Written by Michelle
(á, é, í, ó, ú, ü, ñ, ¿, ¡)
When I lived in Puerto Rico, I was enrolled in a bilingual school. My mother still shares with me how much I disliked my first days there: how I cried at the thought of setting foot into an English-only classroom, and how I hated the mere thought of having to speak another language. Nevertheless, English, my second language, introduced me to a country, a culture, a husband, my family. My everything. Everything I value most.
I entered a classroom at the age of seven where English was spoken 100% of the time. It was sink or swim, a hard concept to understand and perhaps not the most “sound” option for all parents.
My friends and I all spoke Spanish as our first language. My textbooks, tests, assessments and reports on the other hand, were ALL in English. We were asked, graded, and assessed in our communication of our second language. Unless, of course, we were in Spanish class.
Although not the most positive experience at first, by the end of my first grade I had begun “swimming” in the seas of a second language. My classroom felt like home and speaking another language during classes was my norm. I have never known any different.
I really wish my children would be experiencing the same.
When my husband and I dated, we talked of our future. We envisioned little ones running around speaking two languages, switching on and off like it was second nature. Sadly, this is not my reality, and I’m mostly at fault.
With the birth of every child, I grew excited at the thought of reading, speaking, listening to all things Spanish-related. I dreamed of creative Spanish lessons, days filled with speaking to my children as they grew anxious to know, learn and speak more of my native tongue. But just like New Year’s resolutions dwindle, every year the goal of teaching them a foreign language becomes harder. Weaving these lessons into our daily routine is just not as simple as I thought.
I DO speak to my children in Spanish, yet it’s sporadic and inconsistent. The lessons, quite erratic. Most of the time, when my kids hear Spanish, I’m reprimanding them (true Latina mother at her best) or we’re visiting our family in Puerto Rico. Both are infrequent.
When people ask me if my kids are fluent, I have to answer no. I’m not sure if it hurts more to answer that question as a Spanish teacher or as a Spanish-speaking mother.
In the eyes of Spanish or second language speaking parents perhaps I have failed the “language portion” of parenting. Yet, I really don’t feel as if I have. The short, erratic outbursts of my kids’ Spanish fill our hearts with joy and our homes with laughter.
How could you go wrong when your daily Spanish vocabulary consists of:
no se toca… Don’t touch that
un momento…one moment
Siéntate, ahora! …Sit down, now!
Más besos, por favor…More kisses please
Dame un abrazo…Give me a hug
Dame un besito…Give me a small kiss
Buenas Noches,Te quiero mucho…I love you (a lot)
Tu eres mi ángel…you are my angel
What our kids know thus far seems to be the most endearing terms. At least, to us.
The way they say phrases in Spanish when we least expect them, but when we most need to hear them, fills our heart with love and hope. We chuckle when they smile and nod in clueless unison. We smile from ear to ear when they can truly understand their cousins, aunts and grandparents when we visit them in Puerto Rico.
They might not be fluent, but they are definitely not sinking.
They might not get everything, but we like to think they get what matters the most.