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Teaching My Kids Spanish Has Not Been Easy

by Christine@TheAums on October 3, 2012 · 22 comments

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?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Runnermom-jen October 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm

You are awesome. The only Spanish we speak here is from Dora the Explorer ;)
So glad you feel like you “belong”.
xo
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Christine@TheAums October 12, 2012 at 10:21 am

Gracias, Jen :)

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Stephanie Cottrell (@lifewithpants) October 3, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I am so glad that you’ve found a good space for your Spanish practice! I am a TOTALLY non-native speaker of French. No one in my family speaks it or has ever spoken it, but I got the urge to be different in my Southern Cal HS and decided to take French instead of Spanish. I majored in French in college, I have my MA in French Lit, I did 4.5 years of PhD work in it and I’ve lived in France twice. It was safe to say that my bebe would grow up with French. From the beginning I had books to read to her and French lullabies to listen to with her on my iPhone. I obviously don’t speak French with her all the time, but I’ve always tried to whenever it felt natural. Eating and driving in the car were some of the places that I could speak French and not feel self-conscious out in the world. I am so fortunate to have a great friend here in ABQ that I met in grad school who is French, and her little girl is only 8 months younger than Pants. We all speak French when we’re together and her former nanny (who is a former student of both of ours) now runs the French immersion program at the preschool down the street (where both of our little girls are now enrolled) that has a well-established Spanish PS program. My husband, who had never really thought about foreign languages before we got together, is even learning right along with her. :-) This is super rambling, but just know that there’s no one right way to do the second language thing!!
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Christine@TheAums October 12, 2012 at 10:33 am

So cool to learn about education background. There was a time when I wanted to keep moving forward with language studies after my BA, but I obviously chose a different path. I love your last line…adding it to my stockpile of encouragement to keep on trying. Thank you!

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Stasha October 3, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Oh I nodded all the way through this! I am always ashamed to admit that I am fluent in five languages and my son only knows English. But I feel a tiny bit better after I read what you said. I always resort to English, it just comes so much easier. Even though I am not a native speaker…
Good on you, keep pushing girl!! You are such a great teacher.
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Christine@TheAums October 12, 2012 at 11:02 am

5 languages! Wow, Stasha…what are they and how did you become fluent in them? Also, thanks for your support :)

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Ana Flores October 3, 2012 at 11:53 pm

What a real and honest story. You are certainly not alone! It definitly takes a village to raise a bilingual kid…or 4! Finding a olaygrouo in which you all feel comfortable in is essential. Would love to hesr more about your journey to raise bilingual kids!
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Christine@TheAums October 12, 2012 at 11:03 am

Gracias, Ana! Your website has been super helpful and encouraging.

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Tracey Black October 5, 2012 at 9:49 pm

I can totally relate. My mother was born in China and lived in Taiwan before moving to the States in the 70s. And like you, the goal wasn’t to teach me to be bilingual but to fully assimilate in American culture and the English language. My sisters were born in Taiwan and lived there for 15+ years so they learned English after the fact. I think maybe they all kept me from learning Chinese so they could talk about me in front of my face without me knowing what they’re saying. Seriously. But I caught on to a few words here and there.

I definitely feel a slight pang of jealousy when parents these days immerse kids in bilingual households. Unfortunately, I still have a hard time learning new languages. All 4 years of Japanese has basically amounted to me being able to count to a hundred and say please and thank you.
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Christine@TheAums October 12, 2012 at 11:24 am

I think my parents used Spanish as their secret language, too. Wanting to know what they were saying motivated me early on. I’m hoping that whatever exposure I can give them now in early childhood, will make it easier for them if they choose to formally learn Spanish later in life. And then there’s the other half of their culture…Japanese. My boys have begun taiko drumming classes which is exposing them to the language and I hope to bring more into our homeschooling curriculum.

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jolene October 6, 2012 at 8:16 am

I am so glad I found you and this post through SITS. I am very interested in all things language. My husband is Latino but is not bilingual – in fact his mother who is bilingual never taught him Spanish. She was afraid b/c her mother-in-law was racist and treated my husband and his brother differently b/c they were Latino.

