We moved into a new house last May. I was so excited since I knew that there were a lot of children in the neighborhood. There were boys the same ages as my sons living on either side of us. I envisioned my children having many fun afternoons playing with the other children in the community. Unfortunately, my visions of our new life in the neighborhood never came about.
Things started out well. The day that the moving truck officially brought all of our furniture into the house, our next-door neighbors brought us freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Initially, everyone was so friendly, and there were days when the kids played together. Unfortunately, as time went on, I noticed that the new neighbors were not quite as sociable as they once had been. Initially, I just assumed that it was because everyone was busy, but then I started to think that perhaps there was a bit more to the change in their demeanor.
My husband and I are very consistent, perhaps even a bit obsessive compulsive in our following of the OPOL strategy. I have never spoken to my sons in English and neither has my husband. Even when others who do not speak Spanish are around, I still continue to use the minority language with my kids. One day I noticed that when my sons and I would use Spanish, the facial expressions and body language of my neighbors changed. It dawned on me that perhaps they weren’t so friendly with our family anymore because of the different languages. Language was alienating us from our new friends.
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Susan O. Stephan is a credentialed Spanish Teacher in the state of California who earned her Master’s degree in Educational Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania. She has taught in Spain, Japan and the United States. She teaches Spanish at a 7-12 public school in southern California, she also uses her teaching skills with her sons and in her Spanish speaking play groups.