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Being a bilingual family

September 18, 2009

It isn’t as hard as some people think. It isn’t as easy as others think, either. Raising a bilingual child is something you have to dedicated yourself to every single day. There are so many issues to sort out, all different depending on the situation that you are living in. For us, living in Spain with a Spanish Daddy and American Mommy, we have pretty much sorted out the first few years of speaking: I will speak to Queenie in English only, Principe will speak to her in Spanish and the two of us will interchange what we speak in to show her that we understand both.  This was our first plan.

But things aren’t that easy. When we are with family that doesn’t speak one of the languages there are many that feel “left out” of the conversation. This is especially true for the grandmas. Both of them. Everyone is encouraging…or at least not discouraging, but sometimes there are teasing comments of  “what did you say about me?” “hey, speak so that all of us can understand!” “what did you tell her?”, etc. All of which have a hint of resentment to them. Then there are the requests that we speak our native languages to our nieces and nephews so that “they can be bilingual, too” which is silly because there will come a day that they just won’t understand the other language since we don’t see each other often enough.

Mostly, in my case, it is sometimes difficult to constantly be speaking to Queenie in English when we are outside of the house. I do it anyway, but the looks I get from other parents or children at the park are priceless in their aloofness and/or confusion. It doesn’t make it easy to make friends when the other adults assume you don’t speak their language. I speak to the other children in Spanish and at times get a conversation going with someone else at the park (the other day with a Spanish and Chinese mixed family. It was interesting to speak to another bilingual family) but once I speak in English to Queenie the conversation seems to break down a bit. People don’t feel comfortable around others who are speaking a language they don’t understand. I’m pretty sure this feeling is universal.

Anyway, at the moment we are slowly changing some things around our bilingual teachings. We alternate cartoons in English and Spanish. Hadn’t thought of that one before. I am trying to make Principe spend more time on the weekends counting and saying the alphabet,  but it rarely happens. And we are trying to even out story time with Spanish and English. Problem with that is that there are at least two to three times a week that Principe isn’t home for story time.

We aren’t sure what we will do for reading and writing yet. And we aren’t sure what we will do in the case that we move to the States since there they would hear much less Spanish. We’ll jump that hurdle when we come to it, though. For the moment Queenie understands both of us in each of our languages. She only says a few words and only says them either in English or Spanish, meaning she doesn’t yet “switch” languages for when she speaks to me or speaks to her daddy. But I’m sure that will come. First we have to get her to sort out all the sounds so that she can speak in a way that others understand her!

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