¡Feliz viernes, amig@s! To wrap up the month of February, I’m delighted to introduce you to Keila, who blogs at Mommy in Milwaukee. She and her husband are raising their two adorable boys in Spanish and English. Today she shares with us how bilingualism is a way to preserve her Latina heritage. Be encouraged, friends.
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?).
At home we have a strict rule to only speak the minority language (Spanish) with our sons. We also only speak Spanish to each other when the boys can hear us. Although we sometimes let it slip and speak English. My husband is not a native Spanish speaker but he learned the language in high school and college. He is also in the process of learning the language better but is almost fluent in it also. We also teach the boys English sign language which we use in combination with Spanish words. It might sound a bit confusing but so far it’s worked well especially for our English-speaking family members to understand certain words that Gabriel expresses in Spanish while using sign.
What prompted your decision to raise your children bilingually?
I grew up speaking both Spanish and English. My parents are both native Spanish speakers and they spoke to me only in Spanish. I then learned English by speaking it with my siblings. I knew from an early age that I wanted to share my Spanish speaking skills to my own children someday because of the immense benefits and my love for the language. I felt that it would be a great disservice if I didn’t take the extra effort to share something so valuable to them. And more importantly it has been a central part of my Latin American experience.
What positive growth or results have you witnessed in your children/family because of their multilingualism?
I think that we have forced ourselves to communicate better as a family. There are times when we don’t quite remember certain words or even phrases in Spanish and I have to challenge myself to research and relearn the words. I also find that Gabriel is able to express himself very well in Spanish. He has a very large vocabulary for a 22 monther and is now speaking Enlgish words and phrases as well. He is challenged to think in both languages and that is such an enriching experience! I am very proud of how far we have come.
We’ve faced quite a few challenges. Some expected and others very unexpected! I never thought that some of my own family members would be doubtful or against our decision to raise our children bilingual. But it was the case in the beginning. I think it was because the idea can be very out of the box for some families. It also seems like a very difficult and daunting task. It can be at times especially when we as parents are the only ones exposing them to the minority language. In that aspect we carry a lot of responsibility to ensure we speak it well and often. However, if you stick to it the results are so worth the time and energy spent!
Can you talk about the cultural aspect of bilingual parenting as it relates to your family?
I believe there is a huge cultural component to sharing the language with our sons. As a Latina in the U.S. it can be very easy to stop speaking Spanish because it’s the minority language. Additionally, because I am a second generation Latina born in the U.S. A lot of Spanish acquisition is lost within one generation. I am very thankful that it wasn’t the case with my family. I know of many Latinos born in the U.S. that do not speak the language because their parents (for fear of not assimilating) did not teach them Spanish in the home. We want to teach our children Spanish not only because it’s a part of my Latina heritage but because in that way I also preserve our cultural heritage.
Share a memorable moment you and your family experienced with language learning, something that shed light or taught you a lesson about bilingual parenting.
This is a great question because I feel that I experience memorable moments daily. Whether it’s Gabriel asking me how to describe something in Spanish or challenging myself to read more adult books in Spanish also. That is perhaps my biggest “Aha” moment that by reading I am able to speak and express myself better. And you’d think that would be an obvious concept! But it took me some time.
How do you involve your family, community, school and/or world at large in this bilingual adventure?
I would say via our blog and Instagram posts!
What advice or encouragement can you share with other families raising their children bi-/multi-lingually?
Stick to it! I know that some days can be difficult and at times you may not find the right words but it will be worth it. Your children will thank you for it and you will know that you were able to share a skill that is invaluable for them to hold for the rest of their lives. It’s a huge deal!
Freebie! Anything else come to your mind about the issue of bilingual/multilingual parenting?
Not really J but thanks so much for having me! ¡Abrazos!
¡Muchísimas gracias, Keila, por compartir con nosotros tu aventura con la educación bilingüe! Are you a multilingual family interested in sharing your journey in language learning? I’d love to hear from you! You can contact me here.