For whom are we protecting the designated use of languages in two-way bilingual education (TWBE) programs?

After attending the Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) convention this past week in Atlanta, GA and noticing how much “we” tend to place an immense amount of value on a certain kind “English,” I started thinking about the TWBE context. A context that is dear to my bilingual and Latinx heart as a former TWBE teacher, a parent with children in TWBE programs, and as an academic who has spent a large part of my time invested in this “ideal” form of bilingual education.

In the TWBE community, scholars and parents argue for Spanish to have a protected space in the classroom. Don’t get me wrong — I much prefer Spanish time over English and do think we  need to place more value on Spanish than English (more to come below). A protective space for Spanish is a legit concern considering that English is overwhelmingly present – or, how I like to describe it, English is a huge tidal wave that sweeps everything and everyone with its powerful force. Here’s my issue with “protecting Spanish” or any other minoritized language in dual language classrooms, For whom are we protecting Spanish in TWBE programs? I cannot critique TWBE classrooms without personalizing my experience as a parent raising 3rd generation bilinguals (no small feat!) and as a heritage speaker of Spanish. My daughters, like many heritage speakers of Spanish, walked into their designated dual language program already bilingual. They are used to navigating multilingual spaces and are quite comfortable doing so. Speaking Spanish is like breathing air – an automatic response to being alive. Translanguaging is a way of being for them, it’s not a mystery to be explored and problematized. When we promote a designated time for Spanish or English (!!) we are drawing from the language practices and strategies that were designed for the White and monolingual English-speaking demographic. I think we should all follow Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes (AOC) advice at SXSW and create our own spaces of agency, a sort of FUBU language policies, that reflect our history and language practices.

A more urgent point is that English does not need a protective space in the elementary TWBE programs (at least not until the upper elementary years)! As a parent raising 3rd generation multilingual daughters, I literally threw English out the door, in the trash can, and sent all our English children’s books to Goodwill (don’t really recommend doing that). I have made a huge concerted effort to raise the status of OUR Spanish. I would even argue that I’ve been pretty successful at helping my daughters value their Latinidad and bilingualism, BUT this could not have happened (for many reasons) had I let English have a “protected” space in our lives. English does not need a single centimeter of space – it naturally will consume every facet of your child’s life in the U.S. context (and others internationally).

In my Latinx and bilingual world, the TWBE program would be “heavily marketed” to communities of color who speak a variety of English(es). What I (re)imagine is that a beautiful and linguistically diverse group of students would get to continue to grow up as heritage speakers of [insert minoritized language] while building bridges between communities of color. *Communities of Color [for a reimagined] Two-way Bilingual Education (COC-TWBE)

White supremacy is an intricate part of the institutions we navigate and an ingrained part of our (un)conscious ways of being that it is highly unlikely that my ideal Latinx and bilingual world will come into fruition unfortunately (or any time soon). Until then, I will continue to use my own positionality as a mamá raising language warriors and a Latinx expert in bilingual education to #speakup and #standup for and with communities of colors who seek a more equitable two-way immersion bilingual education program.

#gentrificationTWBE #FUBU #LatinxLanguagePolicies #bilingualeducation #multilingualVIDA #TWBE #PhDLatina #protectedspacesforCOC #notsameassegregation #onourterms #Spanishonourterms #SpanishRights #SpanishasResistence #reclaimingSpanish #sisepuede

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An Update About Raising 3rd Generation Multilingual Daughters.

Just read an article about “Bilingualism and Age,” which got me thinking about my daughter’s language exposure and development:

Sabrina was born into a home where both parents spoke in Spanish to her (direct input), but we spoke (and continue to do so) in mostly English to each other with some Spanish. Her daycare was a Spanish immersion one (so more direct Spanish spoken to her), BUT that is where she learned the most English because her peers spoke in English to her. Socially, she spoke in Spanish to us and any other little kid her age (1-2 1/2 years old). At 2 1/2 she entered an English-speaking school and in 3 months her English was (arguably) as strong as her Spanish. English became a tidal wave for us that we continue to deal with.

Siena was born into a home where both parents spoke in Spanish to her (direct input), but we spoke (and continue to do so) in mostly English to each other with some Spanish. Sabrina initially spoke in Spanish to her little sister because she believed Siena only knew Spanish. This worked really well for some time, but as time went (Siena learning to speak) by, English took over like a huge tidal wave between their relationship. Siena heard English and Spanish directed at her way more than Sabrina ever did. At 2 1/2 she entered a Spanish immersion school and at 3 years old she started a new school which was Chinese immersion. Two years later, Siena is what I would call a full blown simultaneous bilingual.

