culture/multiculturalism · education · Hispanics/Latinos · language

In SAP, please.

An article on a Hispanic blog called “Hispanic Trending” written by Juan Tornoe claims that parents are now focusing on making their kids multilingual. In “A bilingual future: More parents are sending their kids to language classes” , Lourdes Rovira claimed, ”The key is the home. It depends on how much respect, how much value the parents place on knowing more than one language.”

I disagree. Even though, my parents placed premium on learning Spanish, my Spanish was practically nonexistent by high school. I spoke to my parents only in English by then. I spoke to my friends in English. By college, the other Latino students were questioning my Hispanic roots. I think the root of all my problems was being moved out of bilingual kindergarten into English-only first grade. Somewhere on the street, I picked up that bilingual education was for “the slow kids.”

My Dominican-born little cousin is going through the same thing. Even though his parents speak to each other in Spanish, he’s speaking to them in English. His American-born Dominican mom has relented and she speaks to him in English, too. He’s learned somewhere, probably at school I’ll bet, that the premium is placed on being good at the English language at the expense of his native tongue.

Naomi Steiner, author of 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child ($14.95, Amacom) and a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Tufts Medical Center in Boston claims parents don’t have to be bilingual themselves to raise a bilingual child, though having one parent speak the language certainly helps. ”There only has be a committed, consistent effort and a plan,” adds Steiner.

I certainly hope that this applies to me. I’m having panic attacks that my children won’t be able to speak to their grandparents or cousins in Spanish. I mean, my Spanish can be fairly lame and my husband’s Spanish is only good for laughs. How are we going to ensure our kids speak English, Hebrew AND Spanish? I feel ashamed at how difficult it is for me to negogiate conversations with my grandmother in Spanish. And my Spanish-speaking prima hermanas (literally, cousin sisters, meaning first cousins) prefer practicing their English with their American cousin. So who is going to practice Spanish with me?

I asked my father when I visited him in the Dominican Republic if it bothered him that my sisters and I spoke mostly English. Wasn’t he angry that we were (oh the horror) “assimilated”?He shrugged. He said as long as we understood each other, it didn’t matter what we were speaking. Thanks Dad! Now can you PLEASE help me shape up my Spanish?

7 thoughts on “In SAP, please.

  1. I’ve read some interesting stuff about how America assimilates immigrants. As a country, we’v3e done a remarkable job of it, but one of the prices is that, almost always, second generation children end up receptive bilinguals (able to understand, but not speak their parents native language) and third generation kids end up not knowing their grandparents’ native language at all. It happened with Yiddish, and it’s happening to Spanish today.My fiance, who grew up in a house were his parents both speak Chinese as a first language doesn’t speak it. He can understand it, but despite years of Chinese lessons, he doesn’t know it. His younger brother, who was placed in bilingual education from kindergarten (my fiance refused to go to Chinese kindergarten and his parents refused to pushed the issue) speaks English, Mandarin and Cantonese.My fiance is Malaysian, and Chinese Malaysians are a relatively unintegrated group. While this can make life in the country a lot harder, it does have the side effect that Chinese has been well preserved as a spoken language there. Nobody who is a fifth generation American speaks the native language of their ancestors, but plenty of fourth and fifth generation Chinese Malaysians speak Chinese as their first language.

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  2. I need to read up on what the author has to say but it’s rather difficult to pass it down. I am a convert of Dominican background with a Persian wife. We speak Farsi and English with our son. It’s hard enough for a Sephardic Jew to marry a convert (you won’t believe the hell we went through) I at least promised to keep some of the Persian traditions to the best of my ability. I learned quite a bit of Persian so the in-laws got off our case 🙂 Any room for Spanish? Even more unlikely since we’ll be making aliyah soon, then it’s full on Hebrew. My mother of course is all worked up about it but at least she can still talk to him in English. We’ll see how this turns out…..

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  3. Learning a language takes more than just studying it in school. You need to practice it everyday. You need someone to talk to to truly learn the language. I have a cousin who was self-taught in Japanese. And the only we she could do it was conversing with their Japanese neighbor.If parents don’t make it a point to be bilingual at home, it’s difficult for kids to be bilingual.

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