Mami, My Way: My Failure in Raising Bilingual Children

Mami, My Way: My Failure in Raising Bilingual Children

I grew up in a small, predominantly Latino town in New Jersey. In my ‘hood, all the bodegas, or any store for that matter, were most likely owned or employed by a Spanish-speaking immigrant, so getting around was always easier when you spoke Spanish. Being surrounded by so much Latino culture and language, and a mom that didn’t speak English, made it super easy for me to learn and be fluent in Spanish. But, as a mom, teaching my children Spanish hasn't been as smooth.

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As a proud bilingual Latina, it has always been important to me that my kids learn Spanish. When Sienna, my daughter, was born, I was on the right path, speaking only Spanish to her. I thought to myself, why wouldn't a parent teach their child another language if it can easily be done, especially after learning the benefits for a bilingual child. As Sienna got older and I had Roman, my son, I saw a pattern of my "talking and teaching Spanish." I noticed that, as infants, I can talk to them in Spanish all day because I am talking TO them, but the older they get, the less Spanish I spoke to them because, now, we are having detailed conversations, negotiations and explanations, and I want to make sure they grasp all the information. When Sienna asks me what are stars, I want to be able to give her as much knowledge as possible. I feel that if I explained it in Spanish she would only be learning how to say the word "star" in Spanish versus learning what a star really is. 

I don't know if my thought process it right or wrong, but what I do know is that it has left me in a place where my kids are very articulate as English speakers, but don't know as much Spanish as I'd like for them to know. At ages three and four, they know words like, “leche,” “vamonos” and “besitos,” among others, and understand some commands that I've always said since they were young, such as, "te vas a caer" or “no te comas las uñas.”

Still, they can't express themselves in Spanish. 

I'm not going to lie: a small part of me feels like a failure, like I let them down by not giving them this skill that can benefit them. I've always said that teaching Spanish to children when, like me, you think in English is truly a conscious effort, and I was sure I would make it happen. But I was wrong.

However, I am optimistic (and maybe in denial), so I still have hope that Sienna and Roman will be bilingual. I try by doing little things, such as putting them in a Spanish immersion summer camp programs, reading in Spanish, traveling to Spanish-speaking countries, having them around my mom, who only speaks Spanish, placing them in a grammar school that has a strong Spanish language program and other small conscious efforts I make of speaking it to them at this point.

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My realistic hope that they at least have a foundation of the Spanish language, so when they are older they can catch up to being fluent. It wasn't my ideal plan, but, as a parent, I've learned many things won't go as planned, so we just gotta roll with it and do our best.