The Mixed Languages Ballet

I don’t know if all the times someone has told me that is rude to speak a foreign language in front of people who don’t understand it has affected my life forever, but every time I’m in the presence of an English monolingual, something switches in my head and I start talking to my children in English.

Does my subconscious feel embarrassed of speaking Spanish or do I think that people would think less of me if they believe that I do not speak English? Hmmm… I really don’t have an explanation but lately I began to notice it and wonder what the reason behind me talking to my children in English when I’m in the presence of English-speakers might be.

It must be extra confusing for my toddler who is barely starting to speak when I’m switching languages all the time but I cannot control it! It is worse when I’m correcting her actions in public, I feel other people NEED to hear that I’m actually telling her not to jump on their couch or to say “I’m sorry” to their children when she had just taken a toy away from them. But how can my toddler understand me when at home I correct her in Spanish? Is she capable to do this language ballet in her head and keep up with my clumsy “cabriole” where words in two languages come out to give her an instruction?


It is easy for me to sway one way or the other, after all, I’ve been doing this language switching for many, many years now but I’m starting to feel a little less confident of my ability to teach her two languages at the same time and for her to be able to be fully bilingual in both of them. Even my husband is second-guessing himself. We were going to start sending her to day care one morning every week but he’s afraid she’ll learn more English vocabulary and forget all her Arabic and Spanish when she finds out that other kids only communicate in the first language. How do we balance the three languages so she has equal exposure to them and she doesn’t develop a strong preference for English the second she sets foot in preschool?

We are really scared of having a child who refuses to communicate in any other language but the one which is mainstream as it has happened with some of my husband’s relatives who live here and whose children understand Arabic perfectly but refuse to speak it because they think it is not cool. Where did they learn that Arabic was not cool? In school? Did other children mock them? What happened to them so I can protect my children from that attitude?

I don’t want to isolate my child and keep her from any exposure to the local language and culture but how do I keep her interested in speaking like mom and her family and dad and his family?

Maybe I’m over thinking this too much and not giving her little brain credit. She may surprise me with a couple “demi detourné”, some “elevé” and finish with a splendid “fouetté en tournant” in all three languages making her the best mixed languages ballerina.


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