It’s Friday, friends, and that means we’re back with another edition of Family Fridays here on the blog. If this is your first time to the blog (welcome!), Family Fridays is a weekly series that highlights multilingual families from around the globe. You can meet them by clicking on the category section entitled Families on the homepage.
To kick off the month of March, I want to introduce you to my newfound blogger and Instagram amiga, Jen Casado. You can catch her blog Sra. Casado Teaches Bilinguals here. Like me, Jen is married to a Spaniard and is raising her children in both English and Spanish.
Be encouraged, friends. And, happy weekend!
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?).
Our family uses an “adjusted” One Parent One Language method (OPOL): My husband speaks to the kids exclusively in Spanish, and I speak to them primarily in English. I am the one who helps with homework and school activities, so it makes sense to speak in English. However, we often use Spanish as a “secret language” or when I don’t want to nag them in front of their friends. We default to 100% Spanish whenever we can—at the very least for a month every summer in Spain.
What prompted your decision to raise your children bilingually?
I have always had a love of travel—just to soak up foreign language and culture! I moved to Spain when I was in my 20s and met my husband while working in Madrid. We moved back to the US together and have since built a life here.
Choosing to raise our children to be bilingual was an easy decision to make. I was working as the director of a Spanish Academy when I got pregnant. It was a natural step for us to begin creating a curriculum to be used in an immersion setting. Just like so many other “expat” families, we are very close with our Spanish friends and family who do not speak English. We would also like for our children to feel at home in Spain and be able to travel, study, or live there when they are older.
What positive growth or results have you witnessed in your children/family because of their multilingualism
Charlemagne once said, “To have a second language is to possess a second soul.” I believe that by giving my children a second language (and culture), we have opened a door to another life for them. I believe that one of the reasons that our children are so open and accepting is due to the fact that they have been exposed to different ways of life!
Encouraging our children to speak Spanish has also been a blessing to our extended family. Our boys adore their many surrogate “abuelos y abuelas” – my in-laws’’ friends who do not yet have grandchildren of their own.
What challenges have you faced or are you facing with language rearing and learning? How do you handle them?
Now that our boys are 6 and 7, they are beginning to have friends that we don’t meet and hobbies that we don’t understand (Pokemon anyone?). Minority language development can be a challenge because when they are surrounded by English at school all week long, they are often not in the mood to talk to us in Spanish. Or read a story in Spanish. Or write a note to their abuelos in Spanish.
We try to understand their frustration, but in order for them to develop their minority language at a similar rate to English, we need to work hard to find that balance at home. My husband continues to speak to them 100% in Spanish. We facetime with the abuelos every Sunday. Both children attend a Spanish program for 4 hours every Saturday (www.ceny.es) where Spanish-speaking expats learn to read and write as well as play soccer, dance flamenco, sing traditional songs, and put on plays. My 7 year old started a Wednesday Spanish school called ALCE (sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Education). We travel to Spain every summer for about a month at a time where the children have friends and family to immerse them in the culture and language.
Can you talk about the cultural aspect of bilingual parenting as it relates to your family?
I lived in Madrid for nearly 3 years. It was then that I realized that learning a language was only part of the puzzle. You can never truly fit in and be a part of another country without understanding and experiencing its culture.
Because of this, we try to incorporate Spanish culture as much as we can in our household. We celebrate holidays such as Reyes and Semana Santa, we watch Spanish cartoons that my husband grew up with (or our friends’ kids watch today), we teach rhymes and sing songs, we obsess over soccer, and we eat Spanish food! When we go to Spain, we try to stay for the Fiestas del Pueblo. We are also so lucky to live in a place like New York City that has so much Spanish influence: we visit museums, restaurants, and talk to Spanish tourists that we run into from time to time.
Share a memorable moment you and your family experienced with language learning, something that shed light or taught you a lesson about bilingual parenting.
I always think back to when my son was about 3 years old and we went to a local playground. We didn’t know anyone there that day, but this doesn’t matter when you are 3.
My son was playing with a little girl on the slide and chatting in English. A few minutes later, I saw him approach a little boy and his nanny who were speaking in Spanish. My son switched back and forth between Spanish and English…he was able to play with the two children at the same time, without skipping a beat. That’s what it’s all about!
How do you involve your family, community, school and/or world at large in this bilingual adventure?
I am very involved in the public school that my children attend. I visit classrooms to teach the kids Spanish songs, we bring in tortilla española for the students to taste, and I speak endlessly to parents about language opportunities here in the city.
I am also very involved in the Spanish activities in which my children participate. These organizations present a great opportunity for families to get together and talk about struggles and successes, offer advice, etc.
My family and background gives me a unique perspective as a Spanish teacher. I encourage my students to learn more than just the language—they must try to understand the culture. I am constantly encouraging them to learn more about local customs, traditions, and current events of the people whose language they are studying.
What advice or encouragement can you share with other families raising their children bi-/multi-lingually?
Don’t give up! It can be difficult; it can be exhausting… but isn’t anything worthwhile difficult and exhausting sometimes? You will nag, lecture, and cajole endlessly only to have your children say that they “H-word” Spanish.
But then…when you least expect it….
They will make a friend who just moved to the area and does not speak much English. They will understand. They will help.
They will make a joke in the minority language. And it will be funny!
You will see the connection that they make with your family who does not speak English…and how comfortable they are making friends in your home country…
…and you will know that you made the right decision.
Freebie! Anything else come to your mind about the issue of bilingual/multilingual parenting?
Besides “Don’t give up!” I think the most important lesson is that if something is not working for your family, change it!
When my first-born was about 6 months old, we made a plan to speak Spanish inside our home and English outside. It was great. However, the turning point was when my eldest had to take Kindergarten admissions test. A sample questions was, “What are windows used for?”. He looked at me and asked, “Mamá, what is a ‘window’?” I asked him the same question in Spanish and he replied (in Spanish), “…to let the sun in, but keep the wind out. So we can see outside…”
At that point, we saw that the “Minority Language at Home” strategy was no longer working for us. We changed to OPOL and we’ve been happy with the results. That said, I would not be surprised if, in another few years, we make another major change. And that is just fine with me.
Thank you so much, Jen, for sharing your family’s journey through bilingual parenting with us. If you’re also raising your children bilingually and are interested in sharing your family’s story here on the blog, please contact me.