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From South Florida to Michigan: An Inspiring Mom Raising Bilingual Kids

This week, we introduce you to South Florida native and Michigan-based bilingual mom Emily Hunsberger. A fluent non-native Spanish speaker, Emily built her career around her language skills and sees Spanish as a vibrant language for community building in the U.S.

By the time I had my first child four years ago, the Spanish language had already become deeply entwined with my daily life. I didn’t grow up in a Spanish-speaking family, but it was a vibrant language where I was raised in South Florida. I started learning Spanish in elementary school, where it was taught for a couple of hours each week, and I continued studying it throughout college. Eventually, I obtained both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in the language – along with a keen interest in the use of Spanish in the U.S.

University degrees aside, I’ve probably learned the most through la escuela de la vida – the school of life. Outside of the classroom, I’ve used Spanish socially and throughout my professional career. It’s truly my second language, and becoming bilingual has been a lifelong pursuit. So it seemed natural that I would incorporate the language into my new role as a mom.

My husband doesn’t speak Spanish, and I started out with some anxieties about raising Spanish-speaking children without being a native speaker myself. Not only was I acutely aware of my own shortcomings, I also worried that my children and I would be perceived as interlopers in the Spanish-speaking community.

Making meaningful connections with other bilingual families, who are made up of both native and non-native speakers, has been instrumental in building my confidence. And by choosing to raise my kids bilingual, my own mastery of the language has been enhanced with the vocabulary, songs, rhymes, and expressions that I never had a reason to learn during the years I was speaking to colleagues in Spanish about grant proposals and budget spreadsheets.

Just as a musician teaches music to their children, I see speaking Spanish with my kids as a gift that I’m able to pass on to them. In fact, the student has already become the master: My son has the native ear that I will never have, and he often corrects me if I mispronounce a word or make a mistake when speaking.

As he nears school age, I’ve started to look for ways to be an ally to Spanish-speaking families with limited English proficiency, particularly in the context of dual language education. I also consider myself an advocate for elevating the use of Spanish in the public sphere, writing emails to the powers that be when I see poorly translated or nearly unintelligible Spanish on materials that are supposed to be reaching Spanish-dominant Latino families.

Growing up in South Florida, I saw that there’s something magical that happens when an entire community values and takes pride in bilingualism in all its forms. Here in Michigan, I see raising my kids bilingual as doing my part to spread a little bit of that magic around.

Emily Hunsberger is a mom of two and a bilingual communications consultant. She explores Spanish-speaking culture in the U.S. through her Spanish-language podcast, Tertulia, and curates a collection of refranes – sayings – on Instagram @refranescotidianos.

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