Community
3:39 pm
Wed October 9, 2013

Local Latino Families Struggle To Pass Spanish On To Future Generations

Spanish may not be heard as much in Jacksonville compared to some other Florida cities.

Local families are trying to keep the language alive, but many find it can be a struggle to pass it down to the next generation.

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Two-year-old Isabella already speaks Spanish and English. Both of her parents were born and raised in Colombia, but she was born in the United States. Her first word was “papa,” which means “dad" in Spanish.

“We made a decision that she would be bilingual, said her her father, Francisco Sefair. He and his wife speak Spanish about 95 percent of the time at home. 

They also make sure Isabella is exposed to Spanish outside of the home.

“We have been lucky to have, at the daycare she is at, teachers that are bilingual too, so they speak Spanish to her also,” Sefair said.

Isabella is part of a minority, as use of Spanish among second and third generation Latinos is on the decline.

According to a 2012 Pew Research Study, less than half of third generation Latinos surveyed could speak Spanish proficiently. Children of immigrants, like Isabella, claimed to have a better grasp on the language.

“This country has had a problem with foreign language proficiency in general,” said Florida International University Spanish Professor Dr Ana Roca. “The irony is that we are essentially a country of immigrants.”

Roca says speaking Spanish fluently open up professional possibilities and helps young Latinos feel proud of their heritage.

But using Spanish at home doesn’t always ensure Latino children are able to speak the language.

“It’s not the same thing to grow up in a bilingual home in Miami as it might be to grow up in a bilingual household in Wichita,” Roca said.

Roca, who originally is from Cuba, said schools need to teach curriculum in English and Spanish.

“We just need programs like that. They do work. We just don’t have enough of them,” she said.

Many Latino children start off speaking Spanish and English as toddlers, but slowly forget Spanish once they begin school, but Sefair said he doesn’t plan for this to be a problem for Isabella.

“No, I don’t see that issue because we are planning on sending her on vacation to Columbia with the grandparents,” Sefair said. “So she will be spending at least two months every year for the next couple of years.”

Spanish is the second most widely spoken language internationally. By knowing Spanish, Latino children are not only connected to their heritage, but to a large portion of the world.