Is all the Hard Work of Bilingualism Really Paying Off?

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My kids with Jose-Luis Orozco

You know those moments when you have to pause, take a breath and remind yourself to take it all in? I had one of those language moments last weekend where the figurative waters parted in totally unexpected ways to reveal that all my hard work around my kids’ language development is actually paying off.

The well-known bilingual children’s musician, Jose-Luis Orozco, performed at our local children’s library last weekend. He led us through the alphabet, numbers and numerous songs in Spanish. Magnetic and engaging, he clearly derives such joy from music and children.

It was a small room so at the end, I encouraged my children to go over and thank him in Spanish. He asked my kids a few basic questions in Spanish and I saw their Spanish has surpassed the basics now. They couldn’t have had this conversation a year ago, I thought. All my efforts at developing their Spanish are paying off!

Sometimes I feel a little like the crazy mom about languages, you know the one whom every time you meet just never seems to shut up about something you could care less about. Since before I had children, I always imagined they would be Spanish speakers since it’s a language I love so dearly. But it definitely takes organizational acrobatics to introduce a new language amidst already busy schedules and trying to support our home language, Arabic, too. But when it comes to my kids and language, I will gladly take on even the uneven bars of scheduling, even though it requires added expenses—it would be much cheaper if we just sent our kids to the regular afterschool program for example—and it necessitates endless organizing, scheming and assembling groups, teachers and transportation.

But I know I am giving my kids a huge opportunity and gift even if at times I have wondered if all of these extra expenses and organizational headaches are really worth it. And finally after almost a year, I can see it’s working. And the unexpected thing? Their Spanish is proving to be a gift that touches other people’s lives as well.

My six-year-old daughter came home last Friday to proudly show me a board game she made during Spanish-immersion camp. I did a double-take when I saw she had written her first words in Spanish on the board. And I switched to Spanish with her to see how she was progressing. Here it is (I haven’t quite gotten the hang of talking a little softer when the camera is so close to my face. Sorry about that!):

Then I did what any proud mother would do and sent the link to my second family of sorts who live in Ecuador, the ones who witnessed my development from a non-Spanish speaker to a bilingual in the year I lived in their house after college. We are still very close and she refers to my children as her nietas, grandkids. And my Ecuadorian mom’s reaction? Gracias por ayudarme a vivir un poquito mas. Thank you for helping me live a little longer. Witnessing the joy my daughter’s Spanish brought to my Ecuadorian mom was such an unexpected surprise. Her words made the sun shine just a little brighter that day.

All in all it confirmed what I already know. Bilingualism makes the world a better place!

This post is part of the Multicultural Kids Blog Carnival, “Hidden Opportunities,” hosted this month by Stephen from Head of the Heard.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Loved this! I’m half Mexican half Irish, I speak to my 3 and 1 year olds in Spanish, my Sudanese husband speaks to them in Arabic and they have English at nursery. My son Karim speaks all 3 amazingly well and Sofia doesn’t speak yet but says words like ‘yes’ in English, ‘Ana!’ (Me in Arabic) and agua which as you know is water in Spanish. It’s hard work but will be so worth it! Mabrouk on your efforts to teach your kids a language you didn’t even grow up speaking! Thanks for sharing your story! 🙂

  2. Shukran and gracias for the encouragement Liz! That’s fantastic your kids speak all 3. (And we also strongly debated Sofia as a name for our 2nd daughter since it works in Arabic, English and so many other languages!) Would you be interested in being interviewed for our real intercultural families section on our website? https://www.incultureparent.com/category/realfamilies

  3. I can so relate to what you write! I’m in a similar situation, teaching my kids German (we also talk it at home) and Italian – they go to an English school where they’re also taught Dutch. (See the description of our situation here: http://expatsincebirth.com/2013/07/22/when-you-end-up-talking-another-language-with-your-kids/ and here: http://expatsincebirth.com/2012/08/19/which-language-to-choose/). We do such an incredible effort to teach our children all those languages : it is worth it! Every single headache and expense. The childern may not realize it now, but later they will. For sure. – Thank you very much for reminding me to pause, take a deep breath and observe what the kids have acheived so far. 😉

  4. Thanks Ute for sharing your story too! That’s what I keep telling myself-it will all be very worth it someday. And when they are multilingual adults, they will think it’s awesome that they grew up with all these languages!

  5. Great post, Stephanie! I too sometimes feel like the “crazy language mom” for raising my preschooler in English and my non-native Spanish.

  6. Thanks so much Lynn for reading and commenting. Glad to know I’m not alone in being the crazy language mom!

  7. Bilingualism definitely pays off! My Puerto Rican husband and I (Chilean) speak only Spanish to our three children. Our daughters are 7 and 4, and our son is 2 y.o. The girls go to a Spanish-Immersion School and speak both languages very well. When we hear our firstborn read and write both in English and Spanish, we know that being so pushy with the Spanish language at home is paying off. We are a Latin American family, and not only do we feel that it is natural to speak Spanish to them. It is so important to give them this extra tool for life. José Luis Orozco has been to our local public library many times, and has gone to the girls’ school. He is really talented and fun! Now our oldest child wants to learn French, besides English and Spanish. We highly encourage her, and tell her that will open many doors in the future. She will start her French class in a couple of weeks. Thanks for such a nice article. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  8. Thanks for reading and commenting Trinidad! I loved reading about your family’s language story too- thanks for sharing! So great to hear your kids are so comfortable in both languages and that your oldest wants to learn French too. It definitely make it all feel worth it when you see them developing their own language interests, right?!

  9. Qué linda!!!! I had forgotten that you also studied in Ecuador- I was in Quito in 2007 (USFQ). Your daughter speaks beautifully- definitely a reflection of your hard work and dedication:).

  10. Thanks so much for your comment Becky! They will go to Spanish immersion camp for a part of the summer again this year! I lived in Guayaquil in 1998-99, during the time the economy was dollarized. It feels like ages ago now! I was just talking this weekend to my Ecuadorian family and they reminded me how overdue for a visit I am so I hope to try to go again within the next 2 years.

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