Are you speaking the language of your grandparents? Can you communicate with them in their native language?
I married a second generation Puerto Rican American. My husband was born in the USA, the youngest of six children. Both of his parents were born and raised in Puerto Rico. When he was a child, Spanish was spoken at home until his oldest sister went to first grade. The family was then told that they needed to speak English at home so that the children could keep up in school. As a result, my husband’s older sisters are bilingual but he is not. Oh, he understands more than he speaks, but you could not call him bilingual. The Puerto Rican side of my family is mostly living in the United States now, and in every succeeding generation there is less and less Spanish being spoken.
Many people living in America today have grandparents who immigrated here and speak a foreign language. However, as in our case, that language is not being passed down. In past years, immigrants wanted their children to fit in and believed that English would help them be more affluent. They were willing to sacrifice heritage for prosperity. No wonder America has been called the ‘land of opportunity’ and the ‘graveyard of languages.’
While young, my children picked up the occasional Spanish word, enough to impress their friends. They took Spanish in high school but they were not motivated to learn it well. As a result, they never learned enough to converse with their grandmother in her native tongue. That is unfortunate because of all of the benefits that would come from it.
Language is the storehouse of a people’s heritage. The etymology of the words as well as the idiomatic expressions and even the body language are all so relevant to history and culture. I believe that learning Abuelita’s language would also teach my children more about our family legacy.
In this increasingly global world, being bilingual is becoming more and more a door to advancement. Whatever your career choice, knowing how to speak a second language fluently can grant opportunities for you to be promoted. It can also provide you a variety of business and cultural prospects.
Learning a second language increases a person’s academic potential – especially a young child’s. A person who is bilingual is smarter than the rest of us. One, because they can communicate with people of other cultures, broadening their experience and knowledge base; two, because it exercises your brain to think and speak in two languages.
Two recent family trips to Puerto Rico have changed my children’s minds about learning Spanish. Now they want to speak their Abuelita’s language. I am so pleased with this on so many levels, but it would be enough for me if I could just hear them converse with their Abuelita in her native tongue. After all, she is the only person they know who was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Learning her language and being better able to relate to her story will strengthen their ties with their past and provide a more solid foundation for their future.