In this Multicultural Friday Family Feature, meet the Vallaces who are putting in the work to raise their kids as bilingual in English and Spanish.
Meet the Vallaces:
Kyle (dad): Caucasian American from Idaho and Utah, speaks Spanish
Cathy (mom): Hispanic (mom from El Salvador and dad from Colombia), speaks Spanish
Kids: Lucas (age 3), Eliana (age 11 months)
Why did you decide to raise your children to be bilingual?
Cathy: I always wanted our kids to be bilingual. I thought it would be doable with both of us knowing Spanish. It's so beneficial to know two languages both socially and professionally, and it will help Lucas and Eliana appreciate where they come from and understand that different types of people exist in the world. You only know what's in your little bubble, so it's important to see more of what is out there in the world.
Do you speak more English or Spanish at home?
Kyle: Cathy made it a goal to exclusively speak to Lucas in Spanish prior to his first birthday. There was an awkward stage at first where it didn't feel natural or comfortable, but now it feels comfortable.
How was the transition from speaking mostly English to speaking only Spanish with Lucas?
Cathy: It took a lot to get used to once we made the switch to only Spanish in the home. It has definitely been harder than I expected. When Lucas was about to turn one, I felt nervous about making the switch to only speaking to him in Spanish. I don’t feel comfortable with baby talk in Spanish, because that's not something I grew up with, but we committed, and since then we've been able to overcome the awkwardness.
Has there been any confusion since you speak two different dialects of Spanish?
Cathy: Spanish is my first language. My mom is from El Salvador and my dad is from Colombia and they didn't know any English, so that's why I speak Spanish.
Kyle: There are definitely dialect differences. Chileans speak a more unique dialect of Spanish and have a lot of unique vocabulary and slang which is what I learned. Now I have gravitated more toward the way that Cathy's family speaks Spanish with grammar.
What other tools are you using to increase Lucas's exposure to Spanish?
Cathy: Everywhere outside of our home, at playdates, at church, with Kyle's family, with neighbors, it's all English, so that's why we got him into a Spanish preschool. I figured the more environments he can hear Spanish and feel that it's normal and it's not just our family that speaks it would really help him.
People will make comments like, "Don't you think it's confusing him? Don't you think he'll be behind? What happens when he needs to learn to read in English?"
They're not giving kids' brains enough credit. Little brains at his age are so absorbent and with other bilingual kids, there's no evidence in research of it causing a delay. They actually thrive in reading and comprehension areas.
I'm hoping that his being in school in Spanish will help him build that solid foundation that he can keep on building.
How do you support each other as parents raising bilingual kids?
Cathy: Pushing past that initial discomfort of speaking Spanish all the time was a big deal, and more recently, we've been relying on each other when we're feeling lazy. If I'm speaking a lot of English to the kids, Kyle will remind me to start speaking Spanish more. It's been really helpful to have my husband be on the same page as me and super supportive of how we're doing this.
Kyle: Some of our family members have asked us how we plan to balance Spanish and English so that our kids can communicate well with them as English speakers. We feel it'll come naturally with time as they grow up in a very English-dominated environment outside the home.
Communication with Cathy is key to making sure we're on the same page with our goals. The culture you want to teach to your kids, you can’t really go wrong if you both agree to the approach. The best approach is for both of us as parents to agree with each other despite differences with other families. You have to decide what you want to do with your kids and stick to that.
Photo credit: Erika Sargent Photography
About Multicultural Friday Family Feature:
One Friday each month, Multicultural Parenting highlights a family that is working to celebrate, educate, and participate with their children in their cultural heritage. Every family has a different cultural background and every family has a different way of sharing that background with their children. The MF3 series allows us to learn and celebrate the successes of multicultural parenting together as well as provide support when things get frustrating or discouraging.
If you would like your family to be considered for a future MF3, please apply here.