As a Hispanic woman who came to the states at 3 years old from Paraguay and was raised in New York, I could not imagine what life would have been like had I lost my roots in the midst of growing up in a foreign country than I was born in. I am eternally grateful that my parents still raised me to speak Spanish and never lose touch with my linguistic roots. Because of them, I will teach my children the same.
My kids are a mix of different Hispanic backgrounds. I am full Paraguayan, dad is half Dominican and half Venezuela. How’s that for a mix? So much culture- I love it! My oldest son, Manny Jr, is turning 3 years old and he speaks both Spanish and English, Spanish being his first language. We were told by many people before Manny Jr was born that he would be the one to break the cycle of speaking Spanish because us as his parents will only speak to him in English. I used to think to myself, I have seen that happen to so many people around me and while it’s their choice, I don’t want that to be the case for my children. All the people who told us that were wrong. Since my son was born both dad and I spoke to him in Spanish. Sure we would say a few words here and there in English but our main language to communicate was and still is, Spanish. Our parents of course speak Spanish- English is their second language. We wanted our son to be able to have conversations with his grandparents in one language, not have him speaking one language and his grandparents responding in another. How awesome that our soon to be 3 year old can have a conversation in one language one minute then completely shift to another language the next minute? I absolutely love it.
As Manny Jr started talking we would always have to explain to those who spoke to him in English that he did not understand them yet. If the person asked him a question, often times we would have to translate. That never bothered me. I was proud that my son’s first language was Spanish. He started speaking and understanding English at about 2 years and 3 months. Each day he would speak a little more until eventually just like in Spanish, he was able to form sentences. Of course, he is still learning. He has an accent when speaking in English and I love it so much. It’s beyond cute to me. I know eventually that accent will fade so for now I’m embracing it!
At times Manny Jr is spoken to in English and doesn’t understand what is being said until we repeat it in Spanish. For me that is ok, I love it and I am proud. My son will grow up bilingual. We live in a diverse community, hello New York. He will have so many opportunities and advantages being able to speak two languages. We are setting him up for success in the future with hopes that he won’t let his roots go. That being said, it does not make him nor do I expect it to make him better than any other child who doesn’t speak two languages – it just simply holds value to me and it makes me SO proud of the job we are doing as his parents.
I know as my kids grow older and are in school they will want to speak just English but Spanish at home is something that I will strictly instill in them. As their mom, it is something I will work on everyday. I know I’ll struggle- but the outcome… raising a bilingual child…. will make me so damn proud.
It amazes me even now that Manny Jr also knows who he should be talking to in English or in Spanish. He would never speak to his grandparents in English, only Spanish but to his aunts and cousins he will speak to in both- whatever language he decides.
Below I have outlined 6 reasons why it is so important for me that my son and daughter grow up bilingual.
1. Because they need to be able to communicate with their non English speaking family members, primarily grandparents. This to me is the most important.
2. Because being bilingual is an advantage in the workplace. It raises your competitiveness.
3. Because not only will they be bilingual, but will also be rich in culture. They’ll be exposed to two different cultures which makes him more open to others.
4. Because not only will they help themselves but may one day help others who are faced with a language barrier
5. Because by teaching them to be bilingual it’s increasing their cognitive abilities.
6. Because how cool is it being able to communicate in two languages !? Constantly switching from one language to the next ? That’s just amazing. Multitasking becomes easier !
As time passes and my kids get older, I am sure I will find new reasons why it is important for them to grow up bilingual. I will be faced with challenges, one major one being them wanting to speak prodominently English because it’s the language they speak in all day at school. Consistency will be key in having them retain both languages. As their parents, Dad and I will have to make sure their exposure time to both languages is somewhat equal. Lucky for us, the city where we currently reside has Dual language and Two Way Immersion programs in their school system. These programs allow native and non-native Spanish/English speakers to receive instructions/learn in both languages. How cool is that !? It is something for us to explore as the time gets closer for our kids to enter school. There are so many ways, although hard, to make sure my children grow up speaking Spanish and English – ways that I am still exploring. If anyone has any suggestions or advice I would greatly appreciate it!