Latina Language Expert Explains Why Immigrant Parents Don’t Teach Their Kids Spanish — ‘Put Away the Judgy Eyes’
Teaching kids Spanish has been something divisive within the Latino community. Latino parents who migrated to the United States claim many reasons they haven’t taught their kids Spanish. This has drawn criticism from many, with some calling it a “selfish” act. But Micah Bellieu explains that it’s not that simple.
The founder of TruFluency explains on TikTok that many factors contribute to kids not learning their parent’s native language. She posits that not learning Spanish or any non-English language can cause a disconnect within the parent/child dynamic. For immigrant parents, not teaching their kids their language can be an act of survival.
Confusing kids with an additional language is among the many reasons parents choose not to raise them bilingual
Some people believe that adding another language can confuse children. The Cultured Kid explains that this is a common misconception among parents. The publication details that teaching kids another language will impede their ability to speak English — especially at a young age.
However, studies site that the younger you teach a kid Spanish, the better. A Cambridge study found that children can pick up multiple languages. Not only did they pick it up, but they also code-switched between the two.
In her TikTok, Bellieu quotes a study that found some kids living in bilingual homes don’t speak their parent’s native language.
“There’s a study out of England and many other countries that roughly shows that 21% of kids living in bilingual households don’t speak the native language of one of their parents — the minority language meaning the language not being used in society,” she says.
Bellieu continues, “Let’s use Spanish as an example. For many people, [who] balk and gasp, ‘How do the parents speak Spanish and the kids don’t? How do they not speak their mom’s language or their father’s language?’”
The bilingual parenting expert adds that she typically tells people not to judge parents who do this.
“I always tell people to put away the judgy eyes until they’ve actually tried to do this in their real life. It’s quite challenging, really — especially if the parent also understands English,” she affirmed.
Teaching kids a second language like Spanish hasn’t always come easy for immigrants whose goal is to assimilate
Unfortunately, growing up in the U.S. hasn’t come without its difficulties for immigrants. Routed Magazine likens “linguistic assimilation” to “xenophobic aggression.”
The publication writes, “Linguistic assimilation is an undermining experience that Mexican immigrants come across when they arrive in the United States—a dominant country in the Global North considered as a ‘graveyard’ for foreign languages.”
“Van C. Tran defines language assimilation as a ‘one-way process whereby members of ethnic groups acquired English and abandoned their mother tongue with the endpoint being English monolingualism,’” it continues.
Because of this, there are many Latinos who grow up not speaking it, and the farther removed they are from a Spanish-speaking parent, the less they speak it. A Pew Research Center study found data to support this.
It cited that 24% of U.S. Latino adults said “they can only carry on a conversation in Spanish a little or not at all.” When you consider third- or higher-generation Latinos, the percentages increased. About 65% of third- or higher-generation Latinos admitted “they cannot carry on a conversation well in Spanish.”
The expert also shared the struggles of other cultures who haven’t taught their children their native language
In addition to expressing her position on the difficulty of instilling another language, she shared the story of a Chinese immigrant family who relocated to the U.S. While the story was about another culture, many of its points resonate with the Latino experience.
“There’s a beautiful, yet sad story of a man who grew up in California with parents from China and the mom slowly learned English because she was the main parent and dealing with the school, doctor’s appointments [and] American society in general,” she begins.
The Latina founder continued, “And the dad was always working in Chinatown with other Chinese speakers in order to support the family. And so the mom started speaking in English with her son because it was the societal language.”
Bellieu explained that the boy grew up not being able to communicate with his father, something that happens between many U.S. Latinos and their Spanish-speaking families.
“So the son cannot speak to his father, who he grew up with. Crazy, right? But not really; the child was never made to use the language or hear the language and therefore does not understand or speak it,” Bellieu pointed out.
She also asked viewers something rather poignant, “Why would somebody be able to do something they’ve never done before?”
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