posted: July 2, 2016, 5:41 am
By Jamie Lincow
I’m not a native Spanish speaker. I consider myself to be a Spanish speaking enthusiast, and my lifelong passion for speaking the language and fostering bilingualism in my household rivals that of any truly native hispanohablante. I first fell in love with the Spanish language at the age of 13 while listening to Gloria Estefan’s Mi tierra album, and I continued studying the foreign language in high school and beyond, until ultimately earning my Ph.D. in Spanish Language and Literature. I studied in Madrid and have traveled extensively through Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, always with the intention of enhancing my level of fluency and becoming bilingual.
Although no other family member or friend spoke Spanish in my home or neighborhood, I had a burning desire to speak, read, and write in the foreign language, always immersing myself with the information about the rich cultures and traditions of the Spanish-speaking world.
There was never a doubt in my mind that I would raise my children in a bilingual home. My family knew of my intentions, and eventually I shared them with my boyfriend, who ultimately became my husband. My husband was and always has been very supportive of the idea, and after investigating different methods about how to create a bilingual environment, we adopted the “one-parent-one-language” approach when my son was born.
This plan allowed for our child (and future children) to learn Spanish through my input and English through my husband and other family members/ caregivers. At first this setup seemed perfect, but with each passing month different family members and friends began questioning my motives until my self-assurance turned into self-doubt. I searched for help, and while there are extensive guides and how-to books about raising a bilingual family, there is no support for the language enthusiast who wants to create a bilingual home.
Despite the naysayers, I carried on in Spanish. The first few years were an eye-opening experience for me. My dream of immersing myself and my growing family in a foreign language was becoming a reality, and I while I began speaking to my baby in Spanish right from birth, I realized that I didn’t have the sufficient vocabulary in Spanish to produce the intimate dialogues that a mother longs to have with her newborn. I couldn’t find the appropriate words to express myself intimately, since I never learned this type of dialogue in school or abroad. When I talked to my son about items in the house, read him books, touched his hands and feet, I always used Spanish, but when it was time to cuddle and sing nursery rhymes, I was devoid of the Spanish equivalents, and I reluctantly reverted back to English.
In public and around other English speakers, I was faced with a separate dilemma: which language should I use? I decided to continue exclusively with Spanish, and most people were immediately intrigued. Questions and concerns quickly developed alongside their curiosity. Most people questioned how much the baby could understand and if I was confusing him. By his toddler years, I could silence the skeptics by giving him simple commands in Spanish that he would perform seamlessly. Eventually my son was identifying colors, animals, and objects in Spanish just as quickly (if not more precisely) as in English. By his second year, his identification of those nouns became a verbalization, and he began interjecting the Spanish words into his English sentences.
Now, at 6 ½ years old and with two little brothers (ages 4 and 2), my sons are budding Spanish enthusiasts. It’s like I have created a secret club with my 3 little boys, and Spanish is our private language. It serves us extremely well when we are out in public, especially when we are around family members who do not speak Spanish. I can quickly and discreetly reprimand my kids and even remind them to say please and thank you without anyone else knowing what I just said! When I converse with the butcher at our local supermarket in Spanish, they are always eager to say hi to him and remind him that they know Spanish as well. The only times that I revert to English with them is when I cannot find a Spanish equivalent, or when I want to express an emotion. I find that both anger and love do not have the same significance for me in a foreign language.
With the birth of each additional son, I gained more confidence, and I have noticed an incredible ease in my expression in Spanish. In fact, it no longer seems like a foreign language to me; Spanish has become our bond, a special language that I share with my sons.
Will my boys grow up to be bilingual speakers like me? Only time will tell. For now they tend to respond in English, a typical reaction for children being raised in a bilingual home. But their vocabulary skills are unparalleled. It’s my goal that my sons will continue to flourish and develop these language skills once they receive formal training in school.
We certainly are not the only family to embark on this endeavor, as there must be other enthusiasts that also desire to create this type of environment for their growing families. While it takes a strong backbone to pursue, it’s a worthwhile endeavor and the results will make you extremely proud of your intentions. Hopefully my boys can become young men who not only appreciate their own belief system, but global citizens who are aware and respectful of other cultures as well.
Have you ever considered raising a bilingual child?