Having a bilingual family is not something I ever gave any thought to. That is, until I met my husband. Or rather my husband’s family.

I still remember the light blue sweater I was wearing and thinking about why exactly my deodorant was not working. The sweater had nothing to do with my excessive sweating, it was Thanksgiving weekend in Indiana after all. No, it was the meeting of the family and most specifically the game we were playing after just being acquainted. Mexican Bingo, and it was of course all in Spanish. No one was cutting me any slack, including my future husband. I mean, seriously. I took French in high school and a couple semesters of it in college and I couldn’t recall any of that. Spanish? Forget about it. I knew nothing. Zilch. Nada. (Wait, is that Spanish?) Here I was, fumbling with pronunciations and trying to act like I was not at all embarrassed, and having a good time on top of it. Everyone in Julio’s family speaks English and Spanish perfectly. I was struggling with both that evening.
I really admire my in-laws for enforcing Spanish only in their house when their kids were growing up. The benefits of being bilingual are enormous, and it seems some bilingual parents don’t emphasize the minority language for whatever reason. It’s hard. Really hard. Now I have a deep appreciation not only for my in-laws, but for my husband who has not given up speaking Spanish to our kids. For him it’s extra difficult given that he has to speak to me in English. The kids are acutely aware that he could speak English to them. They also are exposed to so much more English because of the conversations they hear between us, not to mention they’re just with me the majority of the time.
He keeps at it though. The kids speak back in English, obviously understanding everything in Spanish, but not feeling comfortable enough to reply in the same language as their dad. Often he will repeat the Spanish version of their English, similar to when I repeat their wrong grammar with the correct usage. Julio will take it a step further and ask them to repeat themselves in Spanish. Depending on their mood, amount of sleep they’ve had, where they are in their digestive cycle, and the exact orbit of the moon around Earth, he will get a nice reply, complete with correct accents and rolled r’s, a mess of tears with a full blown tantrum, or somewhere in between. One can see where this is difficult for him to keep up. But he has, since we became parents over 5 years ago.

Since that night of Mexican Bingo and not nearly enough Mexican beer, I must say I have improved my Spanish tremendously. I can understand a lot. I mean, I understand almost everything Julio says to our one year old! And I try. Heaven knows I want to know what’s going on when he’s talking to his parents on the phone and I hear Spanish Spanish Amy Spanish Spanish Spanish. What is he saying about me??? It’s incentive, it really is. But I can’t seem to grasp it all that well. And, if we’re being honest, I haven’t completely tried. I’ve bought books, audio CDs, downloaded apps. I have good intentions. But then I eventually stop studying it. I have a great resource. I could just talk to my husband. But with the limited time we have to talk (uninterrupted), me practicing my Spanish does not make the cut.
Both Julio and I want our kids to be bilingual. Not just able to understand Spanish, but speak, read and write it. I admit if I could become fluent it would be much easier, given I am with them all day, every day. But, while I continue to have good intentions of practicing on Duolingo (an awesome app I now have on my iPhone) daily, I also want to help my kids increase their fluency independent of my fluency. I plan on posting much more about our progress and how we’re going to accomplish this goal.   For now, here are a few things we do (in addition to Julio talking with the kids in Spanish).

  • Watch the Vme channel (PBS in Spanish).
  • After first watching a movie in English, the kids might watch it the next time in Spanish.  They did that this weekend with Turbo.
  • We used to watch this DVD series, but they have lost interest recently.  They learned a lot from it, and so did I.  It reminds me a little of Signing Time (which I love), except it’s to learn Spanish.
  • We pick out picture books at the library in Spanish and own many Spanish books.

It’s been over 8 years since the meeting of the family and never once have we played Mexican Bingo again.  Maybe I’ll suggest it next time!

These pictures are from a day of practicing bikes without training wheels.  We haven’t mastered that yet, but we’re not giving up.  Two wheeled riding and Spanish speaking kids are in the future, I just know it!

One thought on “Our UnSchoolhouse is Bilingual and I am not

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