Becoming Bilingual

It has always been a desire of mine to have my children become bilingual when they are still young, when their brains are still developing and can acquire new knowledge so much easier. When I was 12 I spent just one month in Mexico with my family, fully immersed in the culture.  I have always felt that even that small amount of exposure helped me 5 years later when I studied Spanish in junior college.

I always dreamed of going to a Spanish speaking country and immersing myself for long enough to become fluent... but life got away from me and that desire just sank lower and lower on my "list".

Fast forward almost a quarter of a century later, and here I am with 3 beautiful babies of my own.

Last November, we had the incredible opportunity to spend 6 months in Mazatlan, Mexico. I didn't know how much we would or could actually learn in just half a year of immersion, but here we are on the other side of the adventure and I'm ready to report how we did...

First of all, here's what our lives looked like abroad:

We rented a furnished house in a completely Hispanic neighborhood, far away from the tourist district and expat communities that are prominent in Mazatlan, in hopes that we would be forced to speak more Spanish. It worked!

I was homeschooling (or "worldschooling" as I like to call it) my girls, age 5 and 8. My youngest, Kenton, who turned 3 during our time in Mexico, attended a 100% Spanish speaking daycare 3 to 5 days a week. We considered placing the girls in private school but opted against it, for this trip at least, for a number of reasons that I may post about in the future if there is interest.

I only allowed the kids to watch Spanish television and movies, except for Friday nights, which were fondly known as "English Movie Night". We also tried to listen to music in Spanish whenever possible, and would read children's books in Spanish (and English) every day.

We became friends with a wonderful family in our neighborhood who had two girls of their own - the youngest was only a week older than Kenton, and the oldest was in between Jenica and Tenley's age. The mom spoke a little English, but much of the time we communicated with the help of google translate or hand signals.

However, just spending time with their family helped me to learn so much, allowed me to feel more comfortable speaking Spanish around my kids, and my kids learned so much just by playing with their Spanish speaking friends.

We are back in North Idaho for the summer, staying on my dad's property while we fix up a guest house. It's been two weeks and I am amazed at how much Spanish we are all speaking! I overhear the girls "pretend playing" in Spanish regularly. Tenley has certain phrases that she says in Spanish all the time and often knows the Spanish word for things that I do not remember (frog or "rana" was the most recent example.)

Kenton probably speaks Spanish 25 - 40% of the time. He's only 3, so he doesn't have a huge vocabulary yet, but it's so fun to hear him speak with his little Spanish accent and say "Hola Papa"[Hi Daddy], or "Te amo!" [I love you!].

Jenica walked in while I was doing my Spanish lesson the other day and spouted off the answers to the questions they were asking in Spanish before I even had a chance. 

As for me, I went from being uncomfortable talking to people in Spanish when I first arrived, to being able to hold a basic conversation with an Uber driver right before we left. I feel confident speaking what I like to call "gradeschool Spanish" with my kids, I can communicate most basic needs if I have to in Spanish, and can understand much of what is written in Spanish on signs or menus. 

I am thrilled at how far we have all come in just six short months abroad. Which is why this August, we want to return to Mazatlan for one full school year. All three kids will attend a bilingual (half in English/half in Spanish) Christian school while I continue to find ways to work remotely.

A huge thank you to all of you who have followed our journey and supported us by continuing to use my services for tax preparation and photography. You are helping make my dream of having bilingual children a reality.

Also... come see us in Idaho this summer if you can! And Mazatlan next winter when the weather here gets unpleasant. We miss you!


Sandy Hodges said…
It's been fun following your journey here. May God continue to watch over you and bless you as you continue your adventures.
Lisa Lankins said…
This is awesome. I always wanted to learn anguages since before I was in school because my family travelled to Mexico every year for vacations and I was exposed, and loved it. I then of course always wanted to raise bilingual children as well, but never had the opportunity to have children. I am so happy to hear of the adventure and mind-opening experience you have had here in my precious Mazatlan. Being bi-lingual is a start to many things, acceptance, equality, intelligence, self-awareness, and many many other positive life changing qualities. I applaud your intensions and am so happy for your kids. I am looking forward to seeing you here agaian soon!

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