Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Talking to my child in front of people who speak English vs. people who do not speak English

This Christmas we have been traveling around the North and East of Switzerland. How beautiful everything was! And how cold!
One of the days we visited Zurich and we used the opportunity to meet some Swiss friends who live there. We had a great time. It always feels good to spend some time chatting with people with whom you share things. In addition, we introduced our son to them, as they didn't know him yet.
The Swiss couple that we met speak German, but we spent all the afternoon speaking in English. They even talked to my little one in English, which was great. They spoke a lot to him and said a couple of cute things in German. That was very funny to me, because I repeated those things, although I had no idea what I was saying. It was fun and it was really nice to be able to communicate in a language with which we all felt comfortable and could express ourselves perfectly.
And what was the best of all? That, in this situation, speaking to my son in English felt very natural to me.

Around me, many people speak English well. However, some relatives and friends do not master it or do not speak English at all. Personally, I think that this is not a problem to continue to bring up my baby bilingually without being native. However, I have to say that I have different feelings talking to my son depending on being surrounded by people who speak English or being surrounded by people who don't.

When I am with people who can't speak any English, it is harder for me to talk to my son. They do not know what I am saying, and I get worried thinking that they may feel out from that little conversation I am having with him. This especially happens when they are close relatives. I would like them to understand what I am saying so they can also participate in the conversation (still unidirectional, since my little one does not know how to speak yet). However, it is not possible and that makes me feel a bit strange. I feel that I am doing something that is unnatural, or rather something that may seem unnatural to others, because the truth is that, for me, today, after nine months doing it, it is more than natural.
I have decided to speak to my son all the time in English, that is to say, wherever we are, whoever we are with: Mom speaks in English and Dad in Spanish. However, since I am living these situations I can perfectly understand another option to raise children bilingually which consists in speaking to your children in English only at home and when you are with other people, speaking in Spanish. As I always say, there are options for every family and they all have positive things.

On the contrary, when I am with people who do speak English I feel more comfortable talking to my little one. In fact, I think I talk a lot more to him. I think this is due to the fact that I know that I do not change the pace of our conversation or meeting as everyone understands what I am saying, I have only changed the language.

I think these situations and these feelings are shared by monolingual parents who speak to their children in a foreign language without being native, and by bilingual parents that speak to their children using their mother tongue. I think that we simply do not like to stand out or make someone feel bad for not being able to understand what we say.

Some parents have told me that, as our children get older, they start noticing these different situations where different languages are spoken and at some point, they will try to speak always in Spanish, even with those who speak to them in English.
Well, one thing at a time. I know there are going to be special situations in the future. For now, everything is going great, I am happy and comfortable and I like to share these reflections and feelings that I have, since I guess they are natural and I think they are part of multilingual families' lives.

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