• Aileen Passariello-McAleer with Christia Hoffman

It's a Commitment

Even though I have been committed to a bilingual lifestyle since the day my son was born, I’m faced with daily struggles around language. Although my children understand everything I say in Spanish, they usually respond in English. So I’ve had to face the truth: Both of my kids can communicate better in English than in Spanish.

Though this saddens me, I can’t get upset with them — or myself. I know that it’s not that my kids don’t want to speak Spanish, it’s just that their brain finds it easier to recall words in English. English is the easier language for them to speak because it’s reinforced in their surroundings, including school, friends and daily interactions outside of the home. But I won’t give up speaking Spanish, because I know that understanding is half the battle.

I often discuss with my kids the importance of speaking Spanish and how I want them to be able to communicate in this special language that not everyone can speak — and that so many people wish they could speak. When my son’s friends ask if I speak Spanish, I very proudly say that I do, and then I ask if they know any of the language. Most of the time they try to say the few words they have learned in class. When that happens, I often find my son smiling ear to ear to see his friends speaking in his “other” first language.

So when my kids respond to me in English, I translate what they’ve said and repeat it back to them in Spanish. Usually, they repeat the translation back to me again. And then I often find that any feelings of defeat are deflated when I see my daughter pick up her teddy bear and say “Oso is crying,” and “Oso is sucio,” while she washes her bear. That’s when I know that following through on my commitment has been worth it.

While your bilingual experience may not be exactly how you imagined it, keep narrating what you know. Repeat it and it will stick. Then one day, your kids will embrace the idea of learning a new language and continue to perfect what they first learned from you.

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