Skip to main content

Speak English!

Well, it happened. My daughter and I encountered our first resistance to bilingualism, in the form of a three-year-old new friend. On Friday, we went to Jumperoo toddler time at Urban Air, a local indoor trampoline park, and Maya and Mateo had an amazing time. It took just a few minutes for her to open up, but once she felt comfortable, my little gymnastic was all over the place. She jumped on every trampoline, into the cube pit, across the balance beam, and climbed all through the obstacle course. These types of indoor playgrounds are the best place for her to get out her energy, and meet some new friends.

It was the last day of winter vacation week, so the place was bustling with toddlers, preschoolers, and their caregivers, and Maya interacted with many of the other kids. Additionally, when some of them asked, "What's your name?" I was happy to hear Maya respond with "Maya." It prides me that her productive Spanish is so good, but she also understands everything in English, too. That's one of the reasons I make sure we attend many activities like this. However, in the two hours we were at the indoor trampoline park, I was also surprised at such a busy place that the only Spanish we heard were the words passed between her and me.
As a precocious two-year-old, Maya is quite friendly and often befriends the older kids, tagging along with their play. I think she's like that because she adores her older cousins, recent immigrants from Guatemala, and the majority of her fraternization and play time is with them.
Maya spent a good amount of time playing with many different children, but near the end of the session she befriended a little girl who must have been about three or four years old. They smiled and laughed, jumped across the trampolines, and climbed to the top of the obstacle course. The little girl heard Maya and me speaking a different language back and forth, and she asked what we were speaking. "We speak Spanish," I told her. A while later into their playtime together, I helped them both mount the swing inside the obstacle course. I was telling Maya how to get on and push the swing, when the little girl turned to me and said, "Speak English!"
She spoke those words directly to me, and I don't know if Maya even heard over the buzz of activity all around us. But I immediately paused. I knew sometime during Maya's life we would encounter this situation out in public, but honestly I didn't expect it quite so soon. And I'm embarrassed to say, I had no idea how to respond. I still don't.
While bilingualism is a huge advantage, it can also build walls between monolingual peers. Those who don't speak your language might feel threatened when hearing a language they don't understand, or in the case of this little girl, I think she might have just felt confused and wanted to know what I was saying to my daughter. Maya's language production didn't seem to impede their ability to connect, or interact, or play, but my speaking in Spanish to Maya made the little girl feel left out.
I've made such a commitment to developing Maya's Spanish language, I haven't given much thought over the past few months about how that makes the people around us feel. Conversely, I must admit hearing the words "Speak English," put a knot in my throat, because it evoked images of microagression and discrimination in my mind, and made me fear for when my daughter might encounter prejudice like this in the future. But it is for this reason exactly that we are raising our kids as bilinguals, so that they can transition with ease from one language to another, from one culture to another, from one country to another.
For now, I just brushed the demand aside with a kind smile. I know the little girl said those words in innocence, not malice, but she has given me a lot to think about. I think about my ESL students, struggling to learn English in a new country, I think about my immigrant husband and how many times he has been told those very same words, and I think about the world my three rising bilinguals will encounter, and how they might be able to use their bilingualism to bridge these gaps and hopefully make the world a more welcoming place for people of all languages.


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5 Little Monkeys Racist?

I’ve seen a lot of Tik Toks debunking children’s nursery rhymes lately. I have two toddlers, so now whenever I hear one of those rhymes, I think about their unsavory origins. But my son loves, loves Five Little Monkeys. He’s just learning to talk, and can almost say it by himself. I’ve thought about telling him to stop singing it since I learned in the original lyrics it’s not monkeys jumping on the bed, but he just gets so much joy from singing it as he jumps up and falls down, I thought... no harm, no foul, right? As long as he thinks the song is about monkeys, it’s ok.  Until my niece came over one day, and the three toddlers were playing on an old mattress we have on the living room floor for them to jump around on. My son asked me to sing 5 Little Monkeys. At first it was cute, because they literally were jumping on the bed, but then I took a good look at the three of them.  My kids are half-Guatemalan but very fair, like I am. Whereas my niece is half-black, and her skin happens

Why You Should Travel with Little Kids

I took my first cross-country road trip when I was six-weeks-old. My parents loaded me up in an old Ford Wagoneer and drove me home from my dad's hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, to my hometown of Ojai, CA. After that, we traveled back and forth between the East Coast and the West Coast every summer of my life. A few times we flew, but most years we loaded up the car with the suitcases, the dogs, and the children and drove 3,000 miles across the country. This early exposure to travel instilled within me a joy of seeing the world, and since that first trip I have visited 34 states and 14 countries. And I hope to share that same joy with my own little ones. Traveling with children can be hard--it disrupts their nap schedules, may involve crossing timelines, and definitely pushes everyone beyond their comfort zones. But seeing different countries and different parts of our country as children gives them a greater appreciation for cultural and regional differences, and it widens their exper

Reflections on Immigrant Life and the American Dream by a New Citizen

  Buenos días estudiantes de sexto grado. Mi nombre es Audelina Barrios, and I am a former student of Fuller Middle School. Soy de Guatemala, y viví mis primeros trece años de mi vida en mi tierra natal, pero desafortunadamente perdí a mis padres cuando tenía 12 años. Mi hermano y yo fuimos huérfanos por un año hasta que tomamos la decisión de empezar nuestro viaje hacia los United States to meet our oldest siblings.  In August of 2014 we finally arrived in the land of our dreams, the United States. During our first 4 months in the US, we lived in New Jersey with my oldest sister, Rosa, and went to a school where ESL didn't even exist. I was paired up with the only Latino in the school y sin saber una palabra en inglés. I felt like an outsider because I had no other friends and like I wasn't even part of the school system.  In January 2015 my older brother Francisco and his wife, Mae, adopted us and we moved to Framingham. My first school in Framingham was Fuller Middle School