However, a permanent move from the United States to Puerto Rico changed all of that. At the age of ten, I shelved English as my language of choice and replaced it with my rusty Spanish. My first few months there were very rough. While I was able to speak to my sister, brother, and mother in English, we were greatly outnumbered by Spanish speakers. My aunts, uncles and cousins laughed at me while they corrected my speech. I didn’t like being mocked, so I worked hard at mastering Spanish.
The answer to those was “Yes!” However, a lot of the people posing those questions were unilingual - only speaking one language full time. I didn’t believe that they understood what complications came with speaking two languages under one roof. Another barrier was my fear that teaching my son two languages at once at too early an age would cause him to not dominate one language entirely; I’d met adults who had that difficulty in childhood. It was my job to parent him in a way that would best prepare him for life in an English speaking country, so, English became his first language. But as soon as he showed his proficiency in it, I began to teach him Spanish words and phrases. He loved it. My husband and I bought him Spanish/English dictionaries made for kids, as well as other English and Spanish books. He loved them, too. But if I had to ask myself if I was working hard enough to teach him Spanish? I knew what the answer would be “probably not.”
One day, I read a news article that changed everything. A New York woman and her daughter were killed by her estranged husband because her police reports (the abused woman went to police on more than one occasion) were never translated from Spanish to English. This horrified me. If that awful crime would have happened in a place with a small amount of Spanish speakers, I might have understood the tragic mistake. But this happened in New York City, a place that boasts many individuals that speak Spanish and English, as well as scores of other languages.
However, the woman’s needless death moved me to action. While I could do nothing for the poor woman, I might be able to help someone else. I went on every social networking website I knew of and let everyone know that I spoke English and Spanish fluently. I looked into my own town’s (San Diego, California) need for Spanish interpreters and translators, and saw that I could help. However, homeschooling my son along with my husband’s out-to-sea periods did not leave me with much spare time.
But I could do something, I thought as I looked at my son. I immediately created a Spanish curriculum for him. I bought a magnetic dry-erase board, which I hung on the fridge. Every week, I list new Spanish words for my son to learn. I went online and downloaded scores of free worksheets on learning Spanish.
My son was excited about learning more Spanish, he told me. But he also asked me why we were doing more of it. I told him that one day, someone might need to communicate something important, but might not be able to because they might not be able to make themselves understood. I asked him if he wanted to help people who could not speak in Spanish or English communicate with others, and he said that he’d like that a lot.
So would I.