Parenting Bilingual Niños When You’re Not Fluent

Parenting Bilingual Niños

Being the parent of a bilingual child isn’t always easy…especially when you’re not fluent. I’ve been teaching my daughter Spanish since birth…a few words here and there, never speaking in full conversations because I have absolutely no idea what a fluent Spanish speaking mother would say to her child.  I wish I was that lucky!  I hear little kids running around at church, parents praising and scolding and I happily do my best to absorb it all.  I remember my husband was teaching these little kinders when we lived in Michigan.  They were so adorable and so feisty.  He used to tell me stories and we would laugh about all the cute, but outlandish things they would say and were always amazed by how smart such little ones can be.  I was in awe of the bilingual kids especially, because they could shift back and forth effortlessly to Spanish with their friends, then English with their teachers. Of course, they had no idea…for them it was normal, but to me it was both miraculous and endearing.  I suppose that being the mother of a bicultural child, raised entre dos fronteras, causes you to see all other bicultural and bilingual children as being yours to some degree.  I can’t help but feel a slight tug on my heart strings, especially for a child who’s mother lengua es español.  I see my daughter in every child and especially in the eyes of those who look and sound like her. I think that all mothers function this way to some degree.  If a child is in danger or needs help, we rush in without even a second thought.  We mothers are like Superwoman.  You gotta give us that…we’re most definitely amazing!

I guess that’s why raising a child bilingual can be so difficult at times.  While it is an amazing gift for our children, we can sometimes be left feeling inadequate about our lack of language skills…knowing that we don’t quite measure up can sometimes become a source of disappointment. Some would criticize or say that mothers who aren’t fluent shouldn’t even bother, but of course I have to disagree.  I always disagree when people say such ridiculous things.  Moms, while you may not be fluent…your child still can be! Ok, perhaps my daughter is not fluent yet, but hope is not lost.  I just take it one step at a time.  Right now, my daughter’s favorite Spanish words are papi and papa.  =)  Papi translates to daddy, while papa means potato.  Yeah…that’s funny isn’t it?  These are two words that she says every day and while it may be very little to some, it means the world to me and my husband.  I can’t tell you how overjoyed my husband is just having our daughter run to him after he returns home from work screeching “Papi, papi!!!”  It’s simply heartwarming.  On the other hand, papas in our house translates to traditional potatoes while papitas is of course, reserved for fries and potato chips.  My daughter acknowledges many other Spanish words, but because her father and I are not fluent, we always return to our dominant language, English.

That brings me to another point.  My husband, who considers himself both Mexican and Tejano (Texan), grew up in a home where Spanish was forbidden. Yeah, sad but true and it’s not that uncommon in many bicultural American families.  We all tend to assimilate to some degree, in order to fit in with a society that is not often accepting of those who are different.  Regardless, my point is that my husband has felt all these years as if a piece of his heart has been missing.  He never got to hold a full Spanish conversation with his abuelo before he passed on, was forced out of conversations by more fluent speakers and (the biggest heartache of all) I know he feels somewhat defeated by the fact that he is unable to lead his own familia in Spanish.  Perhaps he thinks that he is no better than his father, who forbade Spanish.

Maybe some individuals would blame him for not finding a way to learn the language by now, but for me…I see a very passionate man who’s yearning to find himself and who sees Spanish language as being a very big part of his own personal identity. A man who has lived between two borders, been slapped by both and yet, still manages to love them both simultaneously. I marvel at all biculturals and bilinguals struggling to find their place…it’s not easy.  I can only wonder what will happen in our future.  Will my daughter eventually find her way to fluency?  Will we?  If not, will she be accepted?  How will she be received when she does finally become fluent?  Yeah, I could pretty much worry about all these things until I wear myself ragged.  There are so many haters out there…even family and friends can be harsh and unkind.  But, I think that what it all boils down to is that family is there for you no matter what, supporting you, unconditionally loving you, nurturing you.  I think I’ll keep on with my few words of Spanish, however small it may seem…and pray for a fluent future and a confident daughter who can turn her head at all the controversy and just be herself.

This post was originally published in January, 2011.


About Author

Hi ya'll! I'm Chantilly, a South Texas Foodie, Traveler, Photographer and Designer. Here on the blog, I share Mexican-inspired recipes, family adventures with the kiddos + cat, travel and shopping guides, reviews, and more. Don't forget to follow and subscribe for more from us!