Sabrina and Siena’s language experiences have been so different even though we have lived in the same home. They both lived in Ecuador, but even that experience was distinct for both of them, Siena heard more Spanish and Sabrina heard and used both seamlessly. Although both girls would be considered simultaneous bilinguals, they are both such different users of their languages. I think Sabrina leans more toward a sequential bilingual because she learned English later, but it is definitely a fine line.

Either way, both girls function, live, and breathe with their 2-3 languages. I cannot imagine how their identity would change if they were asked to ONLY speak English. It would be like asking them to hold their breathe or to hide who they really are. Sadly, this experience happens to many young children in the U.S.

Their development as multilingual individuals has truly been one of the most amazing experiences in my life. I don’t think we could have come this far had I not had a Ph.D. in bilingual education because people like me, 2nd generation Mexican immigrant, use of Spanish, bilingualism has been so stigmatized in this country. This is one of the reasons why I am determined to hone in on strategies that support bilingualism in the 3rd generation. It is our time to reclaim what was always ours, the Spanish language,  and very much a part of who we are.

#multilingualVIDA #bilingualism #languagewarriors #raisingbilingualkids

I’m a Mamá Raising Language Warriors

Language warriors are “… Spanish-dominant bilingual students [who] not only support English-speaking peers’ learning Spanish but also advocate for their marginalized monolingual Spanish-dominant peers. This language warrior role revealed problem solving, mediating skills, and advocacy, but such attributes are rarely recognized by academic assessments” (DeNicolo, 2010, p. 234). Below is a glimpse of MY little language warrior:

A convo between my 7 year-old daughter and I about the upcoming Columbus holiday:

s: Mami, do we celebrate Columbus Day?
Me: Umm, well, it’s a holiday in the US, but I don’t like to celebrate it.
s: Would you rather celebrate the ones that died? The Native Americans?
Me: Of course! (Thinking, umm, how’d you know?)
S: Yeah, that’s what my teacher said, too. I think my whole school is gonna celebrate the Native Americans.

This is just one of many conversations we have about the social injustices people of color have and continue to experience in the U.S., but really it happens all over the world. Sabrina was seeing if her momma agreed with what was said at school about celebrating Native Americans as opposed to a white colonizer, Cristopher Columbus. I don’t think she doubted that I would not agree with her teacher, but I do think she was making sense of a social justice issue that matters especially to a marginalized community, Native Americans. It is conversations like these that I urge parents to have with their children, especially White parents. It is one of the first steps in deconstructing institutional racism.

I also recognize that the “opportunity” to discuss these sensitive and urgent issues also means I am coming from a place of privilege. We are not in fear for our lives. In fact, we live comfortable lives, our “white” skin, or the ability to pass as “white”, and our status in the U.S. protects us. For these reasons (and so many more) I have decided to raise a language warrior, an ally, and an activist. I feel that it is my responsibility as a Latinx mother to pass on this role. I continue to speak to my daughter about the ways her bilingualism is a privilege; one that we have worked so hard to nurture. Initially, we started down this bilingual journey because we our very proud of our Latinx heritage, but now that she is older, I emphasize how important it is to be advocates and allies for our Latinx brothers and sisters which also includes other people of color.

We are still working on what it sounds like and looks like to support English-speaking peers’ learning Spanish and advocate for marginalized monolingual Spanish-dominant peers.  This can be tricky to navigate because my daughter is in a two-way dual language program which has, over time, become more of a boutique  school where many of her peers come from upper middle-class, monolingual, and White backgrounds. In other words, Spanish-dominant peers are few and far between. I worry that she will do more translating to help her peers take on a language so close and dear to who she is as a Latina bilingual rather than having friends that look, sound, breathe, and live bilingual lives every minute of the day and not just during school hours.

 

 

 

 

Latinx Community Raising Bilingual Children

Ever since I decided to raise my daughters in a bilingual world I knew that I didn’t fit the profile of the many “how to raise a bilingual child”  books I was reading. First, the “one parent one language” (OPOL) method wasn’t a right fit because both my husband and I are bilingual. The “minority language at home”(M@LH) method also did not fit because it is simply not how we identify as bilinguals. I decided to draw from a second language acquisition theory referred to as input/output theory. My main goal was to expose my daughter to as much Spanish as possible. The only challenge was that my husband and I spoke to each other in English–not exactly the OPOL or MLH method. For us it looked more like–English  to each other, Spanish with our daughter– ~100% of the time. What ended up happening? The first 2 1/2 years of her life she was Spanish-dominant.

