Waffling OPOL

I’ve tried to make the commitment, time and again, to practice OPOL in my intent to raise a bilingual child, OPOL = One Person, One Language. Seeing as how I am the only one between Craig and me who speaks Spanish, that makes me the Spanish One Person. And let me tell you, there’s a whole lot of pressure that comes with being the One Person responsible for passing down an entire language.

Hard as I try, I continue to waffle in my attempts. More and more often, I let English creep out of my mouth, until I find myself mainly speaking that tongue over my native one, then frantically saying everything in two languages. Which seems like madness. But maybe I’m better suited to a Mixed Language approach…

Part of the problem is my comfort lies in English much more than in Spanish. I love English. I studied it. I teach it. I’ve spent more than three parts of my life in the States rather than in Spain. I remember how my father (I wonder if he, too, remembers) turned to me one day during the few short months I lived in Spain again when I was 12 — it could not have lasted any longer, my Spanish too far gone already, my math skills sadly lacking — and said: “I thought I would have Cuban children. Then I thought, okay, Spaniards then. But no. What I have is an American daughter.” Indeed.

A ridiculous fear is that he’s not hearing enough English otherwise, even though I know my son will hear plenty of English. It is his father’s only language. He will hear it from him always and from his family. It is the language his friends and their parents speak. It is the language he will hear at daycare and later at school.

And what if after all the effort, come one day he will forsake his Spanish anyway, when his friends don’t speak it or prefer not to themselves and it becomes more important to fit in than to make your mother happy? He will answer my questions in English no matter how often I ask them in Spanish. Will I feel like I wasted my time? Will I be offended?

The fact is, I must admit to wanting my son to hear me speaking English. Me who spends so many hours with him, teaching him new words even if I speak with the accent I still carry after all these years. Words I love. Words I know.

And yet, it would be such a loss, no? Bad enough already that we didn’t name him Iñigo or Sebastian or Joaquin. No, we named him Wesley Fox. You know, a nice English name tied to a strong German surname. So I feel the pull to make an effort.

And an effort it is, I’ll tell y’all that. After so many years out of practice, my Spanish vocabulary is sadly lacking. These days I keep my 15 year old Larousse English/Spanish dictionary at the dinner table always. What the heck is the word for skunk, I wonder as we play with animal stickers (“mofeta”). Oh, are those cranberries in your salad (“arandano agrio,” the trusted book says)? Ah, that’s the caboose (“furgon de cola”). Never you mind that simpler words like “carrot” become “zanahoria,”  “sock” turns into “calcetin,” “crayon” into “lapiz de cera” (because I refuse to say “creyon,” though I have heard it used), longer version of words replete with all my Spaniard zetas, the tongue pressed between teeth to make the sound “th” makes in “thimble.” And throw in throaty jotas: does that sound even exist in English? But little Spaniard tots are figuring them out every day, are they not? Well, so can Wesley I guess.

And will this mishmash of two languages impair his speech? Honestly, I don’t know. All the new research points to NO, but Wesley isn’t a great talker. He’s a great pointer and a great babbler, and he HAS words and has used them occasionally but not consistently. And most of those words are in English, no doubt. The only words I’ve heard him utter in Spanish are “mas” for more and “agua” for water. Maybe I make it harder for him with my lack of consistency. Maybe he’s just a late talker. Or maybe he’s just a numbers guy instead, his father’s son: “twooooooooooooooo,” I hear him say, again and again, with joy.


5 thoughts on “Waffling OPOL

  1. I didn’t think about this until today, but we were a ML@H (just looked that up – minority language at home) family with me when I was growing up (I’m the oldest). I spoke only Spanish until a chance encounter at a mall with a woman starting a new university research daycare put me in school at four. In a month, I learned enough English to get by, and I don’t recall ever struggling once I started. Both languages clicked then. Of course, now I’m really rusty with Spanish, but because of those four (three?) years, it comes back to me when I’m surrounded by Spanish speakers, and I conjugate without thinking. Whew.

    According to my quick Googling, dual-language children often take a bit longer for that “click,” and progress more slowly than their single-language peers, which makes sense in theory but I agree would be a bit concerning in practice. So, as a roundabout way of assurance: between being a boy (more reticent language skills, right?) and a dual-language kiddo, I’d bet he’s right on track… and ever if he runs a bit behind now, he’ll thank you later when he can get through a vacation in a Spanish-speaking country without too much embarrassment.

    My husband’s been trying gamely to learn Spanish since we started dating, but I’m the one who retreats to English first. I’m so verbal that only having my limited Spanish vocabulary at my disposal quickly frustrates me, but I should try harder. I take my Spanish speaking (and comprehension!) for granted, but I would like to pass that along to my kids.

  2. I too try to teach Sofia spanish with whatever she’s eating, playing, or looking. She loves Dora and Diego and does watch and repeat what they say. Sofi too I think will gain mommy’s “castellano” since i’m the only one speaking spanish in the house also. Aaron doesn’t care to speak it much. It’s truly fun hearing her say words in spanish and it’s helping me remember my spanish! Wes would be ablsolutely adorable, not that he is now, if he were to speak just like a Spaniard!

  3. Ojala yo fuera Poliglota,Papa en Cuba.Tenia un amigo hungaro que hablaba,cerca de diez Idiomas.Como lo lograba no se.Era traductor del Ministerio de Estado.Yo hablo un espaÑol cubano zeta,c y s es lo mismo para nosotros.Los taxis en Madrid me dicen eres andaluz o Canario.Entiendo el Ingles escrito casi no necesito diccionario cuando leo un Libro.pero cuando lo oigo hablar no entiento ni papa y la tele only con captation.Y mi cabeza no nada para ningun otro Idioma.Ojala Wesley aprenda varios,no necesariamente espaÑol.Tengo nietos que lo hablan y otros no.Ellos se lo pierden.El abuelo

  4. You are so amazing to be attempting to pass on such a wonderful gift to Wes! I only wish we had a fluent language to give to Baby L, but at this point it looks like we’ll be speaking broken Spanish/Italian/French/Latin… oh boy!

  5. My brother-in-law is Mexican and his two children (8 and 6) won’t speak Spanish for some reason, although they both understand it perfectly. He speaks to them in both English and Spanish. I’m not sure what that implies, but I thought I’d throw it out there. I guess there is value in their knowledge of the language, even if they won’t speak it. And they will probably speak it in their own time.

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