I Just Can’t Help Her

Parent-teacher conferences were last Thursday at my daughter’s kindergarten. If you read my post from last week, that was the cause for great anxiety. Part of my stress was that I had been doubting my approach to raising bilingual children. I was having second thoughts about introducing the phonetics of the Spanish language along with the English language learning that was going on at school.

I knew my daughter had the need to visit the intervention teacher for help learning her alphabet. Something that sounded to me like the kid was basically flunking kindergarten. After I calmed myself down, not on my own but because I received my child’s progress report before the above mentioned conference, I realized that she was on track on every aspect that was graded there.

So why then, did she need to be pulled out of the main classroom? And, was that still happening? So as you can probably expect, I showed up at the conference with my questions written down and ready to jot down any advice the teacher would provide.

What I learned that evening was nothing too worrisome. My daughter is still being pulled out of the main classroom to help getting good phonetic basis before pushing her to learn how to read. She has made progress and now instead of being in a group of 2-3 students per teacher, she’s in one with up to 5. The challenges she’s facing -and working on overcoming- are identifying the different sounds of the English language and learning to use them in different syllables and words.

Now, it is people’s instinct to blame her bilingualism for the confusion, but all the linguistic books I read on raising multi-lingual children, said that the exposure to more than one language had nothing to do with the obstacles that a child learning how to speak, write or read may experience. I do not think, in my experience, that I can blame my daughter’s bilingual skills for her delay in learning the phonetics of the English language. I think the problem is her parents’ pronunciation as second-language-speakers.

I have a pretty good domain of my second language, after all, I do have an American high school diploma and a degree in Public Relations from an American university. However, it doesn’t matter that I had started learning English when I was a young girl or that I have lived in the U.S. for the last 13 years, I speak with an accent. A much milder accent than when I first moved to Michigan, mind you. But my inability to pronounce certain sounds may be a greater cause of confusion for my children than the exposure to the Spanish language.

Now, you would think that because I speak to my children in Spanish 90% of the time, their accent in that language is as good as a native speaker. The truth is that they speak English much more like native speakers, even though they may have learned it from their parents who speak it with an accent. It is all fascinating to me. In the end, children learn the main language spoken in the place they live and one must fight to keep the other one alive.

So yes, my kindergartener needs extra help in the English Language Arts department now, but in the long run, her ability to speak, read and write in two languages from a young age, will enrich not only her academic path, but her life as a whole. I just have to constantly remind myself that the challenges she may be facing right now, are but a speckle in the kaleidoscope that her academic career would become.

I am thankful that my little girl attends a school with caring teachers and with the resources to help her master the skills she needs right now, to succeed later. Teaching her the phonetics of the English language is one area where I just can’t help her.


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