I have come to love Wednesday mornings. About a year ago, I finally worked up the nerve to attend a weekly Spanish play group and I couldn’t be happier about this new addition to our homeschooling repertoire. Seriously, it only took me 7 years to make this move!
What took you so long?
Let’s see…I was busy raising 4 kids and feeling very much like a failure for not having spoken consistent Spanish to them from the moment they were born.
When I was pregnant I thought speaking Spanish to my kids would come easy. I was fluent after all.
Well, Spanish did come easy for saying things like, “The cow says Moooo.”
But when it came to saying things that you have to say very quickly, and usually very loudly, like, um “DO NOT STICK ANYTHING UP YOUR BROTHER’S BOOTY, EVER!” Well, Spanish did not come naturally to me, and it turns out I have to say those kinds of things a lot.
But, back to my fluency. I am not a native Spanish speaker. I heard Spanish all my life, between my parents, from my grandparents, in our family music, and all around the town I grew up. But I wasn’t raised to be bilingual which has always bummed me out. I asked my mom why and learned that at the time of my childhood, being bilingual wasn’t seen as the benefit it is today. In my family, it was actually more important that my grandparents learn English, so we were encouraged to speak to them in English.
But I was determined to learn Spanish, so I took it in high school and then in college when I majored in Latin American and Latino Studies. I immersed myself for a semester in Mexico and I even wrote my senior thesis en espanol! I could read, write, and yes, speak it, but the speaking had obstacles, some of which I could never get past. There were grammatical obstacles, like direct and indirect objects, and the commands always threw me for a loop. The biggest obstacle to speaking Spanish, however, was and is confidence.
I am a Latina who didn’t grow up speaking Spanish, and even though I’m bilingual, I have a hard time saying so. Sometimes being around native speakers is intimidating. Sometimes being around non-Latinos who are fluent in Spanish puts me to shame. I feel like I have to prove myself and I’m scared to make mistakes. Scared to be left in the dust of a too fast conversation, or corrected in a discouraging way.
Still, I practiced my Spanish any and every “safe” chance I had, like at our favorite taqueria, and when I was pregnant with my first child, I dreamed. Oh, how I rubbed my belly and dreamed that I would speak and sing to my baby in Spanish, giving him the gift of a second language. But the next several years were a blur. One baby led to three more, and like I said earlier, I could teach simple phrases and vocabulary words, no problem, but to actually be in parenting mode and think in a second language proved no easy task. English came naturally, so I resorted to English time and time again.
Through the years, I did make some short-lived efforts to change this pattern by enrolling myself in Spanish conversation classes and tutoring, and taking my kids to a weekly Spanish immersion program. I even hosted a very small Spanish play group in my home at one point. But because I didn’t speak exclusively to my kids in Spanish, I was not able to join the local Spanish play group that I knew about, which was run by Latina moms. It was hard to find a place where I belonged. I wasn’t a beginner and I lacked the confidence of a native speaker.
Finally, after 7 years, I learned about another weekly play group for Spanish-speakers called “El Patio de mi Casa” which translates to the yard of my house, and from day 1, I felt right at home. I met so many friendly moms, most of whom were non-English speaking, all of whom were happy to converse with me and my children in Spanish and help us out when we needed it.
For 7 years I contemplated joining a Spanish conversation play group and after attending this one for only 3 weeks I was told by the director in her lovely accented English, “Cristina, you are one of thee pillars of this place.” Talk about welcoming and accepting!
Since then, Spanish has been a regular part of our lives, and even though my kids are far from bilingual, I have not given up on my dream. In fact, people ask me all the time if my husband is teaching our kids Japanese. Guess we have our work cut out for us!
Are your children learning a second or third language? How’s it going?