Why Raise Bilingual Children?

Why Raise Bilingual Children?

I speak only Spanish to my almost two-year-old daughter.

My husband only speaks English. Our last name is Butler. My daughter and I are blonde. She and my husband have blue eyes. We live in an English speaking community. No one else in the family speaks Spanish. Why do we do it?

I took Spanish in school growing up, and being a good student, I memorized the rules of the language until I was able to be in a literature class with native speakers my senior year in high school. I got to college, and with so much credit under my belt, a minor was only a few classes away, so why not? But for all that, I couldn’t have a conversation in Spanish. The summer after my first year in college, a friend talked me into spending six weeks in Chile as a Catholic missionary, learning to minister to Latinos and doing so in the local communities. It was a total immersion experience, they encouraged us to not even pray in our native language, but only in Spanish. My best friend was with me and, poor girl, didn’t have the vocabulary I did, so her very sincere and earnest prayers went something like: ‘Jesus, thank you. Forgive me. Help me. I love you.’ which is all you need, but still. It was a little easier for me. And after two weeks there, I woke up one day thinking in Spanish! I didn’t have to stop a conversation to translate in my head what I wanted to say. In that experience, I realized something that has changed my life: I now had one billion new potential friends in the world!

Of course, the studies show that being multilingual, especially from birth, has many intellectual benefits. Where I live in California, speaking Spanish is required with many jobs. Knowing another language allows you to more fully experience places and cultures when you travel. And I had to work hard to get here. I ended up majoring in Spanish and moving to Spain for a year after college. I spent a lot of time, energy, and money in order to be able to speak two languages. And if I could give my daughter all these benefits without the cost, why wouldn’t I?

But most importantly for me, if I can help open her heart to see that every person in the world is just like her, they just live in a different language, and that language does not need to be a barrier but can be a bridge, why wouldn’t I?
We don’t have it all figured out. She prefers to speak English so far (because it’s usually less syllables, I’m sure!). I have to look up new vocabulary words all the time (especially since we go to the zoo so often!). And I am not a native speaker so, even though I feel comfortable speaking Spanish, how will it be when she goes through hardships, life changes, on her wedding day? I have to work hard not only to expose her to the minority language through friendships, media, etc. and when the time comes to teach her to read and write in two languages, but to make sure that I am capable of fully entering into our moments together in a foreign language. You thought giving “the talk” was hard? Try it in another language! We will figure it out as we go. There is no manual for raising kids, in a monolingual home or a multilingual one. But when we are at the park and the only other people there are a Mexican family and we can become friends instead of pretending to not notice each other, that is worth it.

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2017, Year of Presence

2017, Year of Presence

Haley over at Carrots for Michaelmas shared a¬†post¬†recently describing her tradition of picking a word for the year to help her stay focused on her New Year’s resolutions. I love her wiritngs, but New Year’s resolutions aren’t really my thing. I’m already making resolutions on a regular basis in prayer, so adding more can overwhelm me. But this year, I am pregnant and have given up on everything. Because I suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum in my pregnancies, I check out about 8 weeks in, am unable to attend social functions, take care of my family, or even pray sometimes. Focusing takes energy that I don’t have, so I’m looking forward to July when my toddler can get her Meema back and I don’t have to depend on my husband to play the role of breadwinner and homemaker. And a one word resolution? That sounds like the only doable kind of resolution I could handle right now.

Mentally, I have been in survivor mode since the 24/7 nausea began. I just finished Chip and Jo Gaines book, The Magnolia Story, and their story helped remind me that I can settle for surviving or I can choose to thrive. Thriving in my circumstances will not match up to my idealized images of bounty and laughter, but it is possible and I think the key for me this year is presence.

I can’t cook. I can’t clean. I can’t go outside. I can’t even read to my daughter. But I can lie on the floor with her and let her build a block tower on me. I can smile at my husband and tell him how much I appreciate all he does for us when he is cooking dinner after a stressful day of work with a toddler attached to his leg. I can cut off the self-pity party, and offer it up instead. I can say in my heart, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” And in this moment, this is thriving for me. This is being present. To those dearest to me and to reality itself.

mom-and-toddler-playing-blocks
Kind of like this, except I’m dry-heaving.

Once this baby is born, “present” will look totally different. But I don’t want to use that as an excuse to not be present now. Happiness isn’t around the corner, or in our next pay raise. Holiness will not come once the kids are older and I have more time to pray. God is outside of time, but we wayfarers of this earth are only in the present. And here and now are the only circumstances in which I can be happy. And holy. And thriving.