Parents help their kids speak fluent Spanish and maintain their heritage
The nannies’ most important credentials include speaking no English, only Spanish. The elementary schools are bilingual, or full immersion. Summer vacations unfold in, say, Colombia or Peru. The “¡Vamonos! Let’s Go!” CDs with Dora and Diego have been played so many times that finally they must be summarily disappeared for the sake of everyone’s sanity. Even the family dogs are bilingual, enthusing equally to “afuera” and “outside,” “juguete” and “toy.”
And yet, for parents going to such lengths, there will almost inevitably come a moment like the one experienced a few years ago by Glenda Harvey, a native of Puerto Rico. She speaks English without an accent, yet at home with her children, she speaks Spanish. Her husband, Steve Harvey, speaks English but fully supports the Spanish mission. By the age of 3, their elder son, Sebastian, was fluent in Spanish and English. Then he went to an English-language preschool.
“At some point, he would say, ‘Mom, I’d rather you speak English, please,’” Glenda Harvey recalled. “At which point I started crying and thinking that was the worst thing ever.”
Now Sebastian, 9, is enrolled in the Spanish-English program at the Washington International School. He’s still comfortable in both languages and reads Cervantes with his mother in Spanish. So far, so good.
A Latino presence
Washington feels more Latinized every day. The region’s Latino population rose 73 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 408,885 to 709,193. Hispanics are 15 percent of the population. There are bilingual signs in stores, Spanish advisories in Metro stations and airports, bilingual ATMs and bank tellers.
Spanish seems so very alive because it is fresh on the lips of so many new arrivals. Yet, simultaneously, the language is dying daily. Research shows that most grandchildren of Latino immigrants will sound like gringos.
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