Being a Bilingual Momma.
I’m the first American born child in my family. My parents immigrated to New Jersey from Poland almost 27 years ago. They didn’t know the English language, nor did they go to school to learn it besides a few basic courses here and there – and today they both speak English beautifully and fluently, as run as well as own their very own business. I couldn’t be more proud of them, with their hard work they truly acheived the American Dream.
My first language was Polish. I grew up amongst a Polish community of kids my age, whose parents I still refer to as my ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’. Most of those who were around my parents age had come to America in search of a better life than what Poland had to offer at the time.
Us kids all went to a Catholic elementary school run by Polish nuns, shopped at Polish delicatessans, attended a supplementary Polish school, and spoke Polish in our homes.
Growing up I never really knew how much of an advantage I had by knowing a second language. I was always proud of being Polish, but never quite to the extent of how proud I am today.
Times have changed.
Today, at 26 years old, I no longer live in a ‘Polish’ community. I rarely shop at Polish delis, and don’t attend a fully Polish church, although coincidentally our priest is Polish! But I married into a Polish family, and we all still speak Polish at home.
When I found out I was going to be a mom, I never really asked myself whether or not I was going to speak to my child in Polish or English. In my head, Polish was the obvious choice. My husband and I are totally on the same page with this which makes life a little easier. If we don’t teach him Polish now, will he ever pick it up? How will he comminicate with his cousins, aunts, uncles, great grandparents who are all in Poland?
I know that eventually he will learn to speak and write in English perfectly – I know because that’s how my parents did it with me and I don’t have an accent when speaking either language.
My son is now 19months old, he understands only Polish and speaks only Polish (with the couple of words that he knows). He is also aware of any environment he enters with an English speaking crowd – where he’ll just say ‘Hi’ and nod his head in response. We only read Polish books, sing Polish songs, and mostly watch Polish cartoons with the exception of a little bit of Disney Junior.
Even though I know in my gut that this is the best thing for him for right now, I have to admit I’ve already experienced a little bit of sadness due to his inability to communicate verbally with Americans. It has happened at playgrounds where kids will come up to him to say something and he won’t know how to respond. Or when parents come up to him and make cute comments towards him but he only stares back, leaving those parents confused as to why he isn’t responding.
It’s fine, right?
I do feel the need to explain myself, “Oh, he doesn’t speak English yet – just Polish” … and then slight feelings of embarrassment and guilt hit me as the response I receive isn’t as understanding as I had hoped. I have yet to come across a parent who says, “good for you, being bilingual is important, it will benefit him”. Instead, I feel judged because WHY ISN’T HE SPEAKING ENGLISH.
Honestly, in the long run – I hope my boy is just as proud of being Polish as I am and I trust that I will be able to have him bilingual by the time he is three years old. Hopefully.