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