This morning at 6 a.m., as usual, my daughter Ayelén, who has Down syndrome, woke up reluctantly and started getting ready for school. She then asked me for some milk, using the same phrase she uses every morning: “Mamita, may I have some leche, please?”
That’s right: Kids with special needs speak Spanglish, too!
I’m sure that monolingual speakers of any of either English or Spanish might think that Ayelén has articulation issues because of Down syndrome and that’s the reason why some of her words are so hard to decipher. But the truth is that this is not about articulation or speech problems; this is all about a girl with Down syndrome who speaks Spanglish.
If kids speaking Spanglish is already a concern for educators and parents, just imagine this mix of languages coming from the mouths of kids with special needs. They are already challenged to learn how to speak their first language, and in a bilingual household, they’re challenged even more. And now we throw Spanglish into the mix!
But Spanglish is not a new language or a new challenge; it is the natural development for children whose parents are bilingual and bicultural. I didn’t teach Ayelén to speak Spanglish, just as I didn’t teach my son to speak it.
Read Related: The Benefits of Bilingualism
I’m a Latina mother raising two children with special needs. I came to the United States eight years ago and considered myself bilingual. But what an awakening I experienced when I realized that being proficient in English in South America doesn’t equate being proficient in English in the United States.
Years later, I still consider myself ‘bilingual and bicultural in process’. So of course, I speak mainly Spanish to my kids. But like them, I have learned plenty of new things in this country that I can’t quite convey in Spanish, so I use English to address them. I´m part of two worlds and sometimes I mix them to get the best of both. And while many monolinguists view Spanglish as a degeneration of both languages, for us it is just another means of expressing ourselves in an easier or more comfortable way.
Yet when you have children with special needs, monolingual educators will tell you that speaking two languages at home may confuse their communication skills and delay their development even further. But monolingual therapists from both sides (English and Spanish) may have limited resources to measure your child’s progress using Spanglish. If you have a bilingual child, try your best to find a bilingual speech therapist too.
THE BENEFITS OF RAISING BILINGUAL KIDS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
When I first read about the inclusion of Espanglish in the Royal Spanish Academy official vocabulary, I agreed that it really was a “degeneration of both languages”. But later on, after analyzing and educating myself about what it really means, I figured out that my kids speak Spanglish, and I do too.
We Latino-Americans have many reasons to speak Spanglish: We want, for ourselves and our children, to succeed in English-speaking culture without forgetting our Latino heritage. Many of us live in communities of mixed races, where we and our neighbors flow in and out of the two languages with ease. And some of us have children with special needs, who pick up on the easiest words with which to communicate. So, Espanglish seems to be leading us to one of the most awesome benefits that migrants have in this country: the capacity to be bilingual American citizens, no matter whether we have special needs or not.
Y tú, ¿cuál es tu thought about it?