I really want my twin girls to grow up bilingual. Speaking two languages brings huge advantages for kids (and adults). Besides the fact that being bilingual helps people communicate in a globalized world, researchers have found that speaking more than one language also makes kids smarter. The New York Times recently published an article on this subject. "It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age," the author stated.
In addition, speaking Spanish is part of who I am, and I wanted to impart that ability to my girls. I have a friend who was born in the U.S. and whose mom is from a Spanish-speaking country. He loves everything related to the culture of his mom's country, including Spanish, but he can't speak it. He tries, but he has a very heavy accent and is not fluent at all. He could never communicate with his grandparents or his mom's relatives. His parents didn't think it was important for him to speak Spanish growing up; they thought he needed to learn English and that was it.
Things are different today. Lots of people want to learn Spanish; they understand the advantages of being bilingual. The after-school Spanish class at my girls' pre-school fills up every session. In fact, the school had to add a new session to accommodate all the interest. Some parents hire nannies that speak Spanish so their kids can learn from the nannies.
My husband and I consulted a child development specialist about raising bilingual children. The specialist told us that one parent should speak one language all the time and the other parent (or another family member) should speak the other language. She also said it's important to be consistent or else the kids may get confused. So, since the day they were born, I have spoken to my girls only in Spanish and my husband has spoken to them in English, even though he can speak Spanish fluently.
Besides having conversations with my girls in Spanish, I also read them books in Spanish, which means translating on the fly. And I have them watch movies and kids shows in Spanish. Sprout and PBS have an all-Spanish option on my cable provider's OnDemand feature. My girls love music and singing, so I also make up songs in Spanish from English melodies and sing to them songs I remember from when I was young.
It's Not Easy
I think it can be hard for kids to speak Spanish when they are immersed in an English-speaking world. Sometimes I feel like I am losing my battle when my girls want to speak English to me, even though I never speak to them in English. Never. They understand everything I say, but they reply in English most of the time. It gets harder for them every day.
A couple of weeks ago, we were talking to my parents, who live in Peru, on Skype. I told my girls, "You have to talk to them in Spanish. Remember, they don't speak English." (I lied; my mom is pretty fluent in English.) The girls said, "I can't, mama! I can't!" I could see them getting frustrated as they tried to say what they were thinking in Spanish.
It's not always easy for me, either. I feel uncomfortable speaking Spanish to them when we are around people who speak only English, especially people I don't know. I wonder if they think I am being rude or saying something about them.
But it's important to me that my girls have the advantages that come with being bilingual, so I plan to keep talking to them in Spanish. And, now that they are older, my husband sometimes speaks to them in Spanish too (when he remembers, that is). We figure since they already know English and will keep learning it at school, home is the only place where they can become more familiar with Spanish. I believe it will be worth it.
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