We interviewed a parent who has raised multilingual children, Alejandra Rincón. We get to learn a little bit about what it is like to have children that are learning three languages, Spanish which is native to Alejandra, English which is her second language, and Mandarin which is the language she is not familiar with but her kids have become fluent in. She shares with us her background as an educator and how she understands the value of speaking more than one language and the importance of the culture that these languages come with. We also get to take a closer look into how she navigates having multilingual children and how they were able to achieve this.
“It is a constant effort to convey to them the value and the beauty that they are able to converse in these languages.”
1. What is your current job occupation?
I serve as Assistant Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff for the Office of Diversity and Outreach at UCSF.
2. What is your cultural background?
I was born and raised in Colombia. I have been living in the U.S. for 25 years
3. Are you multilingual? Do you prefer speaking in one language?
Only bilingual, I can sometimes convey better in Spanish. I can be faster in Spanish, I tend to find the words quicker in Spanish. It really depends on who I am speaking to, with friends I tend to speak more in Spanish.
4. Do you feel that your job opens doors for you to learn about other cultures?
To an extent, I have more exposure to identities. For example, I work with LGBTQ, groups with disabilities.
5. What is your favorite part about what you do?
The changes I can make, working to diversify manager positions at UCSF. I also work to support and increase underrepresented students, primarily African Americans and Latinx to come to UCSF. There is also a lot of administrative work which is impersonal, but my preference is working with people.
6. What has been your experience as a parent in aiding your children to learn a new language?
A mandarin full immersion school was opening up and the father of my children and I decided that it would be a great opportunity and experience for them. I have provided a lot of resources for them to aid them in learning Mandarin. I have a tutor for them, materials at home, and I encourage them to read to me in Spanish. I try to provide an infrastructure for them to learn that language because they are learning three languages at home. I ask them to only speak Spanish to me and to each other at home. Is not always easy but I insist on it. As I explain to the kids (sometimes at nauseum), being able to understand what I say in Spanish and respond to me is not sufficient. Thus I either have them read to me in Spanish or I read to them and (then) they have to write a short review of what the book is about or their impressions. It’s the only way to develop literacy.
7. Why did your children choose to learn Mandarin? Or was it more of your own influence?
It was to give them an opportunity to learn something different. In the U.S. it is not really seen as a big deal to speak Spanish unless you are White, there are different attitudes towards that. But we wanted to give them the opportunity to learn a language that was completely different from the languages they already knew. Mandarin is a tonal language, it has 4 tones, the writing structure is different. I am an educator and their father is a translator, and so we understand the value of language. From a family perspective, my dad always wanted me to learn English because he did not take the opportunity to do so when he had it. He believed that learning another language would give me an extra leg. Just like my dad, I also believe that having a second language would also give them an additional opportunity to a good life. There is also the reality that it is easier for children to learn another language than it is for adults.
8. Do your children also learn about Chinese culture? Do you believe that it is important to incorporate culture when learning a new language?
Yes, they both attend Mandarin immersion schools, where most of the other students are Asian, if not Chinese. So they have the opportunity to celebrate Chinese New Year, and participate in the Mid-Autumn Festival and other celebrations. A lot of their friends are Chinese or Asian, so it gives them a new perspective as well.
9. What advice would you give to parents who want their children to learn a new language?
I would say not to be afraid. There were a couple of moments where my children…so we only spoke Spanish at home and I am very strict about that. I want them to be able to communicate with my parents, I did not want to be a translator for them. I believe that they should be able to fully appreciate our culture. They went to Spanish preschool first, well my daughter, she went for a year in English and the teacher informed me that my daughter could not do the rhymes. I had no problem with that, I read a lot about the theory of language development and so I was not concerned. When she started at the Mandarin dual language school and started kindergarten, she told me that she did not know what they were saying. I told her it was ok and that she should just follow what the other kids were doing. Two months later she came to me again and said that she understands what they are saying but now she can’t respond back. Her teacher later told me that my daughter just opened her mouth and started speaking in Mandarin. I had confidence that she would learn. Be confident that your child will learn.
10. Have your children ever shown that they are not interested in learning a new language? If they have, what were their reasons for not wanting to learn?
When kids are little, between the ages of attending preschool and kindergarten, they get into a phase of “don’t speak to me in Spanish.” Sometimes my kids respond to me in English and I tell them in Spanish “no entiendo”, I do not understand. I believe not wanting to speak in another language is due to societal pressure.The main language here is English. It’s not the official language but this is, unfortunately, a strongly monolingual country. So they receive a lot of pressure from being in an environment that is very monolingual. In this country, there isn’t still a full appreciation to the benefits of speaking in another language. It is a constant effort to convey to them the value and the beauty that they are able to converse in these languages. You have to emphasize how important that is.