5 Touchstones of Our Bilingual Life

After learning Spanish for ten years, I was committed to the idea of raising children speaking español and inglés. I told the story of my earlier failed attempts at bilingual life with my youngest sister and my cousin in this essay. After that I was dedicated and determined. I made a plan to incorporate a second language into my daily life, methodically not sporadically. Look below for five Spanish contexts in our daily life.

1. When I wake up, my brain is in Spanish mode. Every day since our child was born we’ve begun with, “Buenos días.” When they were little, I’d sing the song as well, to the tune of Are You Sleeping?:

Buenos días.
Buenos días.
¿Cómo estás?
¿Cómo estás?
Muy bien gracias.
Muy bien gracias.
¿Y tú?
¿Y tú?

Once they started elementary school, they were a big kid and didn’t want the song anymore. However, I’m happy to note they still remember and can sing it.

2. Morning check in: I ask, “¿Cómo dormiste?” How did you sleep?
Most frequent answer: “Bien.”
To which I say, “Me alegra, es hora de vestirse.” I’m glad, time to get dressed.
No, they’re too old for me to say the second half.
They dress themselves and are onto the next step without prompting.

3. The time for the brushing of teeth is at hand! Oral hygiene can be a tricky part of parenting. What is the right amount to direct and the correct bit to let go? To make it more fun, I invented a song to the tune of Are You Sleeping? that our child sang until last year. They seemed to enjoy it and teeth brushing by extension. It lasts the three minutes that are recommended to do the job well. P.S. I recently heard a phrase of the song one morning and noticed our child is still singing silently to time their brushing.

Nos cepillamos.
Nos cepillamos.
Los dientes.
Los dientes.
Todos los días.
Todos los días.
Para tener un sonrisa bonita.

(We brush x 2, our teeth x 2, every day x 2. to have a beautiful smile.)

All my conversations with our child are in Spanish until they leave for school. Sometimes I get answers in kind, sometimes in English. But I make sure the input from me is in the language of our hearts. The last phrase as they go out the door is one I picked up in Chile, “Qué te vaya lindo.” It’s similar to, Have a nice day.

4. Welcome home! ¡Bienvenida a casa! After school I give our child a hug, I ask, “¿Cómo te fue? How did it go? The answer is most often positive and they are off to play with neighborhood friends, but if it’s “Mal” (Bad) and something is wrong it’s a good chance to chat.

5. Buenas noches. We have a special bedtime routine. After the washing and brushing, my husband spends five minutes talking with our child, answering life’s questions. Then I have my five minutes. En español, we talk about the next day’s plans and any lingering concerns. We end by holding each other’s hands and saying prayers in Spanish. The day ends well.

That is the structure of our weekday home life. Weekend mornings we have the most Spanish conversations. Also, we subscribe to a Spanish magazine for older elementary school children called Reportero Doc, which I highly recommend. It has interesting science, health, environmental, and historical articles. It is more expensive that Ranger Rick, but I think of it like buying a book in Spanish each month. Our child reads it cover to cover right when it comes in the door. That makes it completely worth it.

These past ten years I’ve realized that I am not giving Spanish lessons to our child, it is that we are living en español. My imperfect conversaciones are a good start, un buen comienzo.

What are your routines?

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! ¡Olé! –Rebecca

tunnel playscape at Madison Children’s Museum   Photo: Rebecca Cuningham
Rebecca Cuningham

7 thoughts on “5 Touchstones of Our Bilingual Life

  1. Muy bien. I need to convince my eldest daughter to speak to our grandson in French! She practically only speaks Spanish to him. I am practically the only one to speak French to him. But now that he’s in the French school… We will practice. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

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