Why Raise Bilingual Kids? One Woman’s Journey
Parents commit to raising bilingual kids for different reasons. Many of us are motivated by the developmental, cultural and potential economic benefits a second language provides. For others, heritage is an equal or even greater driver, and an important part of their family’s identity. Read on to hear Haydee Arce’s take on why she’s raising bilingual, biliterate, bicultural kids.
A Cross-Border Beginning
I was born and raised in Juarez, Mexico, a border town close to El Paso, Texas. I attended college in the US at the University of Texas at El Paso, where I met my husband, Cesar, also a native Mexican. Shortly after we were married, Cesar received an offer to work for an American company.
While Cesar was considered for the position on the basis of his specialization, it was his ability to communicate fluently in both Spanish and English that differentiated him from other equally qualified candidates. (A fact that has since led to offers from other companies looking to enter the Latin American market.)
Sharing Traditions, Embracing Opportunity
We had a great network at home – I had a career as a civil engineer and family nearby, who I knew would be a big part of helping us raise our future kids. While we didn’t want to leave our home, we decided to pursue the opportunity and the “American dream” by accepting the offer and moving to Austin.
Fast-forward to today and we’re now a family of five, with three kids ranging in age from seven months to seven years. We’re committed to teaching our kids about where we came from while celebrating diversity, including both Mexican and American traditions. We talk about our roots in Mexico while also discussing our place here in America and the experience of straddling two countries. But even as native Mexicans and Spanish speakers, raising bilingual, bicultural kids hasn’t been an easy task.
Discovering a Dual Language Community
We only speak Spanish at home and require our kids to do the same. But after our eldest entered preschool, English quickly began to replace her Spanish. At the time, I grew increasingly concerned about our ability to raise our kids to be truly bilingual, until I discovered the dual language programs available in our school district. Our esperanza of seeing our daughter excel academically in both Spanish and English was realized when she entered a local dual language program. The program is a great resource for Spanish-speaking families. Without it, our kids would tend to speak only in English, but the school allows them to develop fluency and pride in knowing both languages.
We believe there are endless advantages to being bilingual and preserving our heritage language. As my husband’s own example shows, bilingualism can improve competitiveness in the job market and advance professional development. It also opens up new life opportunities, both socially and culturally.
Of course, giving our kids a second language also offers them a different perspective in life, as it connects them with their heritage and gives them access to many more world cultures. (Spanish is the official language in 20 countries, with more than 440 million native Spanish speakers around the world!) That’s why we remain committed to raising bilingual, biliterate, bicultural kids and look forward to providing a dual language education for our other two children.