Even though I check off African American and Hispanic when I complete paperwork, I’ve never fully felt Spanish…even if I’m half Colombian.
My father and his family emigrated from Colombia and settled here in the great U-S-of-A. They all speak Spanish fluently and for them English is their second language. I grew up without my dad being in the picture and unfortunately that meant I didn’t learn at all about my Colombian heritage nor did I learn to speak Spanish. I remember being so irritated in high school when Spanish didn’t come naturally, I was embarrassed. Embarrassed that I embraced being half Colombian, but couldn’t pass my final Spanish exam. And now, my full name is quite Latin, as is my daughters, and once I open my mouth and tell people I’m Colombian, the immediately ask: Do you speak Spanish? And I always feel like a fraud.
I felt I missed out growing up without learning another language and when I was choosing schools for my daughter one thing was for sure – learning Spanish would be part of the curriculum, and she’d grow up bilingual.
My daughter has been enrolled in a dual-language immersion school since she was in Junior Kindergarten and is now in the 2nd grade. All of the teachers are fully bilingual, with many of them from Spanish speaking countries. Now that she’s in 2nd grade she has a full week of Spanish, where all students and staff speak in Spanish, and then a full week of English. The school strives to make the classrooms as diverse as possible and try their best to mix classrooms with half Spanish speaking students and half who speak English as a first language at home. Even though it’s a public school it’s quite competitive, and how Spanish is integrated within the curriculum is unlike any school around.
Seeing as I am not bilingual, I’ve really struggled supporting her learning Spanish, because it’s often she that is correcting my pronunciation. I’m forever on an online Spanish translator when we’re doing her Spanish homework, and I’m continually frustrated. Buy Rosetta Stone a friend suggested, sure I thought, but whose going to cough up the money to buy that, cause I sure don’t have it! Since my daughter responds well to music and dancing we’ve purchased Spanish music for us to sing along too, but even that I’m learning just isn’t enough. She’s struggling in Spanish, and I can’t help but feel like I’m to blame.
Her teachers are suggesting a tutor, Spanish movies and books, and playdates with Spanish speaking families. She is not at where she should be with her Spanish in the 2nd grade, she’s getting frustrated and often dreads going into her Spanish weeks. I’m now questioning how much I should be supporting her bilingual education when she is clearly having difficulties, and I alone cannot support her fully. Sure, I could hire a tutor and do playdates, but will that really make her like Spanish?
Yes, learning a second language is great for brain development and would be such an asset for her down the line. But, right now I feel at such a crossroads. I’d be struggling too learning a second language, and I wonder if she just had to focus on one language she could really thrive. While I initially pushed her in this school, supporting her bilingual education means I need to be aware of how she’s feeling. I don’t want to push her too hard, not this young. Her teachers of course say she is bright and can do the work, but my not knowing Spanish is hurting her, and I honestly just don’t know what to do.