“Compra dos donuts glaseadas y tres de chocolate. Y no te olvides de pedir el vuelto,” I said to my eight-year-old son during one of our morning stops at the donut shop. He jumped out of the car waving a five dollar bill in his hand.
“¿Entendiste?” I asked. He nodded shyly. I watched him walk into the shop and talk to the attendant. Through the glass windows I could see him stick his nose on the counter were the donuts were graciously displayed. Some were decorated with sprinkles, and others were filled with delicious creamy flavors and powdered with sugar. Donuts were my son’s favorite treat for breakfast. I thought I could smell cinnamon and apples from my car.
Then, my son came out the door empty handed and looked at me, confused. “What did you say I had to buy?”
I chuckled and repeated, “Dos glaseadas y tres de chocolate. Y apúrate que vas a llegar tarde al colegio.”
“Did you understand? Can you repeat it to me?”
“Three chocolate and two glazed… right?”
Raising a bilingual family has been a daily challenge since I became a mom eleven years ago. At first it seemed so easy, because it was just me and my oldest son in our little world in Oklahoma. I talked and sang to him in Spanish, but little by little English crawled its way into our household through Sesame Street, Blue’s Clues, and Dora the Explorer. Then, he went to preschool where he was spoken to in English. His sentences were mixed and most people were not able to decipher his questions: “¿My mama is venir?” “Dónde es my toy.” When he was three, his vocabulary wasn’t as advanced as other kids his age so I took him to a developmental specialist. She was a smart and kind lady, who ensured me that he was perfectly fine for his age, but she also said, that bilingualism was slowing down his communications skills. “But don’t stop talking to him in Spanish,” she said. “He’ll eventually be able to separate the two languages. This is perfectly normal in kids with more than one language.” That alone was the best piece of advice I’ve ever received.
When I had my second child, however, the battle seemed lost. The two brothers communicated in English to each other, and used Spanglish to talk to mom and dad. My oldest was the one who understood and spoke Spanish the most, but my second son, the donut-loving boy, not so much. He picked up English faster than his brother, and although he spoke in mixed sentences and his language was also delayed, this time I expected it, and knew that he would catch up in no time.
He caught up in English, but Spanish went to sleep. Recently we, as a family, have decided to help our children improve their Spanish speaking skills as a way to give them another tool for life. That’s the reason I’m talking to them in Spanish, even when I have to repeat myself more than once. My oldest son’s grasp of Spanish is advanced, and he’ll ask if he doesn’t understand a word. But my eight-year-old still gives me a baffled look and a forced toothless smile. He claims to have no interest in learning Spanish, but I’m not giving up on him. I know that, deep inside, he’s doing a tremendous effort to learn.
I sometimes wonder how it feels living in his world. I imagine him as a diver, immersed in an ocean of Spanish, looking and observing from inside his mask, being able to understand our body language and read our expressions, but not really hearing us. I see him flowing smoothly with the current, enjoying the touch of algae and life under the sea. I know he’ll start morphing and becoming one of us, ‘Spanish fish’. His diving equipment will abandon him little by little, and he’ll develop gills. I’m optimistic that one day he’ll take his mask and snorkel off and will be able to completely understand. With some more practice he’ll be able to speak Spanish fluently, and swim confidently in the vast and beautiful multicolor sea of our language.
Mariana Llanos is a Peruvian writer who has published several children’s books in English and in Spanish. She studied acting and has worked as a preschool music and art teacher for the past years. She advocates for literacy and the inclusion of multicultural characters in children’s literature. Mariana visits schools around the world through virtual technology. Visit her website http://www.marianallanos.com and her Amazon author page www.amazon.com/author/marianallanos for more information.
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This article was originally featured on Discovering the World Through my Son’s Eyes, as part of the Latinas 4 Latino Literacy Dia Blog Hop: http://discoveringtheworldthroughmysonseyes.blogspot.com/2015/04/latinas-for-latino-lit-dia-blog-hop.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DiscoveringTheWorldThroughMySonsEyes+%28Discovering+The+World+Through+My+Son%27s+Eyes%29