We never expected to be here, raising a family bilingually. My husband didn’t speak English until after we got married, and I didn’t speak Spanish until after I met him. And yet here we are, a mix of cultures and languages, like an increasing number of families around the world.
For a long time, here in the U.S., it was common for parents not to pass on their native tongue to their children. This was either done purposefully– due to shame or fear that the children wouldn’t learn English–or accidentally. Often parents did not realize that failing to raise their children with both languages meant that their children completely lost the home language, or never developed fluency. Today, many families are waking up to this and realize that passing on a second language (or a third!) is a precious gift.
Here are our top 5 reasons for choosing to intentionally raise our kids bilingually:
1. Family Connections.
My family speaks English; Pocho’s family mainly speaks Spanish. We want our children to be able to communicate easily and comfortably with both families. Both Spanish and English are part of Pocho and I, and of our marriage. We want the two languages to be a natural part our family life and who we are. Some jokes just don’t translate! Language is cultural, too, and we hope to give our children a strong identity for both American and Peruvian culture. We are, centrally, a Peruvian-American family.
2. Early Bilingualism is a Gift.
As someone who struggled to become more or less fluent in Spanish, I want to give my children at least two languages from the beginning. Some things can be learned later in life, but language becomes more difficult to master the longer you wait to begins. I have musician friends who lament the fact that their skills will always be slightly checked because their parents didn’t start them young enough. We can’t control what our children choose with language later, much as I’d like to– perhaps they will embrace the minority language and pick up another, or maybe they’ll use it very little as adults. But they cannot control how early their language exposure begins. There are a lot of things we aren’t able to do or control for our kids, but speaking Spanish from birth IS one powerful choice we can make. One days when I’d like to just relax into English, I remind myself that every little conversation, every toe-tickling rhyme, is a little gift to my babies.
3. How Bilingualism Changes You.
Studies show that bilingualism enhances brain development, social skills, and linguistic abilities. Bilingualism doesn’t just open doors and opportunities: it change affect who you are and how well your brain works.
4. Kids Who Think Globally.
It is easy think “small”– whether that means only having friends that look like you or being afraid of different cultures, even those within your city. It is also easy, if you can’t speak a culture’s native language, to either idealize or be prejudiced against its people. We want our children to appreciate other cultures and embrace the differences around them. Even if they never leave the country on their own, speaking another language will help them to think “large” and think generously about the world around them.
5. It’s Magic.
Language acquisition is a mysterious process that could almost be described at magical. I can’t describe the feeling when I became proficient enough to have friendships and converse in Spanish. I had actually mastered something useful and exciting, something that changed my world and myself. There are many incentives for raising a bilingual family, but for us it really comes down to the joy of being fluent in multiple languages. How we could not let our children in?
We realize it’s easier said than done to do this. Sometimes the extra effort is HARD! But at the end of the day, we would regret not passing on this huge part of ourselves to our little ones. Our hope is that they will love the open world they have been given and see it for the blessing it is.
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