How My Children Became Bilingual
I met my husband when I was studying at the National University in Mexico City one summer. One day on a city bus, I recognized another woman from the school and struck up a conversation with her. She was planning a birthday party and set me up with one of her boyfriend’s friends. Four years later, I married my one and only blind date. I was still in graduate school when we married, and my husband wanted to pursue an MBA while I completed my doctorate. Because he had to sharpen his language skills to pass his English test, we spoke that language at home. When the children came along a few years later, we found ourselves drifting into English out of habit.
Early in our marriage, my husband and I jokingly worried our children would speak Spanish like me and English like their father. Since we primarily spoke English as home, we truly didn’t have to worry about that language, but they might have not developed their Spanish skills had we not moved out of the country when they were still young.
In 1989, we moved to Honduras. Our oldest was about to start kindergarten and the younger one was just learning to talk when we enrolled them in a small bilingual school in Tegucigalpa. Our older son was one of two native English-speakers in his kindergarten class. His younger brother switched his few words to Spanish. To ensure they didn’t forget their English, we continued to speak primarily that language when alone, but Spanish when others were present. Both boys soon could switch between languages with ease, sometimes mixing the two and inventing their own words in the process. Things were “swoft” (a combination of “suave” and “soft”), and my younger one would ask for his “shoepatos” (a combination of “shoe” and “zapatos”).
After five years of living in Spanish-speaking countries, we moved to Russia, but they never lost their ability in Spanish, adding some Russian and French into the mix. We are quite grateful our original fears about their language abilities were never fulfilled.
Do you or any in your family speak a foreign language? How did you learn? Leave a comment and be entered for a chance of my new book Saving Hope.
Liese Sherwood-Fabre grew up in Dallas, Texas and knew she was destined to write when she got an A+ in the second grade for her story about Dick, Jane, and Sally’s ruined picnic. After obtaining her PhD from Indiana University, she joined the federal government and had the opportunity to work and live abroad for more than fifteen years—in Africa, Latin America, and Russia. Returning to the states, she seriously pursued her writing career and has had several published pieces. Her debut novel Saving Hope, a thriller set in Russia, will be available from Musa Publishing on May 4.
Saving Hope Blurb: In one of Siberia's formerly closed cities, Alexandra Pavlova, an unemployed microbiologist, struggles to save her daughter’s life. When she turns to Vladimir, her oldest friend, for help, she's drawn into Russia’s underworld. His business dealings with the Iranians come to the attention of Sergei Borisov, an FSB (formerly the KGB) agent. Alexandra finds herself joining forces with Sergei to stop the export of a deadly virus in a race to save both her daughter and the world.