It’s the worst nightmare of a parent trying to raise a bilingual child.
“I hate Spanish class and I have all my foreign language credits now—I don’t want to take it next year. Are you going to make me?”
Those were the words of my 14 year old son, a well-behaved, straight-A student who is involved in all kinds of extracurricular activities and a highly selective academic program. He’s in advanced classes, including Honors Biology, where he’s one of only two freshman in a classroom full of sophomores. In other words he’s a great kid, an excellent student, and he’s not bailing on Spanish class because of laziness.
For a while I refused to hear my son out. He had already skipped ahead to Spanish III this year thanks to the Spanish he’s learned at home, but I wanted him to go on to Spanish IV next year. I wanted him to take Advanced Placement, college-level Spanish after that. I wanted him to love Spanish the way I do, to realize this is the only opportunity he has to learn the language formally since we don’t live near (and could never afford) a dual-immersion school.
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After weeks of putting it off, an upcoming appointment with his guidance counselor to discuss next year’s scheduling forced me to sit down to talk about the issue. I reluctantly asked my son why he wanted to drop Spanish in his next academic year and discovered that as usual, he was making a mature, well-thought out decision and not one based on impulse. Among his arguments for wanting to drop Spanish, here are a few of the reasons we discussed.
The Spanish teacher isn’t a native speaker. We have spotted mistakes in worksheets the teacher has assigned, among other issues. I’m not judging the teacher since I myself am not a native speaker—but to be honest, if I had a choice, I would have preferred a native speaker teacher since he already learns plenty of my imperfect Spanish at home.
He’d have the same teacher next year. She assigns a lot of busy work and worksheets for homework. This is taking up valuable time he could be spending on other assignments and projects. Believe me, his course load already keeps him busy for hours after school.
The Spanish he’s learning in class is not the same as what we speak at home. While it’s valuable for him to learn vocabulary that is used in Spain, at this point, it’s mixing him up since we speak Latin American Spanish at home.
He is a very ambitious student and taking Spanish IV is unnecessary as far as credits toward graduation go. At the end of this year, he will have fulfilled his foreign language requirements. Spanish IV would occupy a very valuable space in his schedule which could be used to double up on math and science courses, subjects he loves and which take him further down his chosen career path.
My son wants to be bilingual and is determined to be fluent, but language is not his passion. I have to respect that he does not derive the same joy from language that I do. He is an individual with his own likes, dislikes, and interests.
In the end, though it broke my heart, I agreed to let him drop Spanish class after this year. The boy has a good head on his shoulders and I trust that he knows what he’s doing. Besides, he offered a compromise. Starting this summer, he has requested—in addition to continuing to speak Spanish at home—that I sit down with him for 20 minutes a day to teach him Spanish grammar. I think I can live with that deal, but in the meantime, I’m going to have to brush up on my verb conjugations.