Anyways, I am not bilingual… Ok, I’m functionally bilingual in Spanish. Studied it for 8 years, have lots of Spanish speaking friends and family AND I teach English as second language so a majority of my students and their families only speak Spanish. I can get by, and I try to practice as much as possible. My side of the family is Polish, and I’m working on that too.. but that’s a different story. I love languages and I think it is so important to know more than one.

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah! I think it is great that you are exposing your children to Spanish, and I hope that when I have my own children we have opportunities to speak Spanish (and maybe Polish if I ever get better) and be multilingual. It is a huge asset to be bilingual and getting plugged into those groups is so important. I am glad that you have found a group that is welcoming. Most of the parents I work with are happy that I even try to speak Spanish, and they correct me. It’s hard to make mistakes, but as a language teacher, I know that’s the way you learn.

Buena suerte!
~Jolene
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Christine@TheAums October 15, 2012 at 10:44 pm

I only wish I had put aside my intimidation and found this group sooner. Better late than never though. I do love languages as well. Would love to add Portuguese, Japanese, and Hawaiian to my repertoire one day. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience!

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Shelda Raymonvil October 6, 2012 at 9:59 am

My recent blog post was actually about the benefits of being bilingual. It’s great that you’re at least trying to teach your kids the language. I hope they catch on…just hang in there! :)

Visiting from SITS.
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Christine@TheAums October 15, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I read your post and agree wholeheartedly. Thanks for the encouragement!

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Meyser October 7, 2012 at 7:55 am

Doing a late Sharefest hop, and this post really stood out. It’s something I often struggle with. I studied French, I speak, read, write, understand it very well, have been fluent at one point but due to the lack of practice, a bit less now. I have a degree to teach it and I do (not this year though). My husband always says we have to raise or future kids to be bilingual. I think that’s not possible if as an adult you have to think about what you say. It has to go without thinking. It cannot be forced. I think there are other ways to make your kids bilingual, or speak different languages well. You’ve found one of them, and I’m happy for you! I hope to find something likewise when the time comes…
(and I think, here in Belgium, it’s essential. Lot of the problems we have, are born from frustration with the other half of the country not understanding us properly and vice versa…)

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Christine@TheAums October 15, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Yes…I, myself, need to get to the point where I don’t have to think so hard to express myself. I have the skills and now it’s just about practice, practice, practice, and commitment. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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Rachee October 7, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I envy people who are fluent in another language and have thought about learning a seond language with my daughter but alas! I’m lazy and, well, that.
Seriously, way to go and congrats on taking the steps!
-r
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Christine@TheAums October 9, 2012 at 7:46 am

Thanks, Rachee!

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The Tired Mother October 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm

It’s so nice to hear someone else having this debate. I’m not a native French speaker, but grew up with a Foreign Language teacher for a mother and lived abroad for a year. My mother and I used to speak French when we were in public. I’d love to do the same with my kids, but that would actually require teaching them to speak French. I love the talking in the car idea. Also, on nights when my husband works nights, we’ve done an inconsistant lesson at dinnertime. But I find, a small glass of wine makes a foreign language go so much smoother. What a great idea to have an immersion program…that really is the best way to learn!

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Christine@TheAums October 15, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Well, why didn’t you tell me sooner about the wine?! If only I knew then what I know now, lol. The dinner table and the car really are the best places to practice, it’s true.

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Asianmommy November 14, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Good for you for making the time and commitment to learning Spanish for your little ones. We’ve been trying to learn Chinese for years, but it’s such a struggle. We know a bunch of words, but are still not fluent. Luckily, our new Chinese teacher has been very helpful & we’re making progress, little by little.
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Christine@TheAums November 20, 2012 at 8:45 am

I think anything is better than nothing. Having heard Spanish throughout my childhood definitely helped when I committed to learning it in college. Good luck with your journey to learning Chinese!

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