Bilingual Parenting: Why Didn't I Choose Spanish All Those Years Ago?

by multilingualmania on March 11, 2010

in bilingual parenting

Baby Ink, Inkognegro's Son

Author: David Parrish, Jr-aka “Inkognegro”

I never thought I would have to ponder the idea of raising a child bilingually. I was born and raised as an African-American boy in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Despite being an extraordinarily gifted child who read everything in sight, when it came time to choose a foreign-language study as I entered the seventh grade in 1981, the decision that I made included a severe miscalculation.  I was given three choices for a foreign-language to study for the next two years of my life: German, Spanish, and French.

This was not a decision I took lightly or without a significant amount of consideration. The night before I had to decide I sat down in front of a map that we had at my House and I stared. I asked myself if I would always live in Pittsburgh and everyone here speaks English. People in Mexico and the Caribbean speak Spanish.  People in Québec speak French. Since Québec is much closer to Pittsburgh than the Caribbean and Mexico, clearly French would be more valuable to me than Spanish. Problem Solved, Right?

Tsk, Tsk, Tsk.

So I decided quite snugly I might add, to enroll in French. I took French for five years and became proficient.  It is difficult for me to calculate just how major of an error that choice in my life turned out to be. After high school I chose to go to college in Florida. From Florida I moved to California for a year. After a year in California I moved to Washington DC where I officially immersed myself into the restaurant industry continuing a burgeoning career I had begun in California.

After 11 years in Washington DC, I found myself moving to Texas where I have resided for the past six years bouncing from from local politics to the restaurant industry to child care and back to the restaurant industry, thinking one thing and one thing only:  Why didn’t I choose Spanish all those years ago?

In the interest of brevity I will spare you the cultural and historical lessons that would be required to inform you as to why a well read 11-year-old boy had no idea that a significant portion of the United States population spoke Spanish. I am sure that if you are a person of a similar age you remember how limited exposure to Spanish-speaking people was for those of us who didn’t live in one of the areas that had a large population.  To this day,  there is not a significant Spanish-speaking population in the city of Pittsburgh.

Those are the experiences that inform  my decisions and my ideology regarding bilingual education. I have three sons: ages eleven and eight from a previous marriage, and a nine-month-old with my current wife.   I have been sure to involve both of my older sons in a significant Spanish-speaking curricula in whatever school they attend. With my youngest son the need is even more stark, for he is likely to be the youngest grandson of a very proud man who was born in Panama Canal Zone and speaks English and Spanish fluently. His maternal grandmother is a native of New York City who learned Spanish at an early age from a neighbor.  His mother is a proud woman of African American and Panamanian descent who finds herself in need of Spanish regularly as an elementary school teacher.  She understands Spanish well but does not speak it particularly well.

My passion regarding bilingual education revolves around an understanding I picked up as a result of the 20 years I have worked in the restaurant industry, the vast majority of which involved me interacting with people who spoke limited English working in the kitchen and in support positions. Even though I hadn’t involve myself individually in their lives, even in our limited work interactions I came to understand how important the language is today and how difficult it is to transition from speaking Spanish to speaking English while holding down a job and raising a family. I am of the opinion that all residents of areas with a high concentration of people who speak a foreign-language should have a basic foundation of that language in order to help with the transition- it serves business purposes as well as it makes for a more productive and inclusive community environment. This is all leaving aside the economic benefits of being a bilingual person in a place where resources and access are limited for people who speak limited English.

My youngest son is nine months old with two Spanish-speaking grandparents and parents who are passionate about the need for bilingual education. Since my wife and I stress the importance of being bilingual even as speakers of the dominant language, there’s little question that he will arrive in school prepared for anything that comes his way with regards to both English and Spanish. It is my hope that as the state of affairs evolves, more parents will undertake these priorities for their children both to prepare them to be more marketable and to be more sociable, making the United States a  place where people can thrive even as they make the difficult transition from Spanish to English. The question of language for me has never been a matter of either or, it has always been both.

About the Author: David Parrish, Jr. is a writer/Blogger who goes by the Name of Inkognegro.    He has a blog he Neglects frequently , 1/2 of An Internet Talk Show (The Black Odd Couple) , and a regular guest spot on “Single Sister Speaks Out”on Mondays and alternate Thursdays. You can also find him on Twitter , usually While He is hustling between his Day Job and his studies in Emerging Media and communications.

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