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Thanks to Daily Chicana’s recent post on how two Chicanas in the same family can be very different, I’ve become really interested in why my younger siblings, Lori and Adrian, are a lot less fluent in Spanish than Danny and me. I’ve seen this in other families and wonder if my family is the norm, exception, or somewhere in between.
A little about my family:
My parents both immigrated as children and completed all of their school in the US. They’re fluent in both English and Spanish as are most of their siblings. I grew up speaking Spanish almost exclusively with both sets of grandparents although they understand and speak a little. All of my first cousins are fluent in English.
In our home, my family spoke English and Spanish but it was hardly equal. I’d say it was 80/20 with a lot of code-switching and Spanglish. Now that Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni live with my parents full time, it’s less lopsided. However, our home is still English dominant.
With the exception of my grandparents, we didn’t watch much Spanish TV in our home. My mom wasn’t a novelera, but as we got older she did get in to a few series. My first novela experience was Rosa Salvaje. I started watching when I stayed at Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni’s house in Zacatecas for a few weeks one summer.
While we didn’t watch much Univision or Telemundo, we attended church services primarily in Spanish. Danny and I sang with the kids’ Spanish choir and were involved in other cultural activities like ballet folkórico. We spoke Spanish at choir practice, but mainly spoke English at dance practice and with our friends there.
As for the four kids, we’re all pochos (in the language sense) but to a different degree. I’m bilingual and biliterate, but know I’m not as strong as my friends who grew up speaking Spanish almost exclusively at home. I also get super self conscious when I spend time with my cousins in Mexico. I fear they’ll laugh when I trip over words. They don’t, they’re all very kind and some have actually complimented me on my Spanish. I studied Spanish grammar and literature in high school and minored in Spanish in college. As an adult, I’ve spent a lot more time visiting family in Mexico. My siblings haven’t been to Guanajuato or Zacatecas since they were kids. I also listen to a lot of music from Mexico and South America.
Danny was more fluent and confident in Spanish until we got to high school and I started taking Spanish classes. The least fluent are the younger two. Lori and Adrian speak and understand Spanish, but it’s what many would call “pocho” (literally incomplete, partially formed; colloquially it refers to US-born Mexican kids with less than perfect Spanish skills).
I’m not 100% sure why, but I bet Danny and I are part of the reason. With Danny and I speaking English most of the time, Lori and Adrian heard a lot less Spanish at home. When Danny and I were younger, we heard our parents speak both languages and spent more time at my grandparents’ home.
I’ve seen this with my cousins too. The elder children are fluent/almost fluent while the younger ones barely speak — or don’t want to speak — Spanish.
I was curious about this last week and asked friends on Twitter and FB. Some people related to my experience while others said all their siblings were equally fluent. Some had confounding factors. Like me, they studied their heritage language or spent time studying abroad during college. Some had families where elder children were born in the native country while the younger ones were born here. It was interesting to read the variety of experiences as well as the thoughts of parents with young children who are trying to raise their children bilingual (or trilingual in one case). It made me think more about raising a bilingual child when my partner is not a Spanish speaker.
It’s fascinating to me how the children in one family — only 7 years apart from eldest to youngest — could be so different in language acquisition.