Friday, December 06, 2013

raising a bilingual baby

Couple of crazy kids
When we found out that I was expecting we were so thrilled, nervous and literally nauseous. We also knew that we wanted  to raise our babies bilingual. But we honestly had no idea how to go about it. Both my husband and I speak Spanish. I am a native Spanish speaker and my husband learned the language throughout high school and college. Even so-- we had a hard time speaking it to each other all of the time. So we began to look up research and information about how to raise a bilingual baby. 


I also began asking family members that have bilingual children-- exactly how they did it and if they had any tips or tricks to help us along the way. It turns out their advice was pretty basic and surprisingly the hardest thing for us to do. They told us that we had to make an effort to speak it all of the time. My first thought was: AH! Unlike English I had to prompt my mind to start speaking in Spanish. I would speak a version of Spanglish to my siblings and Spanish to my parents. However, I knew that I was beginning to forget certain words and phrases and that worried me even more. I wanted to teach our baby on the way but I didn't want them to learn the bad habits that I  created with the language. My husband and I discussed our worries and then we began to practice.

All of a sudden we started speaking to each other all of the time in Spanish. My husband was even better at remembering to speak it than I was! Whenever we caught the other speaking in English we would quickly correct them and say ," Español por favor." This worked every time except one day when we were in public. It turns out I had bigger fish to fry than not remembering to speak in Spanish.

One day we were shopping at Costco and my husband who has a very deep and loud voice (as his normal tone) began speaking to me in Spanish around a group of people who were waiting for samples. Then all of a sudden I began to respond in English. He then continued in Spanish and I continued to respond in English. Finally, he says, "en Español por favor," and I look and him and say... no. At that point, I realized that I felt embarrassed. I felt embarrassed to speak my own native language in public. I was worried about what people would think, what they would say and whether or not  they would find it annoying. Were they going to tell me to go back to my own country? Would they snicker and roll their eyes? I had begun to implode within myself and the negative thoughts consumed me. I thought-- if I can't speak Spanish to my husband in public, how will I ever raise a bilingual baby? 

When we got home that day I was hoping my husband wouldn't bring it up but of course he did. And the first thing he shared with me was how frustrated he felt when I responded in English.
He told me that in order for him to continue to learn, I had to continue to speak it. He told me that we will never succeed in raising a bilingual baby unless we set an example.

This resonated in such a way with me that I began to cry. Not only was it the truth but I had to face a very difficult reality that I hadn't faced in years. If I did not embrace Spanish as a part of my identity as a Latina, then I will never speak it in public. I was then reminded of a old book that I read years ago and a quote that was tucked in the back of my memory,

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”  (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet)
I was terrified not only of not being accepted by others but of my son being rejected for speaking Spanish. The concept of raising our son learning these two languages brought out my own insecurities and fears. This fear was my own internal dragon that roared and spit fire every time I was reminded that I was different. I had to confront my fear and act against it before it defeated me and my purpose. I had to also see the beauty within my fear and embrace the uniqueness of who I am.

Once Gabrielito was born we made the transition from English to Spanish in our home. It became second nature for me to speak to him in my lengua nativa. Turns out that we weren't only raising a bilingual baby but in the process of teaching him the language I taught myself. I was raising me.

My hope and wish for you is that you are able to embrace the uniqueness of your identity. I promise you'll be surprised of what you are capable of. 

Abrazos, 
Keila



10 comments:

  1. I love this! We too our raising two bilingual babies and some points I think I over analyze the whole situation. Glad to know I'm not alone. For the most part they watch their cartoons in Spanish but of course they here English everywhere else. Im very glad my parents enforced that my brother and I spoke Spanish in the house when we were kids and it is what I will want of my children to do as well.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and your comment Maria! Yes you are not alone! And you are so right English is all around us and our children will learn it. I truly believe teaching our kids Spanish is one of the greatest gifts we can give them! Have a great weekend and thanks for stopping by :)

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  2. I agree with you keila , at some point in our life we must kill those insecurities that stop us from reaching out greatness. I also was afraid of not being accepted and stop speaking spanish for a while but then I realised im ahead of the game , I speak 2 languages. And i told myself i would give my children the tools to fufill there destiny to best of there capasities, so i must encourage them and help them along the way.

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    1. Hi Ruthie! I couldn't agree more- as bilingual speakers we have an advantage that we can share with our children. And that is an amazing gift!

      Thank you for stopping by :)

      Keila

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  3. This is a great post, thanks for sharing your story. I'm bilingual (english and chinese), but my husband only speaks english. We've always talked about wanting our baby to be able to speak both languages.

    xo, Yi-chia
    Always Maylee

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    1. Hello Maylee- I have several friends that face the same challenge. I am by no means an expert but I always tell them that having only one parent that can speak both languages is enough :) I believe as long as the one parent speaks to their child in their language- the child will learn. Babies are so smart and can learn both languages simultaneously.

      Sending you well wishes for a great rest of your pregnancy and labor!

      Keila

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  4. Keila, thanks for posting this! I never really thought about it from the perspective of feeling different for being bilingual. I love that my husband speaks multiple languages, and I am always impressed with others who not only speak other languages, but actually embrace them. If it means anything, I think you are doing a really amazing thing for your son, because you are teaching him so many lessons simultaneously, and giving him tools that will be essential for life. You're a great mom for caring so much about this.

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    1. Hi Jackie! Thank you for sharing your story! The reason why I believe that speaking Spanish makes me feel different is because speaking Spanish is not only a skill that I learned but it is a part of my identity as a Latina American and culture. I not only speak a different language but I also look like what most people would identify as a Latina. Therefore, speaking Spanish is not only a part of my identity but also being brown with poofy curly hair :) Both are linked for me and both are how most people see me.

      I hope you are well and stop by again soon!

      Keila

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  5. Keila this beautiful! We would have loved to be able to raise ours bilingual. It is a gift & you go for it girl. Love you!

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    1. Hi Priscilla! Thank you for the kind words and for stopping by ^_^

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