As a child of immigrants, I learned another language before learning English. In fact, I remember starting Kindergarten in the United States without knowing any English. But now, as a young adult, my first language is English.
We hear time and time again how important it is to know both languages, Spanish and English, and how helpful it will be in the future. We also hear how important it is for our children to know both languages. But let me tell you, this is hard.
According to datacenter.kidscount.org, the number of bilingual children in the United States continues to rise. In 2016, 22% of children in the US, or about 12 million children, spoke another language besides English at home. This rate has risen by about 2% or 1.2 million additional kids in the last decade. So it’s easy to see how knowing both languages will be an asset for the future.
Datecenter.kidscount.org also mentions that speaking two or more languages increases the child’s ability to concentrate, focus, and solve problems. At the same time, it’s also associated with better mental flexibility, more reliable connections to place and family, increased cultural competence, and access to higher-paying jobs.
When my daughter was younger, it was easier for me to only speak Spanish to her. I was living with my parents; everyone spoke in Spanish, and also I was showing her the basics, for example, water, milk, cup, numbers, colors, etc. Now that she goes to school and has learned English, when it comes to explaining something in detail, like why certain things happen, it’s easier for me to explain in English because that is the language I feel more confident speaking. I can defend and express myself easier in English because that is my dominant language now.
My daughter would spend afternoons after school at my grandma’s house, and she would only speak Spanish there, but now that we are both at home, we only speak English. And I’ve tried to only speak Spanish to her, but I automatically switch to English and end up speaking Spanglish to her.
Before I had my daughter, I would be puzzled when I would meet people of Hispanic-decent who couldn’t speak Spanish. Like, “what do you mean you don’t speak Spanish?” They mostly said they could understand it but not speak it, and now I get it. I feel like I’m going down the same road with my daughter.
It was easy for our parents to only speak to us in Spanish because that was their dominant language, but for us, growing up in the United States, going to school here, and learning, writing, listening to English music, etc. English becomes your first language.
I don’t want my daughter to lose her Spanish, and she gets frustrated when she is trying to speak to her grandparents in Spanish and can’t think of the words to express herself. The same thing happens to me when I’m speaking Spanish, I tend to stop a lot and try to think of words, or I know the name but don’t know how to pronounce them in Spanish.
It is easy to lose our heritage, language, and traditions with generations to come, especially since we aren’t in our own country. But it is up to us to keep it going.
Any other bilingual parents struggling with this? Let me know in the comments.
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