“ Mañana vas a ir a una nueva clase.”
Those are the exact words my mother told me when I was about to begin attending bilingual classes in the second grade. Before this, my primary language at home and at school had been Spanish. My first day of class, I felt lost. I felt confused. I did not understand what anyone was saying. I couldn’t understand why my mother would put me into a classroom where no one understood me and I didn’t understand anyone. It was probably the hardest educational transition I have made as a child.
Little did I know that my mother’s reason for only speaking Spanish to us at home and pushing so much for bilingual education would later open many doors for my future. My mother, a predominantly Spanish speaking woman who learned English at the age of 16 when she came to the United States from Baja California. She later became fluent in both languages and began to use this to the advantage of my two siblings and myself. Her ability to speak two languages allowed her to navigate the school system and advocate for our enrollment in classes and schools where she knew we could learn both languages and excel academically. I have to admit; I believe our success in school was due to her persistence.
Years later, I’ve gone on to utilize both languages at work and received additional bonuses for speaking and writing in Spanish. My bilingual tongue has given me a leg up in the workplace, allowing me to travel to Barcelona, Mexico, and countries across South America, where I was able to confidently represent my companies in meetings. Creer successes aside, the greatest reward that has come out of my knowledge of both Spanish and English has been my ability to communicate with my parents and grandparents in Spanish. This is the same thing I would like for my daughter.
As my partner and I raise our daughter, many of our conversations revolve around language and bilingual education. Every family’s situation may be different. One parent might be more fluid in one language while the other might be more fluid in the other language. Or both parents may be fluid in the same language. It is still possible to teach your child both languages under these circumstances.
My partner is primarily Spanish speaking and my primary language has now become English. We both have a strong connection to our roots and return to Mexico on a regular basis since my parents are now living there permanently. We hope to instill in our daughter a strong sense of identity of where she comes from and who she is. For a better understanding of how to make this possible, I sought out the advice of other parents raising their kids in bilingual households and this is what I learned.
1. Start children young
“From the moment a child comes into the world mother and father should have already discussed how they are going to incorporate both languages into their life. Since the first day our son and daughter were born Spanish has been the only language with use with them.” Mirna-Las Vegas, NV.
2. Bilingual Literature
“My husband and I have reading time with our daughter a few times a week.” Flor, Santa Fe Springs, CA.
A few of our favorite books to read with our daughter now are Lil Libros that are bilingual and books by Karen Katz which are only in Spanish.
3. Bilingual Toys
“There are an abundance of bilingual toys that are available for children starting at a young age. Make sure you have a few for your child that they can use at home and a couple that they can take along to daycare.” Ana-Long Beach, CA.
4. Being consistent
“Bilingual education is not as effective if we are not consistent. Even if the child speaks to you in English you have to respond in Spanish and remind them that they need to respond in Spanish.” Melina-Los Angeles, CA.
5. Spanish speaking babysitter or nanny
“My children have a Spanish speaking babysitter; this has helped them practice their Spanish at home.” Ana-Long Beach, CA.
This one was of the most important things we wanted for our daughter. We knew that while we were at work we wanted her to get exposed to as much Spanish as we could. Her grandmother and babysitter both speak to her only in Spanish.
6. Touching up on our own bilingual skills
“It is so easy to go days without speaking Spanish if the primary language we speak to at work is English. Many times when my husband and I get home we will remind each other that we have to transfer over to speaking Spanish. If you feel like you need to touch up on some Spanish skills, pick up a good book in Spanish, ask a friend to only converse with you in Spanish or sing along to some Spanish music on your way home from work.” Jackie- Los Angeles, CA.
7. Media as a form of education
One of my friends told me, “my daughter only watches television in Spanish and this helped her become very fluent in Spanish.” Jesus-Fontana, CA.
“Most shows and cartoons on Netflix also have audio translation in Spanish.” Betsy- City Terrace, CA. In addition, there are DVD’s in Spanish and you can have a collection for your child to watch at home. A few channels on television are also in Spanish.
I know that in order for my daughter to become bilingual my partner and I will have to work a little bit harder but we are willing to put in the extra work. Although my parents were primarily Spanish speaking they also had to work at having me stay bilingual through the years. It is important that parents put in the effort and remind themselves that the benefits of being bilingual are worth the effort. We hope that our daughter will one day travel to other countries and be able to get by in Spanish. My greatest hope for her is that she’ll one day be able to live an independent life where she can go off and not only comfortably find adventures through traveling the world, but also by learning of our family’s great stories by hearing them from her grandparents in our ancestral language.