DEI Corner: Thoughts on Raising Bilingual Children


Thoughts on Raising Bilingual Children

By Ileana Swanson

Edited and translated by Emma Maruska and Gemma Moreno: For Espanol, click here

When I had my first child I knew I would be raising her speaking Spanish and English. I had a lot of questions, and I still have some, but I think I’m doing an okay job. I just can’t imagine my children not being able to speak to my parents or other relatives in Spanish.

We don’t just communicate with a language; we share our hearts.

I’m lucky to have in my life people raising bilingual kids and they keep me doing this and keep me inspired. I saw my German friend and her kids recently and when I said something in Spanish to my daughter, I heard them say to each other, “They also have a secret language!” And, of course, it’s not “secret,” but it’s just our language. 

My cousin’s daughter living in Berna uses perfect jokes in Spanish while we talk! That’s my challenge this year!

It’s not always easy. As my children grow and they become more comfortable speaking English at school and with friends, sometimes they prefer to speak in English. It’s the same for me. It’s an effort to switch or speak in two languages. But then, I remember how much fun my children had last summer with their cousins and other family in Mexico; how comfortable they were attending a summer camp there, and a school setting two years ago. 

And I don’t want to get dip about brain development when speaking multiple languages at this time. I do it mostly because who I am.

The sweetest thing? My two children playing with their “egimary friends” in Spanish or mixing it all!! For some reason, they don’t say “imaginary friends.”

I encourage people to keep their mother tongue, and pass it to their children and to the children of their children. It’s a gift we should keep giving, to keep remembering where we come from and how to talk to our loved ones. I don’t think we live in a world (at least here in the USA, right now) where we will be punished or left out for speaking another language that is not English. We are lucky!

I thank my husband for supporting me on this and for his great effort to speak more and more Spanish. Yes, Charles, you have a great Spanish, and don’t worry about my siblings, partners and other Spanish speakers. They can speak really fast, even for me! 

Sometimes I get a strange eye from people when I speak in Spanish to my children. Someone (an American person) told me once, “It’s just we are not used to this, but you keep doing it, it’s our problem if we feel bad.” And, of course, I don’t want to make anyone feel bad. So, next time, if you hear me speaking to my children in Spanish, but you want to join the conversation, just get closer and we will switch to English for you!! 

Resources for Learning More about Raising Bilingual Children:

Growing Up Bilingual: Articles for Parents and Educators

Speak Your Language: Why Your Home Language is Important for Your Child

Spanglish Baby: The Importance of Play in Raising Bilingual Kids

PODCAST: Bilingual Avenue with Marianna Du Bosq: Interviews with Experts and Parents Sharing Best Practices for Raising and Teaching Bilingual Children