Being bilingual (or even multilingual) is an asset. It’s a positive jumping off point toward better communication, deeper understanding, and more opportunities in education, work, and life. As someone who grew up speaking both Spanish and English on equal levels, I know my bilingual skills have helped me better understand my family’s culture, opened up new career opportunities, and helped me make friends while visiting Spanish-speaking countries. And those just a few of the reasons why moms like me are raising our kids to be bilingual.
Not everyone understands the importance of living a multilingual existence, though. It wasn’t so long ago that lawyer Aaron Schlossberg became internet famous for berating people for speaking Spanish at a salad restaurant. And soon after, it was reported that border patrol agents detained two U.S. citizens simply for speaking Spanish at a gas station in Montana. In this country, perhaps more increasingly so due to the current political climate, speaking Spanish can, in no uncertain terms, be dangerous.
In my opinion, knowing there are people living in a country of immigrants that would insult and harass individuals because they happen to speak multiple languages is shameful. Fortunately, there are countless parents who understand that being bilingual or multilingual is not a bad thing, or something to be feared. Instead, it’s something we should all be striving toward... for ourselves and our children. The following mothers are all putting in the work, and they’ve share their reasons why they’re raising their kids to speak more than one language.
“Not only is it about culture and sharing the heritage, it's also about preparing the children for the job market. The more languages the better. Languages are always an asset.”
“I'm raising my kids with multiple languages because I'm multilingual myself (five languages: Polish, German, English, French, and Dutch). And also because my parents are multilingual. And my grandparents were, too. So it's like a family tradition for us. And since we live abroad, it's important to me that our children understand their extended families back home.”
“My kids speak English but I'm teaching them to speak Spanish (which is my first language). My main reasons wanting them to learn Spanish is to be able to speak to their grandparents/family members (some don't speak English) and to let them be a part of and understand my culture and traditions. Also it will be a useful language in their future whether it be for work, travels, etc.”
“Knowing two or more languages is just too important. We are teaching our girls English and Spanish because it's what we know and we want them to be able to hold on to their Hispanic roots as well as have a great advantage in life as they get older. It’s also proven to open different neural pathways in our brains and allowing us to think in different ways. And who doesn't want a smarter kid?"
“I am choosing to raise my son bilingual because even though it is confusing at first, and they may seem to have a delay in understanding and comprehension in the English language, they are able to think and respond at a faster rate as their brain develops. My son, age 3, can easily say a sentence in English and translate it to Spanish. I feel like it’s the best way for them to be able to get to explore the world in two different ways. I learned English as a second language, and then French. I feel like I would have learned English sooner or simultaneously with Spanish, I wouldn’t have struggled during school. I want to eliminate that for my son. So far so good!”
“I want my children to have pride in their culture and heritage. Being able to talk to relatives in English, Spanish, and ASL is an important part of our family dynamic. We are mindful of the future we are raising our children to be a part of, and we want them to be able to communicate with as many people as possible to help build meaningful relationships.”
“My husband is from Mexico. Dual languages has helped him in the workforce. My daughter learns it at home and is in a 90 percent Spanish program. It’s part of who she is and also will make her more competitive in the future. We will add a third language in late elementary/middle school, plus she will start to learn coding. As parents we can’t wait to help develop well-rounded children for this diverse world.”
“Pretty much all my family's first language is Spanish, so we teach our oldest to communicate with them in Spanish not only because she has to, but its morals and courtesy that we are teaching her. Besides the language, we also teach her our culture. Like different types of regions in Mexico, what they celebrate and what they don't. Like cinco de mayo, for example: that's a USA thing, while in Mexico it’s September 16, our Independence Day. Or Dia de Los Muertos to remember our loved ones who passed away.”
“My parents both came to the U.S. from Poland. We were brought up speaking the Polish language and I feel like it’s very important for my little one to have exposure to our culture as well. Being exposed to it early on will help her understand her differences and hopefully those of others, and why we should care for one another and learn from those differences and experiences.”
“My husband is Korean and I am Vietnamese, so my kids will learn those two languages. We are planning to introduce them to more languages and they will learn coding on top of that. I want my kids to understand that there is more out there than what they can see. I want them to be able to empathize with people, and I believe the best way to understanding others is through continuing learning and bettering yourself. It is easier to put yourself in other people shoes if you can understand them.”
“Lots of reasons. One being so I can lecture them in Swedish and rarely does anyone (else) understand. Not to mention I think it just makes them smarter than they would be otherwise; they use a different part of their brain when learning other languages.”
“My mom speaks Spanish along with my whole family. Her and my aunty didn’t teach us Spanish because they had to deal with a lot of racism when they did. It’s hard for us to go to family functions because we are the only ones who don’t speak any Spanish. And my grandpa doesn’t speak English very well. If I could go back I would of pushed to be taught it.”
“We are both Polish and all the family is in Poland. I can't imagine that my daughter couldn't talk to her grandparents or cousins. Also, that gives her opportunity to choose whether she wants to study here or there. Universities are cheap in Poland, so that gives her an option. It will also be easier for her in the future to learn more languages.”
“Russian and English. Born and raised in Russia. With family still living there, it’s important for me to have my kids speak my language to their grandparents. I also think it is good for their development, and that they will be more accepting and open minded.”
“Not sure if you'd consider this being bilingual but my son is learning tactical American Sign Language since he’s deaf-blind. If he wasn't, I'd be teaching him Spanish since Spanish was my first language. My family is from Mexico and all speak Spanish. But currently we are teaching him ASL. I also spell out a few important Spanish words in his hand (tactical) for him even in sign language, like mom, dad, and grandma. Then I do the actual sign again, and I repeat the spelling but I spell it in English now, so he can learn both languages for one sign. It's pretty difficult, but I would love for him to learn so he could eventually sign for his all-Spanish-speaking grandma.”
“I have always been the freckly gringa speaking Spanish to our kids at home, at the park, in the grocery... in Georgia. Is my Spanish perfect? Not even close. But it's important. In my blog, I Say Tomato, You Say Tomate, I talk about it at length:
I have wondered what is it, really, that pushes me to speak Spanish to my kids when it doesn't come naturally to me and, frankly, when I'm often too tired to even speak English? Of course, I want them to embrace both sides of their family trees and to be able to talk to their grandmother, Abuela Ana, in Cuba. They need to find her relevant, know how much she adores her family, and how much fun she is.
And yes, there are a million and one studies about cognitive advantages that bilingual children hold. They tend to learn faster, have larger vocabularies, and a leg up as job-seeking adults. Certainly, it's a gift for children to have access to more than one language from a young age; they won't have to work as hard as Luis and I did. But there's more. It wasn't until Marcos was 3 or 4 that I figured out what it was. My little boy is curious, in a global way.’”