My boyfriend and I have been together for a long time and marriage is in the very near future as well as probable kids. I am white and my boyfriend is Hispanic, and he speaks both fluent English and Spanish. He has recently said that he wants his future children to learn Spanish. However, this makes me worried. Most of his immediate family speaks Spanish and they hardly include me in conversations. So I worry that if it happens now, it will only be 10x worse when it is in our household with the kids and my connection to them won’t be as strong.
Disclaimer: I know everyone is going to say that I should give learning Spanish a try, however, I have a learning disability that is related to the English language which makes learning any other language next to impossible.
Thank you so much for any advice you could give! – S
We’ve actually tackled this issue from the other side a few years back, but it felt like the right time to revisit. It’s such an amazing opportunity for your future children to grow up with multiple languages in the household. In the U.S. especially, it’s vastly monolingual, and speaking a second language (or more) is a major advantage. Your fears are certainly understandable, but I think it’s safe to focus on solutions that encourage them to be bilingual while also being respectful to you and your needs and fears.
We reached out to Facebook to see what advice we could crowdsource, and boy did our readers DELIVER. We got advice on how to communicate the problem, how to teach the children to accommodate your needs and theirs, and even about some emerging technologies that could help.
Here are the highlights that focus on making sure the kids get what they need and are able to communicate, and bond with you at the same time…
Express your concerns
Express your concerns with your partner! Have a talk and explain how uncomfortable and isolated being excluded from conversation makes you feel. I think being bilingual is extremely important, but so is making sure that everyone in the family feels safe and loved. If you both come at the issue from a place of love, with an intent to find a compromise (important discussions only happen in English, etc) you’ll be able to find a great solution.
I also think it’s good that you’re planning on addressing your concerns before it becomes a formidable issue. – Raquela
You have to express and find a way to mitigate your feelings about being excluded, because insisting that your potential children be less educated and less connected to their family and heritage isn’t really a viable or responsible option.
And that work of making you comfortable should be important to your partner, too. Have important conversations in English, and speak no names in Spanish conversations. I find myself uncomfortable knowing that people, possible me, are being talked about when I can’t comprehend. – Sam
Work on it with the kids
It sounds like the problem is less with a language barrier and more with manners. If you and your partner instill in your eventual kid(s) that they shouldn’t exclude you from conversations by speaking in a language you can’t learn, it shouldn’t matter if they can speak one language or five. That might mean explaining that to your partner now, if he isn’t already aware of how you feel about his family speaking Spanish around you. And in the interim, make friends with a translation app so you can participate in their language development in your own way. – Samantha
When they’re babes, have dad translate everything he says. It will be tough for a year or so when they speak to you in Spanish and you don’t know what they want. Work hard to learn basic baby talk (hungry, tired, etc.). Once they can understand, explain to them about the learning disability and that mom still needs to know what’s going on.
As they get older, have them translate for mommy. When you have a gaggle of speaking children, make it a game: each day a different kid is the official “translator of the day” and they get a special privilege that day for doing the extra work.
As soon as possible, make it very, very clear that it is 100% unacceptable to use Spanish as a way to circumvent mom (to hide something from her, or not translating an insult one of the other siblings may say to prevent them from getting in trouble). Make this a Very. Big. Deal. early on, akin to crossing the street without holding hands/multiple months of grounding as teens. Bonus, this system will probably allow you to pick up a basic grasp of Spanish, or at least be able to sense the tone of conversations even if you can’t understand the words. – Ketevan
If your boyfriend sets a good example for the kids of how to be considerate in making sure no one is left out of a conversation, it can teach your kids be more aware in how they converse in other settings, too (for example, with Deaf friends or co-workers). – Erin
I know of a child who speaks French to one grandmother, Arabic to the other grandmother and English to their parents, even though everyone is bilingual and can understand him. You’re child will learn to change languages when you enter the conversation. – Alyssa
Having your kids grow up bilingual will probably help to include you more! They will translate for you and/or insist that relatives speak English for you. You may also find that their acquiring Spanish expands your own abilities beyond where they are now without you even being aware of it while it’s happening. A win all around for you and your in-laws. – Ella
In terms of language being used to be exclusive, I once heard a social worker say ‘inclusive language please.’ She just meant to include everyone in the conversation, but I thought it was a reasonably polite way to redirect (this was addressed to bilingual teenagers by the way). – Lisa
Watch for emerging technologies!
Try turning on a translation app on your phone! There are several out there that can hear what is being said and translate it into a different language for travelers, and I could see it being a useful tool for communicating. I do think that it would be beneficial for your children to be able to grow up bilingual, as it can be great for their communication skills in ANY language later on, and makes it easier on the brain to become multilingual later in life. – Trista
Learning new languages is a wonderful advantage, and if your children have that opportunity, they should definitely be encouraged to do so. Your concern about being isolated is understandable, and can probably be handled by using translators, which have been making wonderful advances, and by requesting to be included. This of course includes asking that they speak to you and about you in your presence in words you can understand. Communication is partly about respect; respecting the person you are speaking to demands that you try to communicate effectively.
In the meantime, this crowdfunded technology may be great for you.
This is a device I’ve been reading up on, as I’ve found myself wanting to communicate more effectively with people of other languages. Perhaps it can help you, as well. The technology has been progressing wonderfully. Perhaps this can be an option for you. – Michael