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Define Your Own Bilingual Success

Bilingual is better, that we know for sure, but success doesn't always come easy, and some days it doesn't come at all. So for those of us who aspire to raise bilingual kids in a monolingual home, celebrating small successes is vital to our long term objective of bilingualism.

Last month, as my daughter turned three, the awareness that her Spanish vocabulary was comparable to that of a one year old struck me like a ton of bricks. While her level of comprehension and articulation in English rivals that of children years older, her blank stares in response to my grandmother's long distance phone calls make it painfully obvious—bilingualism is a long way off. I felt the defeatist sentiment brewing; who was I kidding? I wanted to quit my bilingual efforts right then and there.

As a bicultural Latina, I know first hand the benefits of being raised bilingual. After years of suburban beach living, I ease naturally into my American life. My thoughts race in English, almost as quickly as the words land on this page, pero cuando mi corazón anhela por familia y amor, it does so in Spanish. So how can I deny that birthright to my children? Bestowing the gift of bilingualism is one that I will forever be tasked with as a mother, regardless of how success is defined.

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Instead of giving up, I've decided to give in and embrace our bilingual journey as it exists today. I've learned that success shows up when you're looking for it, and even if in small measures, all achievements in bilingualism should be celebrated. As of today, that means that my three year old knows her colors in both English and Spanish. That she responds to simple directives, like: ven acá, siéntate or oye chica, no te voy a decir otra vez. As of today, that means that my ten-month-old gives me besitos when I ask him to, that I'm teaching him where his nariz, boca y ojos are when his little manito caresses my face. That when nothing else seems to work, and a mother's voice singing Duérmete Mi Niño is the only way to sooth my infant son, I will choose to celebrate the small successes in my desperate hope of bilingualism and identity.

Raising bilingual kids can be so much more than just raising kids to speak Spanish, if you remember to celebrate the small successes. Bilingualism is about raising more tolerant world citizens. Exposing kids to Spanish can be about raising descendants who are conscious of traditions and family legacy that existed before them. So, when I find my three year old speaking complete gibberish to her dolls, when she happily proclaims, "Mama! I'm speaking Spanish!" I choose to celebrate that success with her. She's earned it! And so have I.

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