Two languages and two cultures

Cultural diversity is a popular topic while entering the work force in the United States. Immigrants often come to the United States seeking the American dream, willingly sacrificing their own culture and ready for the next generation to adopt the new way of life. The acclimation process for these families may be difficult without learning the English language. Acculturation to the new culture at a microlevel is evidently limited when engaging with locals or participating in community activities. Not surprisingly, this is how most first-generation monolingual Spanish-speaking Hispanic parents migrate to the United States. This population particularly interests me because they compromise most families I see at a clinical level with this presenting issue. For this blog, I will refer to them as parents or families interchangeably.

I come across monolingual (or predominantly) English speaking children accompanied by their monolingual Spanish speaking parents more times than what I would like. It puts me in a bind wondering whether this is related to the limited parenting skills of permitting their child to decide between two languages and two cultures, as if it is the same decision the child makes when they refuse to eat broccoli because they do not like the taste of it. They may not understand the deeper significance to adopting their parents’ native language. Generational divides may be woven between a parent and their child when the household language becomes a barrier for communication. Speculations exist describing this phenomenon and it has been hypothesized that parents equate the child’s language preference as a sign of future progress in America. We do not understand if this phenomenon is related to parenting style or even if it may be related to the parent’s individual acculturation, which truly drives the promotion of bilingualism within these households. Little is known about how monolingual Spanish-speaking families or bilingual (English/Spanish) families educate and stimulate their child’s linguistic development during the formative years. One can assume parenting style and acculturation to the United States are imperative factors involved in these practices. This concerns me because in my opinion, the child may present with attachment issues if the parent’s values are not well supported in the child’s upbringing.

Perhaps we may need to take a step back to better understand the reasoning behind the scenes. Families are hungry for growth and despite their own hard work, continue to struggle in the rat-race of the poverty cycle. Working two or three jobs with minimum wage salaries as the household income, with very little time left during the day to sit for an English class and learn the language. When studying Hispanic culture, scientists have seen that parents emphasize family values through the promotion of mealtime gatherings and unity amongst siblings. The day-to-day stress may not allow parents to set limits and enforce the use of the native language during mealtime, watching television or while on technological devices. Studies also show that Hispanic parents trust the educational system as their guide to teach their child the academic skills needed for future progress. Fortunately, the progressive state of California encourages bilingual education with dual language learning or two-way immersion educational programs. However, an individual’s cultural values, beliefs and literacy practices are impacted even prior to starting an academic setting.

Historically, Hispanic kindergarten students arrive with fewer school readiness skills and lower reading capabilities when compared to their other counterparts, per the National Center of Education Statistics in 2004. Being of Hispanic origin and speaking a language other than English in the household were reported risk factors associated to this finding. Policy makers and healthcare providers have acknowledged the importance of addressing education to those who speak other languages other than English. An English language learner has been described legally as a person ages 3 years to 21 years who has a first, home, primary or native language other than English.

Concomitantly, I would like to encourage childcare providers and pediatric p0roviders to encourage the introduction and practice of home literacy activities during the early school years in any language while at the home. This will certainly result in improved literacy in young children learning English as a second language. (Hammer & Miccio, 2001). Of note, the promotion of bilingualism supports neurolinguistics development which include:

1) facilitating English language acquisition,

2) promoting positive cultural self-identity,

3) enhancing the family’s quality of life,

4) promoting community inclusion and

5) supporting smoother transitions to new environments.

Culture translates to what is salient for common values and when taking action towards a common goal regardless of location. There is a heightened awareness of a divided America and a strong feeling of anti-immigration, which may discourage parents to support their own culture currently. Ultimately, when parents are more comfortable with a United States’ “diversity” is substituted by “inclusion” and there is less implicit erroneous pushback for diversity then, maybe they will be more willing to promote bilingualism and acquisition of their home language.

Wilhelmina Hernandez, MD