Listening to a young high school student say “Thank you mom for teaching me Spanish” validates that I made the right decision. When he began elementary school at Woodland Elementary School in the City of Bell, I remember there was great controversy about the bilingual program. I clearly remember there was no hesitation on my behalf. I was interested in putting my son in the program, but there were parents who thought differently and even came to criticize that program making comments like, “This program does not work, it would only delay the children and it will confuse them especially when the child begins to know the sound of the letters.” Most of the parents opposed to the program and making all the negative comments didn’t speak English, and this caused confusion for me. I didn’t understand why Spanish speaking parents were opposed to having their children learn to read and write Spanish.
As a concerned mom, I consulted with my mother who is an experienced teacher, she told me, “Put my grandson in that program, children at that age are like sponges, I’ll help you, I will bring you the right books to learn Spanish.” Thanks for your time, knowledge and dedication Granny Maria. In addition, my husband, Sebastian, has been instrumental in increasing Spanish comprehension, because of him, my children understand the double meaning of Spanish words, phrases, sayings, jokes, etc, and they have a good pronunciation. When our children were young we would sit and watch an old TV sitcom called el Chavo del Ocho with silly humor that was helpful in their learning.
In the Latino culture, abuelitas can be an instrumental part in our children’s lives, they help pass down traditions, culture, and serve as Spanish teachers many times. Many times abuelitas are the ones who take care of our children while we work full time.
Abuelita Elvira did a great job with her grandson Jaden. Jaden told me that when he was little and she took care of him, he had to say “más papita” (more food) in order to get another spoonful of yummy food. Those were good tactics — it worked while he was beginning to talk.
Jaden promised me he would continue to practice speaking Spanish this year. He realizes he would be able to have longer conversations with his abuelita.
When I think back to when the bilingual program meetings were held at my kids’ elementary school, I remember feeling grateful; my son was going to be able to reinforce the Spanish language in the school and learn English at the same time.
At that time I thought about his future, and made being bilingual a priority. I wanted him to be completely fluent in both languages so that can then take on another language when the opportunity presented itself.
When my son was in the 5th grade, a few days before the holiday break, I received a thank you card from his teacher. At that time, he attended Ramona Elementary School in the city of Moreno Valley. Mrs. Olsen, his teacher wrote in the card, “Having your child in my class is a pleasure and a great help because he is bilingual; because of him I understood what parents wrote in the Holiday cards, as most of them were in Spanish. Your son was my translator and read them for me in class, thank you very much.” That class was made up of 26 students, among them were Asians, African Americans, Whites, and Latinos. To my surprise, the Latino children did not speak much Spanish, and if they spoke it, they could not read, much less translate it. The odd part was the parents did not speak Englsh, and that is why the cards were in Spanish, I remember wondering, how do they communicate?
I reflected in being in the same situation, only in a different school with Spanish speaking parents who did not prioritize their children being bilingual. Why? I don’t understand it. As a Latina mom, I think teaching our children to speak Spanish is not only an asset, but it is one of the greatest gifts that we can give them. It is a piece of our culture that can be carried on from generation to generation, so they don’t forget their roots.
My son started taking French in his first year of high school and has mastered it throughout his high school years. In addition, he has been able to teach my daughter who is a 6th grader the basics of French as well. Hearing them communicate in more than one or two languages, is an advantage, and they both realize how useful and important it is when they help translate for adults.
Parents do not limit your children, do not limit them to only speak one language. Whatever your first language is, teach it to them.
Remember most children are able to learn multiple things at once; the sooner you start talking to them and reading to them, they quicker they will pick it up. Help them get started when they are young so that when they are adults they can see the great benefits of being multilingual.
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