Since our son D was born, I have spoken to him strictly in English, and Aron has spoken to him purely in Spanish. As with many of our parenting tactics, this has been the cause of much criticism. When we were in Mexico, some of Aron’s family members insisted that D would get confused by two languages. But I had read numerous times in articles and I believe even in my favorite book at that time, El primer año del bebé,* that this was the way to do it — that the best method was for each parent to communicate with the child in his/her native language.
We would be with Mexican friends or acquaintances, I would say something to D in English, and because the adults were unable to comprehend what I was saying, they assumed my son wouldn’t, either. My response: How in the world do you think my own son doesn’t understand me, when I talk to him every single day? Now that we are in the U.S., Mexican acquaintances tell me I should speak to D in Spanish since he will learn English in school.
This makes me want to grind my teeth. At least for the first years, I do not look at school as anything but a guide in my son’s education. The truth is that good habits, interest in reading and learning, respect, compassion, and love all start in the home. In my generation, I feel we leave too many responsibilities to the schools when we need to place more emphasis on our own connections with, and influence on, our children.
It doesn’t make sense for us to wait on anyone else to teach our son something as essential as our native languages, especially knowing that it becomes exponentially more difficult for any person to learn a language as time passes. And also because it is so darn natural to teach — just by talking to him normally every day. With varied work schedules, Aron and I share parenting duties, each of us spending about the same amount of time with our son. So D is not really missing out on Spanish over English, or vice versa.
We correct him on grammar and pronunciation, and encourage him so that he will know how to properly communicate as he grows older. For us, it is important for him to know how to have conversations with the people we care about, regardless of whether we are in the U.S. or Mexico.
I can imagine that folks in numerous other prosperous countries look at us here in the U.S. and think we are unfortunate and silly because we don’t know 4+ languages by the time we are 5 years old. It is our duty to show our kids the necessity of clinging to the traditions and languages that flow through our veins. These are part of what keeps us grounded and what brings about amazing opportunities for us to relate to one another.
*Spanish version of a popular book. My friend Cassie gave it to us as a gift when D was born. Highly recommended: http://books.google.com/books/about/El_Primer_Ano_Del_Bebe_What_to_Expect_th.html?id=lS-lSKYHg98C