Yo Hablo Espanol. But My Kids Prefer English
It’s very hot. There are beaches and beautiful mountains called the Andes,” I told her “And they only speak Spanish.”
For a mom who vowed her children would be fluent in Spanish, hearing that was like a blow to the gut.
Spanish is what I spoke with my parents and grandmother, who lived with us. It was the main language at weekly family gatherings, and it was how I communicated with my aunt and four cousins in Venezuela during their yearly visits.
Growing up in West New York, the little Havana of the 1970s and 1980s, most of my friends were second-generation Cubans who spoke it, too.
Now, at age 5, my daughter refuses to speak Spanish. And my 3-year-old son is following her lead. They — gasp — are ashamed to speak it. Que horror!
Oh sure, when I speak Spanish, they understand. But they answer me in English. They can count in Spanish cub scout tee shirts and know their colors. If I point to an object or animal, chances are they can name it.
Yes, I am well aware of the advantages of bilingualism in this day of global markets, as my mother reminds me every other week.
I realize that as Spanish becomes more prevalent in the U.S., they’ll have one up in tomorrow’s workplace if they can say more than “azul.” (For an opposing view, check here).
Before I had kids, I would look disdainfully at bilingual parents whose kids couldn’t utter a syllable in Spanish.
I spoke to my daughter exclusively in Spanish for the first two years of her life. But while I worked three full days a week, Natalie was speaking English with her babysitter.
Between cartoons and videos, and later, daycare, Spanish receded into the background. It got to the point where I was lamely reading bilingual bedtime stories and having to interpret every fourth word for my frustrated child.
Yet, I persisted. I played Spanish DVDS for Natalie, but quit after she complained that she couldn’t understand the story.
I know that the best time to learn a language is in the very early years. And I feel valuable time is slipping away. (For more on raising a bilingual child, look here ).
But I also understand how Natalie feels. Even for me, English comes more naturally than my parents’ native tongue. It’s too much trouble having to translate every simple conversation while trying to prepare dinner, bathe kids, change diapers and everything else.
Even their immigrant grandmothers have given up, speaking to them mainly in heavily-accented English. It’s sad to watch the dismantling of my family’s heritage.
If my kids are lucky enough to some day visit Cuba, a lifelong dream of mine, I fear they won’t understand a word. And they’ll blame me.
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