In our household our community language is English because it is the language we all have in common. When myself and my husband are talking with each other or to the kids in each other's presence we tend to use english because it avoids a lot of unnecessary repetition and misunderstandings. It was always a fact that Spanish would be our language when me and the kids were on our own together or if I was talking directly with them. When the boys were very little this was easy. At least two days a week we spoke mostly Spanish during which time I'd often organise a Spanish playdate. Then there was Spanish Club for Kids which grew out of the adult club where the boys got used to hearing Spanish spoken outside the home by other people and where they began to make friends.
This year the balance began to change. Instead of Spanish being almost exclusively a home language I have had to adapt because 12 months ago my eldest started school. In five days the transition will be complete when his brother, 20 months younger, starts school also. For us as a family it's meant some big adjustments. How do you keep the language going when the one to one time is almost non-existant? Of course, he's become used to repetitive questions after school in Spanish like "Que tal tu dia?" (how was your day) and "Que comiste?" (what did you eat) so the new rhythm has introduced some new vocab, but it's been much bigger than that.
When they were really little at home I said everything twice; once in English and another time in Spanish. But outside we almost always spoke English. The lack of personal time has forced our use of Spanish out into the open.
I have always said this bilingual language thing is a bit of an experiment. You never know how much it is going to stick, or what will stick and personality has a hue bearing on the child's receptiveness. My little boy doesn't wait for me to say everything twice; he hasn't his older brother's patience. So this last year when it's been just us together (Thursdays and Fridays) I've learned to adapt and focus on individual words. We talk english but I'll ask "do you want your leche fria o caliente?" (Do you want your milk cold or hot). He has built up a lot of vocab of words but isn't used to stringing together sentences yet although he's much better at repeating phrases when asked. He is also a lot more tired than his brother and has consistently refused to participate in Spanish Club for Kids so there were many learning opportunities lost but recently (last 2 months of the term) saw a slight shift... So it's not possible to say much or compare their progress except to say to myself; he is getting there over and over like a mantra every time he rejects Spanish out of hand!
So this year saw me have to change our use of Spanish at home but the biggest shift was outside. I have found that as my eldest son's comprehension improves I can jabber away at him in Spanish when I'm talking to him directly wherever we are. In school, in the car, in church, at friends houses it's become natural to talk in english one moment with someone else then in Spanish to Josh. I say natural... I worry that I'm excluding his little brother somemtimes yet I am starting to believe he understands more than I ever realised. But the biggest worry was during and just after Brexit.
We were transitioning to using Spanish in public. It was feeling good, I was seeing J develop. He'd get really tired after an hour at home after his school day so using Spanish after a certain time could sometimes be pointless but we were chatting away in public before and after school when suddenly public discourse in the media etc becan to turn towards the anti-foreigner. Brexit was a rude awakening. I began to feel like a foreigner in my own country. I saw people look at me when I spoke to the kids in Spanish and felt exposed, scared of an attack. I heard stories from other mums feeling the same. I felt like how I used to feel as a child being bullied at school; yet there were no actual instances of bullying, only weird looks from strangers. So this is what I did. Every time I spoke Spanish I did it loud and proud. I yelled at J and D and met each weird look with a smile. I forced myself to fake a confidence I didn't feel.
I can honestly say the atmosphere after Brexit changed. It is not in my mind. I know also however that the temperature seems to be warming again with fewer people obviously judging me as a foreigner so I have hope for the future. Hope that we as a society can continue to accept the 'other' with understanding. For us as a family with the little one starting school using Spanish will continue to develop and challenges will continue but I have no doubt that it'll do them good; because right now understanding that we're all from somewhere different and teaching my children to have empathy for the "other" seems to be the most valuable gift I can bestow on them.
Spanish Gemma is a mum living in Kings Heath, Birmingham, UK.
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