Ever since Enzo was born, I speak to him in Spanish. My decision was carefully thought out; I prepared for it all during my pregnancy. I say that I “prepared” for it because, like many second-generation immigrants, my everyday language is English. After a few years in France – where I mainly spoke English and French – I would find myself calling home and forgetting vocabulary when I spoke to my parents on the phone (in Spanish.)
I honestly didn’t know how I was going to manage speaking to my child in Spanish 24/7, but I was committed. Luckily for me, my husband was also committed to transmitting our language heritage to our son. So, we agreed we’d speak to our child in Spanish and French at home. I started doing research online about raising multilingual children. I started watching TV in Spanish (yes, a telenovela, every night!) When Enzo was born, I remember feeling awkward speaking in Spanish, but my mom was with me every day during maternity leave, which certainly helped, as my brain automatically switches to Spanish around my parents.
Recently, the Pew Research Center recently asked “What is the Future of Spanish in the United States?” They say that today 75 percent of Hispanics 5 and older speak Spanish, but that number is projected to fall to about two-thirds in 2020. If Spanish follows the same trajectory as other immigrant languages (German and Italian, for example) that figure might drop to 25 percent.
Should this be a cause of concern? I say yes, and we should avoid this from happening.
Some people say “Why bother learning or teaching my kids Spanish? We live in the USA, not in Latin America.” Of course, yes, we live in the US, but teaching young children Spanish has many advantages, and these go far beyond maintaining cultural ties.
First, unlike German and Italian, Spanish is not only spoken in one country; over 400 million people speak Spanish around the world. It is one of the official languages of the United Nations. Derived from Latin, it is a romance language that shares similarities with French, Portuguese, Romanian and Italian.
Second, as Latin American countries continue to develop their economies, more opportunities will be available for Spanish-speaking individuals in the future. As the Hispanic population continues to grow in the United States, more opportunities will also be available for those who speak Spanish.
Moreover, when it comes to learning a language, the earlier you start, the better. It’s not about replacing English with Spanish, and it’s not about hurting English language skills. Children’s brains are capable of learning both. We live in a world that is English dominant, so a child will pick up English. Enzo looks at me, and the Spanish light bulb comes off. He looks at Papa, and he answers in French. Recently, he started learning English at day care.
English-speaking parents look for nannies that speak Spanish (or other languages) hoping their monolingual kids will learn another language. They also enroll their kids in classes at an early age. If we are able to teach our kids to speak Spanish from birth, why shouldn’t we?
Thankfully, times are changing, and bilingualism is gaining popularity. Sure, there are “English-only” advocates, but speaking another language is no longer the “taboo” it was many years ago.
Today, many resources are available; websites like Spanglish Baby and Mommy Maestra that help address concerns you may have. In addition, many children’s programs are offered in Spanish, thanks to the SAP button. I’ve recently discovered all of Enzo’s Disney favorites en español. I’m hoping other channels will follow soon.
The decision to raise bilingual children is a personal one, and I’m not going to lie, it is work. There will be days when your child answers you back in English—at 2.5, Enzo has already started doing that!
There will be a day when your child acts annoyed and says “en Inglés.” (I know I did).
But there will be a day, when your child is thankful that you insisted on speaking Spanish, and you will be happy you did… and you might even forget about how “uncool” or annoying your kids said you were.
Raising bilingual children requires commitment and dedication. But it comes with many rewards. One day your child will look at you and say “Te AMO mama,” and that will give “I love you” a run for its money.
Diana Limongi-Gabriele works hard juggling a full-time job, motherhood, family, grad school and her blog, LadydeeLG, where she writes about issues she is passionate about including teaching her son Spanish, motherhood, parenting, Latino issues, good quality food and women’s issues. Diana is a regular contributor forMamiverse. She has a MA in Migration Studies, and is pursuing an MPA in Nonprofit Management. Her most important job however, is being mommy to Enzo, a French/Hispanic/American (one day trilingual) 2-year-old boy. You can connect with her via Twitter, @dianalimongi or onFacebook.