Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What! Papi Speaks English?

Meltingpot readers,

The gig is up in our Kinky Gazpacho household. Not so long ago, our nine-year old looked me straight in the eye and asked, "How come Papi can understand you when you speak English but not us?" And I knew right then, that it was all over. Not long after that I heard my son tell his grandfather, "Papi speaks English but we're not allowed to speak to him in English. We have to speak to him in Spanish. That's the rule."

The way he said it, made El esposo and I sound like language Nazis. Like we'd punish them with a hard smack with a ruler if they dared to utter a word of English to their dad.

Now we slip into that territory where the children know Papi speaks English so speaking Spanish is no longer a necessity, it's something that (ugh) we're making them do. And kids don't often embrace those activities billed as "for their own good." At least my kids don't. (Nose picking? Running down the stairs? Hitting big brother? It's all fair game for my boys.) They still pretty much only appreciate, fast, easy and fun. They're kids so I get that, but still I want them to learn their father's language. Add to this awful development that we've pulled them out of the Spanish Immersion school they'd been attending. Now they are students at a delightful, yet monolingual, private school closer to home. Spanish is taught, but only once a week and let's face it, my kids could be teaching that class. In fact, the Spanish teacher at the school -- a wonderful woman from Costa Rica -- has designated both of my boys to be her special helper in the classroom. My older son is in charge of quizzing his classmates!

Have I doomed my babies to a single-language life? I swear I can already hear them slacking off in their sentence construction and the vocabulary is going very Spanglish. Yikes. Short of moving to Spain for a year, what do you all suggest to keep their Spanish alive and kicking? To keep them motivated to learn and love the language. I'd love to hear your ideas, especially as the kids get older and they want to communicate more complex thoughts and they might not have the vocabulary to express themselves.

Estoy escuchando. I'm listening.



Jade @ Tasting Grace said...

I would say you shouldn't worry too much about "forcing" the kids to learn the language. I always wish my mother had made a more concerted effort to teach me Thai as I was growing up. Now, I'm trying to learn it as an adult and it is so hard. Being around family who only speak Thai is difficult too because, even though I do speak some, I don't get it all. And it's isolating.

I also suspect that preteens-teens go through a phase where they want to give up extra stuff they're learning. Maybe it's because of the extra hormones and growing pains? Anyway, I gave up piano lessons even though I enjoyed playing piano and now regret it.

So maybe you could just stick to your same house rules (or make it an all Spanish household), and when they complain, just explain it in terms of things they want (like "Don't you want people to understand you when you travel?" or "Don't you want to be able to talk to your {Spanish} family?") and warn them how easy it is to forget when you don't practice (like math, after a summer vacation away). And if they still complain, maybe just take comfort in the knowledge that they will thank you - one day. :)

ieishah said...

You start speaking to them in Spanish. Tell em you need to brush up and make them feel like they're helping you. It could be a family project, 'let's perfect mommy's Spanish' and see if it doesn't motivate them a bit.

Also, I'm in NY till Monday. Any chance your book party's a public affair?

Tere Kirkland said...

LOL, you can always buy them the DVDs of movies they want, but ones that are dubbed for Spanish language speakers. ;)

This Time Now said...

Simple, why don't you reach out to the Hispanic community where you live? You and your children will make new friends in the process as well as learn about each other's culture and language.

LT said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. And i'm going to stick with the 'you'll thank me one day,' motivation:)

You bet it's open to all of my 'adoring' public. Ha! Please, please, please come. I'd love to see your pretty face for real. Check my website for the details.

We def. have to do more movies in Spanish. I think I heard them watching Avatar the other day in Spanish with el esposo.

You know that's always in my plans, I guess I'll make more of an effort.

Waiting for Zufan! said...

Hey!! Just keep on doing what you are doing. Sounds like you're doing a beautiful job. One parent, one language, they say. (But in my case, I do speak both to them, so I break that rule. My X doesn't break the rule, ever.) In your case, Papi gets Spanish. No negotiations, no explanations. He shouldn't even respond if they dare try to speak English to him. And when you are all together, Spanish wins, and you all speak Spanish. When YOU are alone with the kids, you can speak whatever you want, of course. It has worked well for this household (divorce and all). Even the baby girl is a native speaker of both languages, which is pretty cool. And big girl continues to manage Chinese well enough to play in Chinese with her friends, although that is much more of a struggle since it isn't spoken in the home. Luckily, her best friend is a native Chinese speaker, which helps.

That's just my 3 cents. Hey, if I had such clear advice about the rest of my life, we'd be good! Help me ther? Maybe you can advise me on everything else. :)

Anonymous said...

I second what 'Waiting for Zufan' said about only speaking Spanish with el esposo.

I just adopted 2 kids (9 months ago) & they are trying to lose our native language fast. But I will not let that happen! Even as they learn English, I insist that they speak to me & to each other in our native language when we are together.

I am a firm believer in speaking as many languages as possible and I don't intend to have monolingual kids, when they are already bilingual. I don't believe in losing something one already has. Language is such an integral part in one's identity that it's important to keep.

They may not thank you now, but will most likely will later in life. I'm grateful that my mother made sure I did not lose my native languages and they helped me get valuable experiences as an adult. Good luck!

Jay said...

Recently discovered your blog, and I love it. I'm now a follower!

Jay said...

Popping in to say that I’m a recent follower of your blog, and I love it! I featured your blog on mine today in a post spotlighting multicultural/racial family bloggers, as well as to give you a blog award. I’m looking forward to continuing to read your blog in the future!

Shuggie said...

I was watching Latino in America on CNN and was thinking of this post. Did you see it? (One of the "Garcia" segments about the Dominican mom and Puerto Rican dad with 2 teen boys who live in Charlotte, NC). The whole show is interesting, but I was most intrigued by that one.

LT said...

WFZ & Anon,
I've been trying to speak more Spanish with the boys and it seems to be working. Thanks for the advice.

Welcome to the Meltingpot and thanks for nominating me for the award. I love your blog and can't wait to hear more about your meltingpot life in Japan. How cool.

R. said...

I just found your blog tonight as I'm almost done with your book, Kinky Gazpacho: Life Love and Spain. I wanted to learn more about your life post Kinky Gazpacho. I've managed to find an article online about you and your family moving into a diverse neighborhood (complete with a short video featuring the main characters of Kinky Gazpacho :-) and a lovely picture of two little boys). I am thoroughly enjoying your book by the way (mostly because I always wanted to study abroad in Spain but never got the chance).

Back to this particular blog topic, have you found a solution? I was going to suggest language games. Depending on their level of Spanish (seeing as how one of your sons is helping his teacher quiz other students), it may be a bit rudimentary.