During this time I was also in graduate school pursuing a PhD in bilingual/bicultural education. It was through that experience that I began to change my approach as to how I, a bilingual Latina, born and raised in the U.S., chose to expose my daughter to her heritage language, Spanish. I went from saying, “Hablame en espanol” to “Habla los dos idiomas porque eres bilingue.” What I’m trying to say is that our approach was and is different. It is a reflection of how we “do being bilingual.” The  OPOL or ML@H methods are grounded in this idea that languages should never make contact, but in reality they do. These methods are ones that are supported by the dominant group in the U.S.–a group who recently has decided to try and raise bilingual kids, too. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing. This is, in many ways, a bilingual dream come true. The problem I have with it is that the ways my daughter and I “do being bilingual” as members of a Latinx community are not being supported in school sanctioned zones because monolingual English-speaking students need and expect full immersion in Spanish. The second issue is that dual language programs are on the rise and many more are using a lottery system  to accept individuals. This seems like a “fair” method, but in reality it’s not. Spanish is now a product that families want for their children while Latinx families have been trying to pass down their heritage language (many times) with great difficulty because of the power English has in the U.S. If it were up to me the Latinx community would get preference in dual language programs.

Had someone told me that what I learned about bilingual education, language acquisition, language policy, etc, would look and feel so much different in practice I probably would not have believed them. I see the problem with the “preferential” treatment, but when institutional racism and privilege exists drastic thoughts surface. Unfortunately, this idea of the Lartinx community getting preferential treatment in dual language programs will( likely) never be manifested because we have a system in place that privileges those in power.

For more about this topic please read Guadalupe’s Valdes’ cautionary note.

 

 

 

Appropriating Whiteness by Accident.

I didn’t do it on purpose. I mean I may have started to enunciate my words a certain way in middle school because “the way I spoke” was commented on a few times by white peers, but I swear I didn’t seek out to appropriate a white accent or mannerisms.

I also didn’t purposely choose to “act white”. I changed the music I listened to because we moved to another city (eventually another state)  and the R&B, hip hop, and rap music I listened to which included lyrics that brought issues that mattered to my Latina heart and soul to the forefront were no longer on the radio. All I heard was what they call gangsta’ rap. The music I grew up up listening to was no longer in spaces where diverse people of color were found dancing together.

I didn’t purposely choose to live in white spaces. My mom decided to move us to another city because the one we were living in was “too dangerous” and was worried that as a single mother she would have a harder time keeping up with 3 young girls.

So we moved.

We moved from a city that valued my Latina heritage to one where the Latinxs I saw were considered “the help”.

I also didn’t pick my name, “Suzanne”. Sara and Rafael thought it was a beautiful name in the 70s and one that seemed to belong to their daughter. I didn’t know that when “Suzanne” is combined with “Mateus” that people would assume I am white. I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that because I selectively choose who to speak Spanish to that I would be considered white. I take speaking Spanish very personally because of how highly stigmatized it became for me to speak it growing up como una “pocha”. To this day, you have to earn my trust and we have to have a certain level of intimacy as friends before I will utter a single word in Spanish to you.

I didn’t know that my distance between speaking Spanish and who I choose to speak it with would deem me as “white” or “acting white”. I didn’t know.

I didn’t appropriate whiteness on purpose. It was imposed on me by issues larger than you and I. It was a form of colonialism on my own identity.

Do Children Learn or Acquire Language?

Below is a video of our 3 year old speaking Mandarin. Her teacher sent it to us because she was very impressed with Siena’s accent in Mandarin and how natural it sounded. To be honest, I was very impressed as well even though I have no idea what she is saying. In fact, I find it totally fascinating that even though I know more than the average person about bilingualism that I am still reacting with amazement of my daughter acquiring a third language. That is, her development as a bilingual Spanish and English speaker came as a “Of course she is becoming bilingual because we, as a family unit, are bilingual,” but it wasn’t an “Oh, wow! Look how she acquires both languages” moment.

As you can infer from the paragraph above I believe Siena is acquiring Mandarin which is very different from learning Mandarin. According to second language acquisition theories, acquiring a language occurs in authentic  settings, such as living in a country where the language is spoken and where individuals are forced to use the target language through social interactions. Learning a language usually occurs in the a traditional school setting and many times grammar becomes a focus.

Our daughter is very privileged in that she is going to a Montessori Chinese immersion school for young children. We didn’t purposely plan on adding a third language to our family’s linguistic repertoire, it was a matter of “convenience” actually. That being said, we welcome the opportunity with open hearts. We also recognize that it takes a huge commitment on our part as a family. We have opened up spaces in our home to talk about learning Mandarin in purposeful ways. One way we do this is with the weekly homework the school provides. For example, I will read the pinyin in order to understand the Chinese characters when helping my older daughter complete her homework. Pinyin is “the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland ChinaMalaysiaSingapore, and Taiwan” (reference from Wikipedia). Meanwhile my younger daughter is also participating by repeating the teacher -recorded sentences. Although this interaction reflects a “learning” of Mandarin it does support the way both girls are acquiring Chinese when they go their classes.

