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Un espacio para la reflexión sobre la crianza de niños bilingües.

Monday, October 4, 2010

If you are Latino you speak Spanish, right? Wrong!

I want to have a garden. Every winter I fantasize in all the carrots, beans, and eggplants I will tend during spring and summer. Truth is I barely manage to get some decent tomatoes in a big pot. I know why my returns are so paltry: I don't plan in advance preparing the soil, getting the seeds, watering as needed. Fortunately, I did plan my kids path to bilingualism so in that respect I was able to get a good harvest.

Ana Lomba, Spanish teacher, advocate, and instruction material creator, wrote a list of obstacles Native speakers parents meet when trying to pass their language along to their children. According to the article, every parent and even parents with an Ivy-league degree make the following mistakes:

1. Lack of planning.

2. False assumptions.

3. Unrealistic expectations.

You can read the article here.

In the article, Ana explains how to avoid those mistakes. I would like to add my piece of advice.

How to achieve success.

I define success as having children who are able to communicate fluently in Spanish, with different degrees of proficiency in their four abilities: talking, listening, writing and reading. In my experience as a bilingual parent and a Spanish teacher, the most successful parents are the parents who speak in the language to their children. Excuse me, I made a mistake, a BIG mistake, let me rephrase the previous sentence: Success come to the parents who speak WITH their children in their native language. What I mean is that being able to have a meaningful interaction is key. And here we get into a delicate path. We are entering in the parenting-in-general realm, not just passing-along-a-language zone. I have seen many parents who talk in Spanish to their kids but do not engage them into a conversation. They just tell them to do something, ask them questions, give them orders in Spanish, or try to teach them colors, numbers, body parts with no context al all. It looks like their kids is a tabula rasa, an empty vessel in which we pour our wisdom. It is a one way conversation, if at all, because there is no communication. This is a parenting style that is not conducive to learning a language. What helps the kids to learn a language is to be engaged in an activity, in a game, when there is dialogue (and you can have a dialogue even if the baby doesn't talk back.) Real communication entails at least two people actively listening and talking with each other.

Now, if these families were living in a Spanish speaking country, the environment would take care of the kids learning to communicate in Spanish: family, friends, school, the media, all that surrounds the child is in Spanish, the language stimuli come from many sources, the need to communicate permeates their world. The Spanish speaking families living in an English environment will have to double their efforts to get their kids to be fluent in Spanish. So, when Ana Lomba talks about planning, sometimes this planning has to do with changing parental habits.

This is why I created the Bilingual Mamis y Papis Meet Up a year ago. It is important that parents realize that they have to make an extra effort in getting their kids to speak Spanish. The group provides them with a place to voice their concerns, to practice their Spanish, to share what they are doing to maintain the language at home and to receive information about what others have done and worked.

Families need to know that they are not alone in their path to bilingualism.


  1. Good point - it has to be more natural and enjoy the sounds of a spanish conversatiom and understand how it's not just words that make a language. When's the next meetup?

  2. ¡Hola, Mummy D! Too bad we are not close to speak español with you!
    Exactly, a language it is not just words. It is the sum of utterances, entonations, tones of voice, and many extralinguistic components.