October 16, 2013 by empraise

A week or two ago, Big M was reading to little M and, as he often does, he asked him to identify a particular animal in the illustration.  Little M’s reply was surprising.  “Ente….” (pause) “….Pato” (another pause) “…Duck”.  Wow.  Once given enough time to think, he had correctly named the animal in all three languages!  Whohoo!  I had actually just started noticing how Little M has started “correcting” himself to me here and there on certain words.  If the first word out of his mouth to me was German, he will occasionally change it to Spanish or English.  For example, I ask, “What’s that up in the sky?”  “Mond…Luna”.  Big smile.


So, needless to say, I am not completely giving up Spanish with Little M.  As tempting as it has been to do so.  When we were back in the US for a visit this past summer, I got some very mixed responses and had mixed emotions towards our Spanish language connection.  It was so fun, and such a blessing, to hear him chattering in Spanish and understanding our dear friends (“Tio y Tia”) who helped us and spent some time with us while we were in Houston.  Many such friends have been a priceless encouragement to me in this process.  On the other hand, I felt more out-of-place than ever while walking through the airport, chatting in Spanish to Little M and getting surprised, almost disdainful looks from hispanic and non-hispanic people alike.  I felt we didn’t belong in either camp.


Back in Korea, things seemed only slightly better.  Here, no one balks when they hear you speaking a foreign or uncommon language to your child.  However, I began to feel slightly ostracized as I spoke Spanish to my son while being surrounded by English-speaking children and adults.  We were “different” from the American crowd because I was forcing it on us.  And, hear me, this is just my own perception.  It’s my own weird hang-up.  I want us to have a “People”.  And hispanics are not our People.  We have no family who speaks Spanish, though we have a few good friends here and worldwide who do.  I am not fully able or motivated to infuse hispanic culture into my child as many bi-lingual bloggers out there can.  Now, while I am in a country away from “home”, I want to teach and talk about my own tradition, culture and food.  Not to say that I don’t like to learn, talk about, and cook food from other cultures—I do.  But they are not MINE.  I guess I am just having a crisis of identity and really want something to call HOME.

Then there is the added challenge of being in a country whose inhabitants speak Korean and feeling the daily strain of speaking such scant Korean that I often cannot even “get by”.  I feel somewhat obligated to learn Korean, plus I know it would benefit my family to do so.  So where does that leave my time and energy to continually stay ahead of the Spanish curve with Little M?



All of this being said.  I do love the Spanish language.  I have since childhood.  And I probably always will.  Plus, I DO know how to speak it.  To an extent.  No, I don’t speak like a native-speaker and yes, I am shamefully tongue-tied much of the time, but there is a lot that I CAN say and explain and read to my son.  It costs me nothing to do this.  And, at least for today, I think I would be a fool not to.  So in my mind, I have settled it out like this:

I am first, and foremost, an English speaker.  And I will enjoy speaking, re

ading, singing, and sharing this language, culture, and heritage with my children.  I will also speak Spanish with them, as I am able and as the situation allows.  I will read to them in Spanish, and sing songs with them in Spanish and travel to Spanish-speaking countries and learn to cook delicious hispanic dishes.  Because I can, and because it’s fun.  If it ever ceases to be those things, then I feel great about cutting it back or out all together.

For now, this means focusing on “Spanish in the Afternoons”.  A new initiative I am using to help remind myself to focus on reading and speaking Spanish after Little M wakes up from his nap until Big M gets home.  The funny part is as soon as I thought of this, I naturally started using more Spanish in the mornings as well.  Haha…so…I guess it is Spanish-Whenever-I-Feel-Like-It.  How’s that for Wishy-Washy?



2 thoughts on “Ente…Pato…Duck…

  1. Wow, I applaud you for your effort to teach Little M English, Spanish and German. Of course I have no idea who you really are, but I’d like to say that anything helps. I understand what you are going through. Living in a foreign country like Korea can make your feel like you are loosing bits and pieces of your culture…I’m originally from Spain myself and every now and then I feel I need to protect my heritage and my language because it’s who I am… but along the way I have learned to loved and accept aspects of my new home country, the US.
    I just wanted to say, hang in there… Spanish is a great language, but you are right… it’s impossible to teach the culture when you are the only one teaching the language to a child.. However, What I ultimately you are going to succeed on is to teach Little M to love languages. I can tell you love languages too, the freedom, the growth and the pain that they bring into our lives.
    I will leave you with two thoughts… One defining memory of my childhood is learning to say bread in German to my german friends who didn’t speak any Spanish at all when I was around four in Ibiza,… and the endless list of words that my mom taught me in English when I was just very young. Now, that doesn’t seem much in a world of bilingualism, but it defined my love for languages…
    Little M might get to remember a time when he was learning to say Luna in Korea… how amazing is that!!!

  2. As a non-native French-speaking mom, I can empathize with a lot of what you say in this post….I don’t have Francophone family members or close friends, and I don’t have a personal investment in French culture. (And just as with Spanish, so many countries speak the language, I wouldn’t know which culture to focus on to begin with!)

    The fact that you and your husband both use a different non-native language with your son while you’re living in Korea is fascinating! Good luck to you all.

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