Everyone is raising their children to be bilingual these days. There are well studied benefits, and of course, it has the added benefit of being super trendy. I’m trying to raise Adi to be bilingual, but I’m coming across some roadblocks which are making things a bit more difficult.
As I’ve written before, I’m less than bilingual. I would like for Adi to master another language besides English, but as I’m finding out, raising a bilingual child is a lot harder when the parents aren’t. My husband is even less “less than bilingual” than I am, so while I’m getting cooperation from him, I’m not getting any language skills.
The extent of my daughter’s Spanish is whatever she picks up from my interactions with people in my predominantly Dominican neighborhood. Simple exchanges mostly, never full-blown conversations. I suspect that unless I put her in a Spanish immersion program of some sort, her Spanish skill level will plateau right around where mine is.
My father never spoke to me in Spanish, even though it was his first language, because he wanted me to learn English, and avoid the problems he faced from not speaking it. Back in the day, that was the logic. Learn English first or else. Now that everyone knows better, how can I get my daughter to speak a language I’m not fluent in?
Adi is going to Hebrew school (like my husband and I did), so that’s a given — I’m not worried about her skills there.
You know what would be great? A Hebrew school in Spanish.
So what’s the game plan? All this talk of bilingual children means nothing unless actions back up the words.
I started exposing Adi to media that featured other languages. Mainly Spanish, Hebrew, and Mandarin. Why Mandarin? It’s what all the trendy kids are learning these days, and it’ll come in handy when the Chinese foreclose on America. For whatever reason, Adi started picking up Mandarin. Something about the language made it stick in her brain. It started out fantastic, she would bust out Mandarin words and phrases and impress the heck out of everyone… but now she knows more Mandarin than I do (which isn’t much) and I can’t understand a word she says anymore.
But what about Spanish? The language of her ancestors? What’s the plan there? First, it’s convincing my dad to talk more in Spanish. I’ve also started identifying objects around the house in Spanish and started asking Adi basic questions in Spanish. This also has the added benefit of improving my Spanish.
I’m also buying a house in Puerto Rico. I’ve always wanted a vacation home there (homeschooling means I’m not tied to any school vacation schedule), and I’m hoping that spending time with her Puerto Rican cousins in a Spanish-only environment will push her over the line of fluency. Also, bilingualism is a fantastic way to justify a house purchase to one’s husband.
I’m determined to have a child that can speak more than one language. I just have to be a bit creative to get there.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.