular to use a language other than English. In fact, she was actually told to stop speaking to her sons in German, her native language. Teachers, and even doctors, said that it would confuse them in school, but she knew better and continued to speak to her sons in German. Her persistence is why my husband and his brother are bilingual adults. Now my husband is able to pass that skill on to the next generation by teaching our children German.

My mother-in-law and I do disagree on one point though. I have always spoken to my sons exclusively in Spanish. It seems only natural to me, but my mother-in-law feels that it is rude for me to use Spanish when there are others around who do not understand. When my husband and his brother were growing up, she would use German with them at home, but English if they were around people who did not speak German.

I have to admit, her opinion did make me question my way of doing things, especially since I value her opinion as both my mother-in-law and a mother who has successfully raised bilingual and bicultural children. The problem is, I don’t want to jeopardize my children’s bilingual abilities by switching languages when speaking to them. Yet my mother-in-law did switch languages with her children, but still had success. I began to ponder what language to use with my children when others who do not speak Spanish are around. It is a dilemma to which I still have not found the perfect solution.

When my boys were just babies, it was easy. I would speak only Spanish to them, and I didn’t really think about it too much because it was a one sided conversation anyway. Now that the boys and I have real conversations, I am becoming increasingly more uncomfortable with my language choice. It is not when I am out in public or just at the store, but rather when I am spending time with monolingual family and friends. I feel like I am being rude, but at the same time, I don’t want to compromise their bilingualism.

In order to find a happy medium between the two languages, I have started to use new strategies to include everyone in the conversation. Having recently moved to a new neighborhood, I have started by explaining the languages used in our family to the new neighbors. Most people seem to be very positive and encouraging of our linguistic endeavors and have even expressed a desire for their own children to learn some Spanish. I also have started to translate what I say to the boys into English so that others will understand what I have said to them. It is an effort on my part, but I feel that it is worth the effort to maintain Spanish with my children while attempting to include other Spanish and non-Spanish speakers.

Raising bilingual children does have its challenges, but the rewards are well worth the work. I love that my children can easily speak different languages, and that they are acquiring a more international view of the world. I believe that there is a way to keep the Spanish going no matter the company that we are with, but I would love other ideas and strategies used by parents raising bilingual children.

What languages do you use with your children when in the company of people who do not speak Spanish?  How do you deal with this situation?

{Image via zherun}


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