Reflection: "Spanish As A First Language" Latino USA Episode
My husband and I identify as Chicanos. We were born and raised in California and still live here today where we chose to raise our children. We are both bilingual and had a similar upbringing when it came to language development and expectations in our childhood homes. Till this day we continue to speak to our parents and grandparents in Spanish, and sometimes throw-in some English here and there.
It is a common worry for parents who live in the US that their children will not have the perfect [Spanish] or whatever heritage language they practice. Will their pronunciation be good enough? Will they be able to communicate with their extended family? Will they be made fun of when they try speaking their heritage language in their heritage country? When we planned to start having kids we didn't really speak much about their language upbringing because we were both on the same page - they will be bilingual! We chose to speak to them 100% in Spanish. In regards to those questions - Our children can be understood perfectly by Spanish speakers here in the US and in Mexico. They can communicate perfectly with everyone in our family, and I loved getting compliments from strangers in Mexico who were surprised to hear our kids speak such perfect Spanish despite being raised in the US (second generation). Our children are exposed to English through external programing via music class, gym class, story-time, and playdates. So far, so good - this is what currently works for us and the best part is we are all enjoying the experiences thus far.
I'm an avid listener of podcasts and recently listened to an episode of Latino USA which sparked a conversation and reflection between my husband and I. The episode is titled "Spanish As A First Language." Click Below to Listen
In this episode they talk about the choice of raising bilingual children and how all the efforts can result in vastly different outcomes within one household. How does that happen?
This got me thinking of how my sister and I have had different experiences with language. We are ten years apart and perhaps this may have been a big indicator as to why our language trajectory has been so different. She understands and can speak Spanish, though her fluency in spoken Spanish is nowhere near her English speaking. I feel that her Spanish has gotten better in recent years and noticed her make an effort to start speaking to our dad in Spanish and speaking more Spanish with our grandmother too. Of course when my sister comes to visit she also speak Spanish with my kids. For our family, perhaps the large age gap played a role in the differences. Of course my parents were also much more lenient with the use of Spanish in the house - the rule "Se habla Español en casa" was rarely enforced by the time she was speaking.
Another factor is schooling. The episode talks about this among other indicators too. I attended all-English schools K-12. In fact, my mother would refuse to fill out paperwork saying that I spoke Spanish at home in fear that I would be labeled as an English Language Learner (ELL). She did this because of personal experience as a newcomer in high school and feeling she was misplaced as an overall academic learner, not just language learner. Like I shared above, the expectation was that we speak Spanish inside the home and English everywhere else. I didn't have any academic "red flags" and therefore teachers never pinned any academic difficulties I had on language - something that, sadly, is extremely common to this day. As an educator, I found that I had to make sure my students weren't ever labeled or tested for specific language or learning disabilities specifically when they were early stage ELLs. Some teachers and school personnel are not well versed when working with ELLs or bilingual children and can easily give parents misinformed suggestions, such as only speaking to them in the majority language. This type of advice may be difficult to contradict for many minority families in the US.
"There is no real evidence to having an increased risk of having language difficulties just because your hearing and using two languages. We know that hearing and using two languages offer social and cognitive advantages."
Professor in Communication Sciences & Disorders
University of Texas Austin
They briefly bring up how parents choose to name their children. This brought a smile to our faces. As most parents have experienced, as soon as you share the names you are considering to name your children you are opening the door to all kinds of comments, opinions, and advice. Something that as new parents, we didn't want to hear. We learned our lesson and chose to keep our children's name a secret from family and friends and instead gave our babies nicknames while we waited for their arrival. Weirdly both our kids were nicknamed based on my pregnancy cravings. Our daughter's nickname was Tajin - I craved spicy and put Tajin on everything! (sometimes knowing I would deal with heartburn later) Our son's nickname was Mazapan - I craved everything and anything sweet with him. We ended up naming our daughter Luna de Aztlán and our son Teocalli. Both with the intention of using their name as portals for teaching about our ancestors and our traditions. Luna (obviously Spanish for moon) and Aztlán to represent our roots, the homeland of the Mexica people or Aztec Empire north of Tenochtitlan, present day Mexico City - in other words were we live today. Teocalli is in Nahuatl, the native language of the Mexica, and means Teo: God; Calli:House or Church. We figured if we use their names as indicators of culture and our history, our children would need to learn about it too.
At this time our children are young, however we know that our work isn't over and may never be over as far as "raising them bilingual." We plan to enroll them in dual immersion schools once they are of school age, we hope they choose to study and practice their Spanish far beyond those years and perhaps hope to influence their interest when it comes to learning about our cultural history both in Mexico and in the US.
Overall, I'll leave you with the following quote:
"People think that bilingualism will just happen, really it takes an ongoing effort to value and keep using your Spanish day after day."
More Articles on Latino USA website:
Why the Spanish Language Isn't 'Foreign' in the United States
Among many many more interesting articles and podcast episodes!