Juan of Words

Raising a Bilingual Kid: Easy, Breezy – Fact or Fiction?

My parents never pressured us to be bilingual.  We had to be… because our worlds took place in English and Spanish.  At home mamá y papá would not understand us if we used our English.  In school, even though most us kids spoke Spanish, we just preferred el inglés to communicate with one another, and we had to use it any way for all of our class work.  I think, we literally did not have a choice but to become bilingual.  But now kids like Edgar don’t have to be bilingual.  They don’t have to communicate with their parents in Spanish.

raising a bilingual kid juanofwords
El pleito of making your kids bilingual!

We understand them completely in English… in some cases even better than if they were to speak to us in Spanish.  So how do we ensure that this next generation comes up understanding the importance of being bilingual as well?  For one thing, it’s probably a good idea to dispel some myths and rumors about raising bilingual kids:

  1. If you know both languages well, your children will pick them up pretty easily as well.  Hold on, let me stop rolling my eyes first.  Nope!  You know, you never realize your kids have personalities of their own until they say something like “why do I have to speak to you all in Spanish if we all speak and understand English?”  After that, it’s perfectly okay to say something like “inche huerco” under your breath.  I give you permission.
  2. Make your children speak Spanish to you and they will become bilingual!  This is a continuation of the above.  Again, if they know – and more importantly if you know – that what your kid is arguing is true, you just kind of start relaxing on the enforcement.  We don’t want to.  It just happens.  Besides, how much did you pay attention to the things your parents forced you to do?
  3. Make them speak to each other in Spanish!  Yeah… this approach will probably only work in front of you.  When you’re not around they’ll speak to each other in whatever language they want to.  I’m definitely speaking to you from experience on this one.  When our parents weren’t around we didn’t have any reason to speak to each other in Spanish.  Even today, it’s always a little awkward to speak to my siblings in full Spanish.  Spanglish feels a lot more comfortable for some reason.  I guess there’s an intimacy in talking to each other in English.  As weird as this might sound, Spanish feels much more formal between us – like we didn’t grow up together for all of those years or something.
  4. Insist!  Insist!  Insist!  Go a little book crazy!  Okay… so if they don’t make books that are 100 percent on the money on how to be a good parent, they probably won’t make any that will guarantee your children will come out perfectly bilingual in a couple of years either.  Sorry, but it’s true!  Yeah, there are tons of great books on the subject – some really great ones in there at that – but there’s only so much you can learn from a book.  The other big part of the equation, you have to actually want to read the book (I mean you and your kids here).

Alright, so enough negativity from me.  Despite all of this, it is still possible to raise bilingual kids.  Personally, I think it’s more about getting your kids to understand the significance of their being bilingual.  Whether it’s because of their culture, the preservation of part of their heritage, the potential opportunities it will lead to in the future, or whatever other reason you want to come up with, once they understand and embrace the importance of learning two languages, they will!

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