Family Relocation: Perdón, I Speak English but Hablo Español

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Family Relocation: Perdón, I Speak English but Hablo Español

When we moved eight weeks ago to the city of Atlanta, I was set on making sure that my daughters would keep their Spanish. I vowed that no matter what, they would speak to me and their family in Spanish even if people who don’t speak the language were around. I figured if I spoke English to them, every single time someone who doesn’t speak Spanish was around, they would quickly lose it.

My daughters have had no problem with this arrangement. I hate to admit it, but I never thought I would be the one with the problem. I have found myself constantly apologizing for using our native language. You see, now that I’m actually in the situation, I am still adjusting to the fact that when I speak to my daughters in Spanish when non-Spanish speakers are around, I am automatically and purposefully leaving someone out of the conversation, something that makes me feel very uncomfortable.

Trying to be fair to people around me, while trying to keep my native language in my daughters is easier said than done. I am very strict about good manners and yet I find I am wrestling with myself between making sure that my daughters don’t get lazy about speaking Spanish and being polite with others.

What has been my solution? I spend twice as much time talking. Whenever I am around English speakers but have to address either one of my daughters, I first speak to them in Spanish and will quickly turn around and explain in English what I have just said. It is downright EXHAUSTING! I am certainly hoping my daughters find this method a lot more intuitive that it has been for me.

I have also resorted to forewarn and apologize to people ahead of time so that they understand I am just trying to keep the girls’ Spanish alive. The people I have met here seem OK with my language conundrum and in fact are hoping that some of our Spanish will secretly rub-off on their kids.

I never thought I would ever apologize for being bilingual. But wanting my daughters to be true bilinguals means being stuck somewhere between language pride and social politeness.

Have you found yourself in a similar situation?  How do you handle it?



  1. says

    I think that being bilingual is a gift. It opens so many doors: to people and places. And it would be sad to just let it go.

    My children will be trilingual (German, English and Hindi) and I am very petty on the right way of saying things (especially in my mother tongue German). So I guess the unborn little ones will be up for a ride.

    And while I absolutely understand how exhausting it must be to be a interpreter all the time, I think with time you will be able to share the load – latest when your kids are old enough to understand your approach to balance the conversation. Most likely they will start translating themselves which will be a great way of supporting their linguistic flexibility.

    Don´t feel guilty. You do the right thing for you and your children!

  2. L. Moore says

    Having been there and really still there, I will tell you that with time the 'feeling of guilt' for speaking Spanish around non-speakers WILL go away. You have to stop apologizing to others for that. I have come to the realization that I can't be worried about how others "might feel" when I am doing what I feel and know is right for my daughters. We know that being bilingual is a gift and provides some great opportunities and advantages and it is a connection to our culture and for that you SHOULDN'T apologize. I think when people get to know you they will not feel 'left out' just because you are speaking in your native tongue to your daughters and they shouldn't really expect for you to be the translator/interpreter for them. I truly understand not wanting to come across as being rude, but you will find that balance of when to let people in the conversation you are having with your children. It is hard enough just getting them to keep speaking when they are really immersed in the English language.