My main message for parents who have their children in language programs is to remember learning/acquiring a language takes a village. It is NOT the sole responsibility of the teacher. You, too, have to make a HUGE effort to support the minority language in your home. This can mean taking the time to learn Spanish (or the target minority language), or in our case Mandarin, as well. This can also mean finding ways to increase the status of the minority language in your lives. However you plan on embracing an additional language–make sure you are enjoying the process because children will also respond to your reactions towards becoming a bi/multilingual family.

Sometimes Spanish does not come first!

Even before I had Sabrina I was scoping out our foreign language schools options. I got on several waiting lists and eventually got into all of them! In fact, I keep my nena on a rolling waiting list because you never know. I was so set on foreign language exposure that I did not even bother looking into English child development (aka day care options or mothers-day-out programs). I had my heart and eyes focused on the foreign language component that it, unfortunately, blurred my sense of vision. I lost sight of what was really important — my daughter’s well being, her happiness, and what she needed in school.

As I scoped out language schools I started to notice a trend. Most of them seem to have a stricter and more regimented program for teaching and taking care of children. I started to wonder if this had something to do with the ways children are taught and cared for in Latin American countries. I know that western/North American child rearing practices can be very different than other parts of the world, so surely this, too, affects the way children are regarding in Latin American day care centers and schools.

As I have mentioned in other posts, we love the little school Sabrina is enrolled in now. They value linguistic diversity and that, to me, is priceless. We have had to consider other options because it was now too far from our home, but to be honest, I was not entirely happy with the stricter and more regimented schedule they have in place. I won’t get into details, but I will say that I recently checked out an English school in town and walked into a whole new world.

The child was at the center of their “play-curriculum.” If my baby girl wants to paint, she can; if she wants to play with shaving cream in a water table, she can. The place seemed happy, the kids were happy, and most importantly, they were doing things that 2 and a half year olds should be doing—socializing and playing. In other words, they don’t have to wait for art time to happen in an organized, sitting in their chair, and waiting their turn fashion.

Read: Is Bilingual Education Right for Us?

Taking the initiative to look at English schools may have happened out of necessity, but deciding that sometimes Spanish does not come first was a process. We have been speaking in Spanish to Sabrina since the day she was born and have been really consistent about it. She probably knows about 90% Spanish and 10% English.

My heart was aching and tears were swelling up in my eyes when I was forced to take a closer look at the decisions we were making about exposing my daughter to Spanish almost 100% of the day. I realized that the decisions we had made were possibly costing her opportunities to just be a kid. All she wants to do is play, socialize with other kids, and do creative things. Sure she would stay in her seat, listen to the teacher, walk in a line with her hands behind her back, but she is too young to voice her opinion or even know that there are other schools available where being a 2 ½ year old comes first, then learning Spanish.

I’m curious, what are foreign language schools/day care centers like in your city? Have you compared English versus Spanish schools? If so, did you notice a difference like I did? How are you weighing your options?

*Originally published on the Spanglish Baby website on December 26, 2012

In search of the ideal foreign language program for your child? (a post in progress)

Where do you start? Which language do you choose? How do you know which school is the best for your child? How much should it cost? Do all the parents at that school have the same goals? Does it matter? Should there be economic and ethnic diversity? If these are questions that matter to you when choosing a language immersion program then continue reading below.

When I started investigating,  8 years ago,  which language program would be a great fit for my daughter I simply looked at programs that offered Spanish. I failed in considering whether the foreign language programs were a good fit for her emotional and social well-being. One of the goals in writing this post is to offer parents an informed perspective, as a parent and academic, in helping you choose the “right” school for your child.

Please leave any other questions or concerns about choosing the ideal foreign language school for your child in the comments section below.

**this is a rough-draft of an upcoming post

 

 

 

 

My Toddler’s Bilingual Development

I have been recording (mostly on Facebook) my daughters’ bilingual development. The following conversation took place when she was 1 year and 11 months old.

Me: Sabrina, ven a comer los frijoles.
Sabrina: No, jole!
Me: Ven aquí.
Sabrina: No ven
Me: Si
Sabrina No, si!

