The Competition is Winning

It started to happen as soon as the school year started. My fear of loosing my Spanish-speaking mini ballerina became a reality. Although I had prepared myself mentally for this moment, my heart is still not ready to let it happen. My little girl is now an English-preferred bilingual child.

What did I expect? It is only natural that now that she is in preschool and more involved in activities outside of the house that the English language would become the more prominent one. She’s learning more vocabulary in what, until this August, had been her second language and she’s picking up phrases and the grammatical structure of the English language faster than what she currently is in Spanish.

I almost want to say that she’s replacing her language abilities in Spanish for English ones, but that, I know is not true. It is just that at this moment, all the new and exciting things that she is learning, she’s learning in English at school. I even tried doing her homework in Spanish at home today but when I thought about her sharing what she learned about fire safety from her assignment, I realized that she needed to have the vocabulary in English in order to succeed in the classroom. I made the hard decision of stop playing Dora the Explorer and quit repeating the vocabulary in both languages. If the assignment was sent in English, then I should stick to that, after all, it would be impossible to keep up doing assignments in both languages throughout all her schooling.

It is a rough transition to go from having wonderful conversations in Spanish at home to notice how every day she uses it less and less. Even when I ask her about her day in Spanish, she recounts what she did in English. I guess my husband and I have experienced a similar situation when trying to explain something about business or a class we took in college in our native tongues. Since we didn’t learn the information in Arabic or Spanish, we find it difficult to explain our knowledge with the same ease that we can if we speak in English -the language that we acquired the information in. However, this doesn’t mean that we aren’t fluent in our native tongues anymore.

I cannot help it but to think in some of my husband’s relatives who have been raised outside of Lebanon in homes where only Arabic is spoken and though they understand the language, they refuse to use it in any kind of conversation. I just don’t want that for my family. But how to take back some of my linguistic influence over the children?

Maybe I should think about a different approach and start planning more exciting learning opportunities in Spanish that would help my daughter (and son) to acquire more vocabulary in a way that doesn’t seem like a competition with what she’s learning school. Perhaps is time to get new books and media or maybe establish a firmer time and day for the Skype dates we have with my family. Maybe this is only a stage in her life where she’s catching up with the “other” language to later come back to a more balanced use of both of her main languages.

Whatever it is, it’s very hard for me to cross my arms and wait patiently for things to unfold so I think I’m going to have to contact my friends who are teachers for young children in Mexico and ask for learning materials. Even though my competition is winning right now, I can’t just quit and forget about my goal of raising bilingual and bicultural children. There must be a way to keep increasing knowledge in both languages in a harmonious way.

I welcome any advice, suggestions and book recommendations that you have. In the mean time, wish me luck (and lots of patience as I attempt to redirect English conversations into Spanish).


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