I’m excited to introduce the first installment of “Family Fridays” here on the blog. Each Friday I will spotlight a different multilingual family from around the world. My hope is that through these virtual conversations, we can all glean wisdom and encouragement in this fun, and at times crazy, endeavor called multilingual parenting. So, to kick off “Family Fridays,” I’d like to introduce you to “nuestra familia” (our family).
Give a brief snapshot of your family’s language dynamics and your family’s language policy (what language(s) do you speak, who speaks what with whom?).
I was born and raised in the Washington, DC area in a monolingual English-speaking home. (Why, when, and how did I fall in love with Spanish, and subsequently, D.? Blog post here!) D. grew up in Madrid, and his native language is Castilian (Spanish). Since we met in Spain, we’ve always spoken to each other – and still do – only in Spanish. As my husband is fond to say, “el castellano es el idioma oficial de nuestra relación” (Spanish is the official language of our relationship.). For this reason, and because we live in the United States where the majority language is English, we have chosen to both speak to E. in Spanish (the minority language).
What prompted your decision to raise your children bi-/multi-lingually?
We have chosen to raise E. bilingually and bi-culturally because it is a reflection of her mom and dad. Each language is a part of our individual cultures and backgrounds, which we want her to have. Just as our parents and grandparents pass down precious heirlooms, D. and I view our languages and cultures as treasures to pass on to E. Second, the number of Spanish-speakers in the United States is on the rise: by the year 2020, some 43 million people will speak it. So, by the time E. is an adult, knowing both English and Spanish will serve her well when looking for work. Finally, our world is no longer just confined to our neighborhoods, cities, and countries. Our world is global (not to sound redundant!). The majority of people around the world are multilingual, so we want to equip E. with the same skill set so that she can communicate and relate to people beyond her immediate city and country.
What positive growth or results have you witnessed in your children/family because of their multilingualism?
Although E. cannot yet talk, we know that her little baby brain is busy learning sounds, words, and even grammar of both Spanish and English. And, her simultaneous bilingualism is also paving the way for a more flexible cognitive development. How cool is that?! Beyond our immediate family of three, D. and I love how others in my extended monolingual family, for instance, are showing their support for our bilingual family. My mother is studying Spanish and reads from a bilingual Bible each day. When we face time, she will greet E. in Spanish, “¡Hola chica! ¿Qué tal?” Even a few words affirm for our daughter that Spanish is important.
What challenges have you faced or are you facing with language rearing and learning? How do you handle them?
Since I am currently staying at home with E., I am the parent providing her with the most amount of Spanish input each day. Although I am bilingual, Spanish is not my native language, so there are days when my brain is tired. Before E. was born, D. and I both had full-time jobs outside the home (me, teaching English), so I wasn’t speaking nearly as much Spanish as I am now. To combat this mental fatigue (and subsequent frustration) I remain proactive in providing E. with other sources of Spanish input: face time with D. at work or with her relatives in Spain; singing along to music; or, play dates with other Spanish-speaking moms and kids. Besides occasionally feeling mentally tired, there have also been times when I feel worried that E. isn’t receiving the highest quality Spanish input from me since it’s not my native language. The English teacher inside of me knows that early language input is tied to young children’s literacy and academic success. Since I know far more words in English than I do in Spanish, I sometimes wonder if I am providing E. with limited input to her future academic detriment. So, to combat this fear, I’ve upped my game! I’m taking the initiative to receive more Spanish input myself. How can I build E.’s vocabulary if I’m not building my own? So, whether it’s watching an hour of my favorite Spanish telenovela while cooking or reading a few pages from a novel before falling asleep, or listening to a podcast in the car, I’m making an effort to build my own vocabulary. If E.’s learning, then so is mamá!
Can you talk about the cultural aspect of bi-/multilingual parenting as it relates to your family?
Yes! Speaking a language is inextricably linked to “speaking” a culture. Please read this previous post about the title of the blog. I think it paints a funny – but accurate – picture of the cultural component of our Spanish-English bilingual home.
Share a memorable moment you and your family experienced with language learning, something that shed light or taught you a lesson about bi-/multilingual parenting.
Haha! Language learning is all about having fun (don’t take yourself too seriously!). Check out my answer to #5 above.
How do you involve your family, community, school and/or world at large in this bi-/multilingual adventure?
Our community, both near and far, is crucial to the success of this linguistic endeavor called bilingual parenting. So, D. and I regularly rely on other people and resources. For example, we almost daily face time with E.’s aunt and uncle, and we chat with her abuelos in Madrid once a week. I also make concerted efforts to arrange play dates with other Spanish-speaking moms and their children each week (more to come on play dates in a later post!), not only so E. can receive input from other people besides me, but also so I get the chance to practice my español! Finally, the primary impetus behind starting this blog is so that D. and I can connect with and learn from other multilingual families around the world. We can’t do this alone!
What advice or encouragement can you share with other families raising their children bi-/multi-lingually?
I would keep in mind the big picture, but take it one day at a time. The big picture? By raising our children to speak more than one language, we are providing them with invaluable tools that will serve them a lifetime. Bilingualism not only benefits the brain, but it facilitates the learning of a third language; it opens the door to many more job opportunities; and, I believe it helps children grow up to be caring and empathetic humans, able to listen to and learn from points of view different from their own.
Freebie! Anything else come to your mind about the issue of bilingual/multilingual parenting?
I found this blog post particularly relevant to my family’s situation. The author concludes by saying, “The bottom line is that a minority-language parent has a hard job, and one that can not always be accomplished alone. Make sure you find other people to help you on your child’s language journey – it will be easier and more pleasant for all of you!”
Thanks so much for taking the time to read about “nuestra familia.”
Are you a bilingual family raising your children in more than one language? Interested in sharing your story as part of Family Fridays? Please contact me!