As you can see  her words are “fragmented” and she echoed what I was saying, yet all in Spanish. It has been an amazing journey that not a single person could have described to me prior to deciding to raise my daughter with 2 (at least) languages. I have seen her change from a predominately Spanish speaker at 2 and a 1/2 years old to having a strong command of English within 6 months of being immersed in an English daycare. Today, at 4 years old, it can be difficult to tell which of the 2 languages she speaks “better.” Just the other day the following conversation took place between her and a new friend:

New Friend: Sabrina, por que hablas ingles?
Sabrina: En Austin hablamos espaniol y in Ecuador we speak English!
Me: That’s right, honey. You are bilingual and your friend is becoming bilingual just like you!

In fact, one could argue, based on that single sentence she uttered above, that she has a strong command of both languages because she managed to code-switch while maintaining the grammatical structure of both languages!

When it comes to raising a bilingual child it seems like, as I have said before, there are many trials, joys, and tribulations. Having moved to Ecuador recently we switched to speaking English with Sabrina for the first time in her life! She refused to speak to us in English for about 2 months UNTIL she came home from her first day at a Spanish school. The teachers and classmates were so impressed with her American English that she, what I assume, felt proud. Since that day she speaks mostly in English to us. It was a complete shock to me to see how drastically she switched all due to what her peers thought. Now, as I mentioned, my biggest concern is asking her to switch back to Spanish IF we ever decide to move back to the U.S.

Have your children successfully switched back to the original language you had spoken after moving back to a country of origin?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Spanish brings out the best in people…

The older Sabrina gets the more Spanish I speak. The more she learns to interact, the more I use Spanish—-sounds normal, right? Well the scenarios I am about to describe in the paragraphs below are beyond normal. Let me preface the stories with, when Sabrina was first born I was having a hard time (for many new-mommy reasons) making the effort to communicate with her in Spanish. Now, thankfully, it seems to fill our days and routines, although never did I imagine I would encounter scenarios like the ones I am about to share.

What I am starting to realize is that other people are noticing, more and more, that we are not speaking the dominant language–English. Speaking in Spanish to my baby girl is bringing out the best in strangers. Let me give you a glimpse…

The other day we were grocery shopping at a pretty popular market. It’s the kind of market that serves gourmet, chef-prepared foods—such a delight. We were actually walking passed the chef-prepared food aisle–I like to admire the food and dream about buying it guilt-free. At any rate, this man noticed that I was speaking to Sabrina in Spanish—I think I was saying something like, “No, Sabrina. No toques eso. No es juguete mi amor.” She was reaching for an odd shaped box with some sort of specialty bread in it. This was happening while I was also admiring the food when an older man turns to me, holding chef-prepared green salsa enchiladas in his hand, he looks at me with a sincere smile, and says, “This looks like something you may like.” WOW. I was shocked. I wasn’t offended because he was so sweet about it, in a way. Now, I may be totally off here, in that he may have uttered the same sentence had I been speaking in English. The thing is—me speaking in Spanish and strangers making comments about it, either directly or indirectly, is starting to become a pattern. Some of the readers may even blame it on the fact that I live in Texas, a predominately conservative state. Here’s the thing. I have experienced instances like these when I lived in a “liberal” state, too. I grew up in Orange County, CA and experienced similar stereotyped comments growing up all the time–at least it seemed like it was all the time. Can you believe that I was I was once asked (when I lived in a predominately white city in SoCal) where it was that I tanned!

So, the second scenario where me speaking Spanish has brought out the best in someone happened about a month ago. This one left me feeling shocked, yet a little hurt as well. I was in another grocery store. This one is just a traditional market. My abuelita was with me and I was speaking in Spanish with her, my daughter, and subsequently with the lady behind me in line. I can’t remember what my abuelita and I were talking about, probably about the food we had just bought. She wanted to make arroz mexicana. I had purchased some wine and the cashier starts motioning to me as if she were driving and saying “drivers license, drivers license.” I realized quickly that she didn’t know I could speak English as well which is totally fine. It’s her second comment that really upset me and I probably should have called her out on it right away. She, then, said to me (as I was taking out my drivers license and continuing to talk with my abuelita), “English, please. English!” I was, again, shocked. Interestingly, right at that same moment the lady behind (who knew English and Spanish) said, “Que linda es su bebita. Cuantos meses tiene?” In fact, now that I think about it I think she asked me that to, in her own way, tell the cashier that we can speak whatever it is we want. We weren’t even speaking to the cashier! The cashier, once again, said, “English, please. ENGLISH.” I proceeded to swipe my credit card on the machine, looked her in the eye and said (because she still thought I only knew Spanish), “Actually I can speak in either one, English or Spanish. I can speak both.”

What are some experiences you have had speaking a minority language in a majority-language context?