My parents have a habit of addressing my son in English, and whenever they do it, I get annoyed. Díselo en Español (tell him in Spanish), I say. I know they’re used to speaking a lot of English with their other (older) grandkids, but when I said I wanted Max to be addressed primarily in Spanish, I meant it.
My “group,” first-generation (blank)-Americans, children born in this country to Hispanic/Latin American exiles or immigrants, suffers from a malady that seriously troubles me: we mainly grew up in households where Spanish prevailed, yet we have turned around and not made much of an effort to teach our own kids the language of our parents and culture. And this is unacceptable to me, for a variety of reasons.
First of all, there’s the historical component. I think it is vital to know your roots, where you came from, from both a familial and larger cultural perspective. And knowing the language of your ancestors is key. It’s not the same to try to understand, or more importantly, feel like you belong to, a culture or country when you can’t even communicate in its mother tongue.
Second, I’m convinced that the more languages you know, the better your chances of thriving in a global economy. There’s no way around it: technology is in fact making this world smaller, and those who are best able to understand more than English (and the American culture) are the ones who will benefit the most. It’s disheartening that in the United States, the norm is not to know more than one language. And I’ll save for another day my rant against the “This is America, we only do English here” mentality that seems to pervade. My point is, from an economic and professional standpoint, the more languages you know (even just proficiently), the more you will be able to contribute to, and benefit from, the world around you.
And hey, what about knowing more than one language just for the sake of it? To, you know, be a well-rounded person and all? I’m having a hard time thinking of a good reason why it would be negative to add to your skills and knowledge and overall marketability and interesting appeal as a human being by doing something like picking up a second language.
So when it comes to my fellow hybrids, I’m both puzzled and disappointed when their kids don’t speak Spanish (and can’t communicate with their own grandparents!), or worse, speak it terribly. Because for me, worse than having a generation of kids who don’t speak Spanish, is one that speaks a butchered, embarrassing, just plain incorrect version of it.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not that die-hard of a linguist. I myself grew up speaking Spanglish – I still do – and believe me, it’s not that pretty to hear. But I reserve it for when I’m among my family and friends; not at work, not in professional events, and not when I was in school giving presentations or addressing my teachers. And I can’t tell you what it does to me to hear common words mispronounced or to have masculine/feminine articles and adjectives jumbled with the word they’re describing (in Spanish, words are either masculine or feminine, and their accompanying articles and/or adjectives reflect the gender). It grates on my ears like fingers scratching a chalkboard.
So what can I do in my own life to counter this problem? I can make sure that my son knows Spanish, and knows it well. I don’t ever speak to him in English, unless a particular word in Spanish is too complicated for his year-and-a-half self and the English one is simpler (“night-night” as opposed to “vamos a dormir” ); I’ve asked my family to make an effort to talk to him in Spanish, which can be hit or miss since we’re all used to slipping into English at some point in the conversation; and I’m lucky, because he’s in a home daycare with an older Cuban lady whose English is not as strong as her Spanish, so she address all the kids in Spanish. At the same time, he gets his English from his father and that side of the family, although even my husband talks to him in Spanish every now and then, especially with key terms like lechita (milk), papa (food), and vamos (let’s go).
In a few short years, my son will start school, and his life will shift to English. It happened to me, my sisters, cousins, and friends; my nieces, nephew and relatives’ kids; it’s a part of being bilingual and bicultural. My goal is to give him a foundation in Spanish that’s solid enough to make him completely (correctly!) fluent, and that will weather the phase where he will reject it because all his friends speak English.
From there, I can only hope that he’ll one day feel his bilingualism is a gift, and that he’ll be all the better off for being able to communicate en Español.
[tags]kids, parents, parenting, bilingual, bicultural, language, spanish, english, teaching, home[/tags]
Photo graciously provided by Antonio MartÃnez, under a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved