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

Why my Children Won't Believe in Santa Claus

Tonight all across the world, children are waiting for Santa with bated breath. They've made lists of wants and perhaps written letters addressed to the North Pole, baked cookies, set out milk, and dream of sugar plums dancing in their heads. But not my children. Well, maybe the dreaming of sugar plums part, but definitely not the white beard, chubby and plump right jolly old elf part. Even before my two biological children were born, my husband and I made the decision to not deceive them with the narrative of Santa, and in fact, not give them any gifts at all on Christmas. Intrigued? Infuriated? Here's why... My husband is from Guatemala and was raised Jehovah Witness , and one of the tenants of that faith is a strict adherence to not celebrating anything here on earth. This includes not celebrating Christmas or birthdays , and not giving gifts to commemorate these days. While he isn't a practicing Witness right now (instead we attend Celebration International Church

Why My Daughter Won't Be Attending Preschool

There's no doubt that the first five years of a child's life are formative and indicative of later success throughout their lives. As an educator, I know preschool can play an important part in the cognitive and social development of toddlers. However, in this unprecedented time of pandemic life, social distancing and remote learning, sending your child to preschool is a personal decision that varies by family. And our family has decided not to send our daughter to preschool.  The research on the benefits of preschool is irrefutable, and there have been incentives for families to enroll their children in preschool since the 1960's and 1970's. Many BIPOC families have actually been targeted and encouraged to send their children to preschool, with HeadStart and other free programs available. According to a DOE report , access to high-quality preprimary education can be the key that unlocks education equality across races, geography and income.  With all of my experience a

Apple Picking without Discrimination

In New England, apple picking is the quintessential fall fun activity. I actually didn't know going to an orchard to pick your own apples was a pastime until I moved to Boston, but after I went with my youth group during my freshman year of college I was hooked, and I've been apple picking with friends or family every fall since. I have beautiful memories of walking up and down rows of apple-laden (or sometimes picked bare!) trees, trying to climb to the top and always searching for the shiniest, juiciest apples. Even one of Francisco and my first dates was apple picking.  In my 15 years of residency on the East Coast, I've visited a variety of apple orchards in New England nearly every autumn and a few years ago, I thought I had finally found the perfect place. Tougas Family Farm had everything you wanted for your perfect fall afternoon--apple and pumpkin picking, fresh apple cider and donuts, kettle corn, a petting farm, a hayride, and a playground for the kids. But it al