In the U.S., many people assume that all Latinos are fluent in Spanish. The reality, however, is a lot more complex. According to the Pew Research Center, 75% of U.S. Latinos say they speak Spanish at least “pretty well.”
But among U.S.-born Latinos, that number falls to 57%. And younger generations have even fewer proficient Spanish speakers. Pew also found that more than half of U.S. Latinos with little to no Spanish fluency get teased about it by family and friends.
If you’ve ever thought less of someone who doesn’t speak their parents’ language — or parents who don’t teach their language to their children — stop and think before you judge. Raising kids to speak your native language in a society that doesn’t speak that language is a big challenge.
I once heard the story of a man who grew up in California with parents from China. His mom dealt with school, doctor’s appointments and all the other aspects of daily life in the U.S. She slowly learned English and started speaking English with her son.
But the dad was always working in Chinatown, around other people from China, to support the family. He never learned English. Today, the son cannot speak to his father. Of course he doesn’t know his parents’ native language. Why would he? He never had to use it.
In other immigrant families, the parents understand English, but either they don’t feel comfortable speaking it or they’re never in situations where they have to speak it. Their children often end up understanding Spanish (for example), but not speaking it. In their conversations, the kids speak English. Their parents understand, but respond in Spanish — which the kids understand but don’t speak. Wild, right?
I see something similar play out in meetings with my team in Mexico. I can communicate extremely well in Spanish. But because I know my team members understand English, and I can express myself better in English, I frequently use English during meetings. And since they feel most comfortable expressing themselves in Spanish (especially when they’re tired or it’s a late meeting), they speak in Spanish.
Communication is 100% happening. And everyone is communicating as clearly as they possibly can. That’s also what’s happening in families where the parents and kids speak to each other in different languages. They’re simply figuring out the best way to clearly communicate with each other.
Language-Learning Tips for Families
So what can you do if you want your kids to speak your family’s native language, but they’re living their day-to-day lives in English-speaking society? This is one reason that families enroll their children in TruFluency Kids’ Spanish classes. There are also many things you can do at home to help your kids learn the family language, even when you don’t speak that language yourself.
- Listen to children’s songs in their target language together. This will help your kids with both vocabulary and pronunciation.
- Watch age-appropriate shows or movies in the target language together. As you start out, use English subtitles to follow the story. (This is also helpful if you don’t speak the target language yourself.)
- If reading aloud is part of your nightly routine, choose books in the language you want your kids to learn.
- If you speak the language you want your kids to learn, repeat questions they ask you in English back to them in the target language. For example, if they ask for orange juice in English, but you want them to practice Spanish, reply with “¿Quieres jugo de naranja, cierto?” (“You want orange juice, right?”)
- Explain why you want them to learn the target language. Example: “Mommy only speaks Spanish at home because she’s proud of her Mexican heritage and wants to share it with you. You love grandma’s tamales, right? Well, she will tell you all of her kitchen secrets, but let’s try to talk to her in Spanish.”
- If you don’t speak the target language yourself, learn alongside your kids. That sets a powerful example.
Team up with other families with similar goals. Being part of a larger community that uses the target language gives kids more opportunities to practice it.
Learning Spanish with TruFluency Kids
If speaking Spanish is part of your heritage, and you want to make sure your kids know the language, TruFluency Kids could be the perfect place for your family. We offer group and private online classes for kids ages 4-17. You can select classes based on your kids’ ages, experience level with Spanish and your family’s schedule.
We’ll even send you Spanish phrases to work on with your child, along with a link to the movie or song that goes with the phrases. We invite you to learn more about our proven instruction method, read testimonials from parents like you and to get in touch with us for a free consultation about our classes.