Psst, There Are Things I Don’t Know…

Mama, estoy haciendo esto con mis ojos porque el sol es brillante (I’m going like this with my eyes because the sun is bright).”

I turn to look at her in the back seat of the car and she’s squinting her eyes.

Esto es squinting,'” I say, turning back around. And then I just straight up admit that I don’t know how to say that in Spanish. “Te lo voy a buscar (I’m going to look it up for you) ¿OK? 

“OK,” she says merrily. When we get where we’re going, I whip out the WordReference app on my phone. I find the word and say it out loud: “Entrecerrar. Entrecierro mis ojos porque el sol está brillante (I squint my eyes because the sun is bright.) Entrecerrar. ¿Puedes decir esto (Can you say that)?”

She echos back sweetly and easily, “Entrecerrar.”

“Muy Bien. Entrecierro mis ojos porque el sol es brillante.”

And then, magically, like a perfect language student, she repeats the entire sentence back to me.

One of the hardest things about raising Bilingual Baby in Spanish is dealing with the fact that I don’t always know how to say stuff. But early on, I realized I couldn’t stop every five minutes to look up a word; it would be too disruptive, and I worried that my lack of confidence in the language would make her suspicious, would frustrate our relationship. I have always needed her to believe that I’ve got this.

If I hadn’t told her that I didn’t know how to say that word in Spanish, I would have just said, “Oh, estás cerrando tus ojos un poquito para bloquear el sol (you’re closing your eyes a little bit to block the sun).” And I might have remembered to look the word up later. So even when I’m lacking vocabulary, I find a way to say  what I need to.

But she’s starting to get it now. Not only does Mommy not know every word there is to know in Spanish, she doesn’t know everything there is to know. Period.

So, as our conversations become more nuanced, I’m allowing myself to break the illusion that I’m all-knowing, and it’s working. We’re still here, she still trusts me, and we’re learning new words together.




  1. LeVaun Bell Graulty

    good lesson for us all… if you don’t ask, you won’t learn. We also learn humility (and model it) when we acknowledge we don’t have all the answers. Thank you, Alice!

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