Bilingual Parenting Takes Commitment… and Re-commitment

Sometimes I think I have the bilingual parenting thing down. We get into a groove and I’m speaking Spanish to my kids and they, more and more, are responding to me in Spanish – but it’s inevitable that just when we’ve hit our stride and are on the road to fluency, we will have a setback.

One big problem for me is that I don’t speak Spanish when I’m stressed or tired or very busy. The other day I woke up and realized, “My God, I’ve been stressed and tired and very busy the past few weeks! I’ve had so much on my mind and so many deadlines. I’ve barely spoken Spanish to my kids at all!”

This is when I kick myself in the nalgas and promise to start all over again.

Yesterday morning before my younger son left for school, I warned him not to run to the bus as he usually does, because a slick layer of frost covered the ground.

“Cuando venga el bus, no vayas corriendo, okay? El suelo está bien liso, entiendes?”

My son tilted his head not unlike a dog when you speak to it. I could almost see the words enter his ear, twist themselves inside his brain and translate one-by-one into English. He spoke aloud as he decoded the message.

“When the bus comes… don’t run… because…the ground is slippery?”

He still understands me, but there is more lag time. Then when he speaks, he doesn’t even realize he’s mixing English and Spanish in ways I’ve never even heard before.

After school he asked me what day we’re going to his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving.

“El viente dos,” I said.
“Oh, el twenty dos,” he answered.

There’s no point in lamenting wasted time and stalled progress. I’m human, I was tired, I spent weeks speaking very little Spanish to my kids who I desperately want to be fully bilingual. It happens. Seguimos adelante.


Related: SpanglishBaby: Raising a Bilingual Child is Always a Work in Progress


  1. Some of my observations. (People generally hate I put their worries into perspective, so I apologize in advance.)

    – You’re worried about your kids. All good parents are at times. It’s a good sign.
    – If this is the parenting issue that worries you the most, you’re doing a darn fine job.
    – Spanish isn’t exactly threatened with extinction, there’s more then enough time to learn it. If it were a minority language like Náhuatl or Quechua then I could understand the urgency.
    – Kids are smart. They pick up way more than you might think. Wait till they get novias hispanohablantes. Then their skills are going to totally pwn yours.

  2. Don’t blame yourself! You are doing great, kids are kids and you are only human! You are giving them the best I think: open-mindedness, cultural sensitivity and yes, Spanish proficiency!

    I’m trying to speak to Mark in French but it’s not that natural to me since we speak English at home. We are also speaking to him in Mandarin… yep, he is only five weeks old, I know :lol:

    • LOL, Zhu! … That is a tall order for a baby not even 2 months old! … How is Mark doing? How are you enjoying motherhood?

  3. I hear ya! When I’m tired and stressed the extra energy required for me to speak coherent and gramatically correct Spanish is too much for me! I try really hard to stay in all Spanish around my son, but after bedtime, I have to admit I love to be able to speak English/Spanglish and let the conversation flow with my husband like it used to before we had a son to worry about. My two year old son spends lots of time with my English-only speaking parents, so I am hyper sensitive when it seems like his English is progressing more than his Spanish. I feel like a failure, but like the previous posts said- we have to give ourselves a break. We are non-native Spanish speakers who feel passionate enough about raising bilingual kids that we put in the extra effort/energy every day (or most days anyways). There will be setbacks- but anything we do to open our kids minds and hearts to another language is a plus!

  4. I think you know you´re doing a great job as a bilingual mom!
    Regarding tiredness, deadlines and stress, I believe we all have less resources to speak the language of love to our kids when we feel exhausted. And for you, that´s a Spanish break down! But being Spanish our first language at home, when I´m stressed, I tend to use the language as if I were a barking dog. Poor kids. I´d rather not talk to them that way. So, for a healthy, happy, nutritious Spanish speaking family, let´s reorder priorities, let´s slow down, let´s go on holiday, let´s rest!
    Love, Fernanda

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