Bilingual Living: Why Language and Culture Matter when Parenting

hola! by Salil Wadhavkar juanofwords
hola! by Salil Wadhavkar

It’s no secret that I’m not the most structured when it comes to teaching bilingualism.  We’ve talked about it before, in past blog posts.  It’s not that fluency in English and Spanish for Edgar is not important to me.  It is.  For more reasons than I can explain, pero desde luego not the least of which is his own personal benefit in the future.  I’ve read a lot of the statistics.  I’ve heard and discussed the meticulous methods one can ensure a child becomes bilingual.  They are great, believe me.  But I wish I could be that disciplined and good about sticking to a plan.

The reality is I’m not.  And the more time I’ve had to think about it the more I’ve come to the realization that I don’t want to be.  The thing is the more we’ve stopped pushing and instead have let Edgar discover and learn Spanish on his own, as well as understand his own culture and identity, the more he seems to have embraced all of it.  Of course, we do have the added benefit that a large part of our families only communicate with him in Spanish.  And that certainly cannot be discounted as anything less than a HUGE HELP!

Still, whatever your method, I honestly believe there are not any right or wrong answers when it comes to teaching bilingualism and culture to our children.  The important thing is to do it and to do it because it will help them out more than anyone else in their futures.

And speaking of that, here are some pretty cool statistics from Univision that I’ve been aching to find a reason to share for quite some time now:

  • 62% of Hispanics between the ages of 18-34 have a high to medium cultural connection
  • 66% self-identify as Hispanic
  • 29% of the total Hispanic population are defined as Millennials (18-34)
  • 1 out of every 5 Millennials today is Hispanic
  • By 2020 that number will be closer to 1 in 4

This was also the main subject of discussion at last month’s Austin AdFed Hispanic Marketing Symposium, which I had the pleasure of attending and speaking in.

Their study carries a lot of other cool data, but the message that resonated the most with me was this one: That language and culture are less about defining what it means to be Latino and more about connecting and communicating with each other in authentic ways.

Who knows what that will mean for Edgar’s generation in the years ahead?

No, I was not compensated by Univision or anyone else.  I’m just kind of a dork when it comes to statistics and data about Latino culture and identity. 

7 thoughts on “Bilingual Living: Why Language and Culture Matter when Parenting

  1. my nephew, half mexican/half honduran, is learning chinese in school but doesn’t speak spanish. we all say that we will teach him (someday) but lack the structure to make it happen. the reality is that none of my sisters’ children speaks spanish fluently, and they understand just slightly better than that. it’s wrong, but there you have it. and one of my sisters is principal at a mostly hispanic, high-bilingual class school. the other used to be a bilingual teacher.

    1. I can identify with what you are saying so much. My stepson’s mom insists on using (broken) English in her home. She split up from their father when my stepson was a little baby and Papi only gets the usual divorced-dad visitation. So my stepson never learned Spanish very well at all. His English is also really really weak because of the messed up “English” his mom uses. The final result is being 9 almost 10 years old and not being able to communicate at all with anyone who isn’t bilingual. He literally doesn’t know enough of either language. It’s possible for him to get along fine in our neighborhood but when I took him to Mexico to visit his grandparents, or when I took him to Ohio to visit my family, he was really really really quiet…
      It’s so sad, but not being the parent, I can’t do much of anything about it.

  2. I think you are right. What we want is to create a positive attitude towards bilingualism. However, English is everywhere, and the retention of Spanish and the acquisition of Spanish as a second language, in a sense, comes through purposive efforts. Here is something for you to consider, by the 3rd generation, the native language is gone. Good post!

  3. Here’s the thing I think about a lot.
    The studies show Hispanic kids who are bilingual have a higher rate of completing college. Also, Hispanic kids who are in dual-language elementary/middle schools — equally all the way through to 8th grade in Spanish and English, like the charter school where my son goes — have a higher rate of completing high school.
    I detest that Houston school district calls their thing “bilingual education” which really means teaching in Spanish for kindergarten but then move them into English-only as fast as possible and never look back. To me that seems like the school is telling you your parent’s language is not valued, just forget it. What happens if your parents are, whether on purpose or accidentally, giving you the same message at home…

    My take-away is that the important thing is not whether the child ends up being able to write a business proposal in perfect Spanish. The kid has to get the message from the parents, and hopefully from the school too, that their heritage is valuable and not to be tossed aside.

    It’s not that completing high school or college is a guaranteed ticket to happiness. It isn’t. But maybe kids who are ethnically Hispanic and also bilingual in Spanish have something, more even the language itself — something inside that helps them perservere and achieve their goal when they’re far away from family out there on their own.

  4. Edith, I agree with you 100 percent about the attitude. It’s so important I think to have the appreciation for culture and language.

    Paloma, Thanks for confirming I’m not the only one who feels this way 🙂

    Beth, you’re always so insightful. Thanks for always giving me and all of us food for thought in your comments. 🙂

  5. we really only speak spanish with our son. Some of our friends who are bilingual educators told us that by always speaking to him in spanish it creates a need for the language, and by doing it from an early age, he’ll have spanish ingrained as necessary to his life, because he needs it to communicate with mami and papi. We’ll see how it goes long term, but so far so good. Although I feel like we get odd stares sometimes because we only address him in spanish, including in front of monolingual english-speakers.

  6. Juan, I can relate to you on this issue. My boyfriend is Chicano and understands Spanish but speaks little Spanish mixed with Spanglish as needed. Interestingly enough, he studied Mandarin Chinese in college and speaks it quite well. I am Peruvian-American and am bilingual. Our 4-year-old daughter is also bilingual though she insists on speaking English in our own home. I was not consistent with being monolingual in Spanish with her(the best of intentions, verdad?) but had the good fortune of having my own parents care for her when I went back to work after maternity leave. So she speaks Spanish with her abuelitos, English with mami and daddy, and has picked up a few Chinese phrases. She also breaks out some Italian phrases she learned last summer so I’m hoping she continues to have an interest in different languages as the years go on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *