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As the English-speaking mother in what is otherwise a Spanish-speaking family, I am proud of how verbal and fluent Chip is, in both English and Spanish. We have chosen the one-parent per language approach to all of this, though I speak Spanish to M, Muri and any other Argentine who comes over, with C I usually do switch back to English. And everybody knows there´s nothing like leading by example. C consistently addresses me in English no matter where we are or who we are with. Which is fine, I suppose, though when we are hanging up his backpack in the hall of his Spanish (and French) speaking nursery school, it does seem a tad exclusionary, but I can live with it.

However when we spend Saturday afternoon at his godmother´s house with 5 other children and 10 adults that always, only, consistently and for the duration of his entire short life, have spoken to him en español and he decides that he is only going to speak to me and only in English, well, it makes me a little uncomfortable.

I´m not going to lie, it does.

It is hard to impart to a child when and where to use a second language, especially if that language is being used in the home and not by both parents. Growing up we spoke French with my mother though my father never really did, I was always pretty sure he could follow the conversation (and I doubt he was that interested anyway…) so it didn´t seem like we were “leaving him out” so to speak. And I very clearly remember being in an elevator in New York as a 1st grader and making some rude childish remark about someone´s coat or haircut in French to my mother, only to have the woman then turn to her upon exiting and state “Your daughter speaks lovely French, but perhaps you should teach her some manners too”. Oooops……..never forget that one… and in late 80s Upper East Side NY where I was growing up, a lot of people spoke French or were French themselves, so that lesson served me very well.

C is not in 1st grade or any grade for that matter, he is three. As such, can I really expect him to move beyond the “me” phase that he is still in and have a conscience about the comfort level of those around him? I believe you are never too young to share, to take turns, to not be violent, to not be destructive and with that conviction I have managed to raise a child who so far behaves in accordance with these beliefs. But where do social constructions about what is polite and what is not stop? Some people think it´s cute, but I doubt that will last very long. If a 4-year-old deliberately left me out of a conversation by answering his mother in Croatian in front of me, I don´t think I´d appreciate it one little bit.

When Chip did not want to play with anyone else the other day, he was very deliberately speaking in a way to which he knows only I will respond. I asked him several times (in Spanish) to answer me en español and it was no dice. His dad did the same to no avail. It´s not the end of the world, but I am wondering, how much should I let this go on and when should I put my foot down and insist that he speak the language everyone else is speaking? It´s not like he´s going to get confused and stop speaking English. But at what age do you try to oblige your child to put the dynamics of a group setting before their own whims?