Over the years I’ve received hundreds of emails from people who have stumbled upon Latinaish.com and, recognizing a kindred spirit, reached out to me. Sometimes they want a recipe for sopa de mondongo, or to know the meaning of a word in Salvadoran slang, and sometimes they just want to say thank you for something they found useful on my blog. Sometimes the words I receive make my day, and sometimes they keep me up at night. Sometimes the person needs mother-in-law advice, or bicultural relationship advice, sometimes the person emailing tells me they know no one else who understands their situation and they hope I can help. I’m always humbled that complete strangers trust me with their very deepest hurts. I always respond from my corazón and give the very best guidance that I can. Sometimes the person will correspond with me for awhile and I see the situation resolved, but most of the time I never find out what ended up happening.
As much as I love receiving these emails, I realize that for each one I receive there are many more people out there who may have the same question, or a similar situation, and could be helped by my reply, so I’m going to start publishing some of my responses as “Ask Latinaish” posts. I will of course always keep the identity of the person asking the question and the details of their situation completely anonymous.
The first question I’ll be answering here is:
How can I learn Spanish?
I most often get this question from gringas like myself who have married into the culture and want to raise bilingual children. Either she has had limited experience in the language, a few classes in high school, or has just learned a thing here and there after meeting her native Spanish speaker partner.
The human tendency is to want immediate gratification – We’re surrounded by it: Lose 10 pounds in 1 week! Organize your junk drawer in 5 minutes!
Language learning isn’t one of those things you can magically speak fluently in a short amount of time – Even babies start out with the basics and build their way up. That being said, there are ways to become proficient in a language more quickly, and the very best way is through immersion.
For the benefit of yourself and your child, encourage/beg/make deals with your native speaker partner to speak to you in their native language. It is one of the most valuable gifts they have to give. Encourage your partner to speak Spanish to your child and tell him all the benefits it will bring to your son or daughter. A few of the benefits:
• Your child will be more in touch with his heritage, and better able to visit your partner’s native country to explore his roots.
• He will be able to communicate with his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Family is so important and if he can’t speak Spanish, chances are as he gets older, he will drift away from relatives he can’t easily keep in touch with.
• Being bilingual, particularly English/Spanish bilingual, means that his job opportunities increase as an adult, plus he is likely to make more money than monolingual employees!
• Research has shown that children who are raised bilingual perform better academically in seemingly unrelated subjects like math, and music, plus they’re better at multi-tasking.
• Research has shown that bilinguals have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s later in life.
Tell your partner all of this, do a quick Google search and find the articles to back it up if he doesn’t believe you. Some people just need to know concrete ways their child will benefit before they jump on the bandwagon.
As for learning Spanish yourself, aside from downloading Duolingo to your phone and playing it each day, (which I recommend!) – immerse yourself in the language as much as possible: the music you listen to, the TV you watch, the books you read, the friends you make… Surround yourself with native speakers as much as possible and SPEAK. Even if you feel awkward, make a million mistakes or people laugh at you. Speaking Spanish, more than anything else, will help your brain “click.” The more you speak, the more comfortable you become and the more vocabulary you learn, even if you have to stop mid-sentence and ask what something is called, or carry a little English/Spanish dictionary with you.
I hope this helps! Suerte! (Good luck!)