What I have learned about raising multilingual children in the U.S. as a Chicana

I started this journey, this goal of wanting my children to be bilingual by reading books about bilingual parenting. None of the authors looked and sounded like me and none were born and raised in the U.S. like myself. If they were, they usually were not Chicana. My obsession in making sure my children knew Spanish was not because I wanted them to have a global or economic edge. I didn’t even necessarily want them to be “able to speak to more or other people.” I wanted my children to speak Spanish because my parents were asked to not speak it when they first entered public schools in this country. My intent in raising bilingual children was a form of resistance and healing for what my parents and countless of other Mexicano immigrants like my family had endured.

The strategies I read about didn’t quite fit with how I grew up nor who I am as a bilingual. At the same time,  the deeper I delved in my Ph.D. in bilingual education while also  raising my children I realized that U.S. born and raised Mexicanxs/Chicanx communities like myself draw from our own unique sets of bilingual strategies. Some of these include the following:

  1. Speaking Spanish as a form of Resistance! For example, if you notice that others seem a little uncomfortable with your Spanish, then, maybe you speak a little louder in Spanish. This has happened to me countless of times and usually in a grocery line.
  2. Speaking Spanish as a Right: This strategy is similar to the one above, but perhaps you choose to simply keep speaking Spanish despite others being uncomfortable. My Spanish was once corrected (in English) by a cashier at a bakery. I took this as an opportunity to politely remind the cashier that I can speak however I’d like as it is my Spanish. At the same time, I modeled for my daughters (yes, he corrected me in front of my children–society doing its part in bringing Spanish down) how to stand up and protect their Spanish.
  3. When you promote your culture, children are more invested in speaking Spanish: One thing we do every year is set up an alter for the day of the dead. This is a great opportunity to share with my daughters about their ancestors and family who have past (all of them happen to be Mexican).
  4. We NEVER speak badly or make fun of Spanish (or Mandarin, but that’s a different blog post): We treat Spanish like a very special guest in our home who deserves all the respect in the world. We only uplift Spanish and say wonderful things about it because society does a “great” job bringing the language down as it is.
  5. English does not live with us: Sure English makes its presence (similar to a tidal wave actually) but we ask it to leave, we ignore it, and sometimes even though we use it we don’t give it a single ounce of love. It’s just kind of there. Society does a fantastic job boosting its ego so we do not worry about English in the slightest. EVER.
  6. Spanish is love: I am constantly sharing with my daughters how Spanish is our language. I remind them that not all Latinx people speak Spanish, but they are still Latinx. I share that it is part of who we are as Latinx people and that is why I love speaking Spanish with them.
  7. Spanish is who we are: If it is not part of who you are or your family’s past it is very hard, I would argue impossible to pull off. We happen to love music in Spanish from different countries, watch TV and movies in Spanish or from Spanish speaking countries, and  read in Spanish. Our family members and friends know Spanish. All of this helps in children’s investment in  speaking Spanish.
  8. Language Awareness: Just like parents are advised to develop print awareness in  young children, I believe in developing language awareness. I am always sharing with my daughters which friends speak Spanish and make an effort to make sure their doctors speak Spanish as well. I don’t necessarily ask them to speak to them in Spanish, I simply let them know that specific individuals know Spanish so that they can choose to speak it with them or not.  This language awareness has helped in getting my daughter to recognize words in Spanish in society such as actual print media, etc.

This are just a few strategies I have learned about raising 3rd generation bilinguals in a city that mostly speaks English (at least the places and spaces I go to). I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to send my children to summer camps in Spanish, Spanish immersion daycares, and live in Ecuador. These experiences certainly boosted their investment in speaking Spanish, but I remind people that the actual work in raising them bilingually started in our home. I’ve had people say to me, “Oh, it’s cause you lived abroad and they went to a Spanish immersion school. That’s why they speak Spanish.” Yes, they did and it was a boost, BUT Marcus and I taught them Spanish. This journey started before they were born and we have made a HUGE concerted effort to expose them to our variations of Spanish (as we have different ones).

I have written similar posts in the past (as a form of an update) about our bilingual journey. I love to write (it’s really cathartic) and share our journey in order to inspire other Latinx or Chicanx parents. I have met numerous people from Chicanx or Latinx baungrounds hesitant in their ability to raise  bilingual children and it is for them (para nuestra comunidad) that I continue to share our journey. Si se puede!

Lastly, Spanish was a gift we gave our daughters and one I hope will stay with them for a life time.

 

 

 

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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

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.

 

 

 

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.

Bilingual Instructional Strategies

There is some ground-breaking work to be done in the field of bilingual education. This work involves the development of instructional strategies that has the heritage language learner in mind. The following are a few terms (used by various researchers) who are starting to do work in naming and developing those strategies:

Cross-language Transfer

Translanguaging Pedagogy

Border-Crossing Pedagogy

Instructional Applied Linguistics

Hybrid Literacies

Multilingual Pedagogy

Multilitericies

Critical Additive/Bicultural Pedagogy

Flexible Bilingualism

Multilingual Pedagogic & Curriculum Research

Unfortunately, unless researchers from competing fields come together to develop these strategies we will continue to keep language minorities marginalized. In other words, the field of Second Language Acquisition, Bilingual Education, and (Socio)linguistics need to merge and get passed their paradigmatic tensions so that we can begin to create a pedagogy that benefits various models of bilingual education (e.g., dual language, transitional, ESL) where many of heritage language learners are placed to either learn another language or develop their native one.