Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

The Struggles of Teaching Your Kids a Second Language

by | Apr 22, 2024 | Parenting | 0 comments

Solving the conundrum of existence with Spanish, bad words, and Catholic guilt

One of Descartes’ more important philosophical contributions was answering the quintessential question of existence or: “How do we know this ‘merde’ is real?”

He came to the elegant conclusion, “Well, I’m doubting existence, which is how I know I exist. “

You might know this as “Cogito ergo, sum.”

Descartes wasn’t an ancient Roman philosopher. He was French. But at the time, French was seen as the language of the populace, whereas Latin was seen as the language of the intellectual class.

If he had written it in French, it would’ve been something like “Je pense, donc je suis.” Apparently, this didn’t have enough ‘Je ne sais quoi” for Descartes to choose it. Or it had the wrong kind of “Je ne sais quoi,” like when restaurants don’t do a good job cleaning escargot before baking it with garlic and butter.

Sure, the saying accurately translates to “I think, therefore I am,” but Descartes thought of thinking in this environment, or conundrum, as doubting.

So more like “Je doute, donc je suis.”

Seriously, is there anything more French than “Je doute, donc je suis?”

Being cynical is as French as pain-au-chocolate, beef bourguignon, and hating work.

The French doubt everything to begin with. So Descartes could’ve just as easily written the solution to the philosophical conundrum as “How do we know we exist? D’accord, Nous sommes Français.” And completed with, “N’est-ce pas génial? (We are French! Isn’t it great?)”

If you are a Hispanic Catholic, you regret everything before you question anything. Which is not that French since the French “Ne regrettent pas rien,” as Edith Piaf famously explained to us.

If Descartes had been Colombian, he would’ve philosophized, “Como se que existo? Jueputa! Me siento culpable por todo! Por eso se que este mierdad es de verdad.” Or “How do I know I exist? Fuuuuck! I feel guilty for everything; that’s how I know this shit is real” He would’ve had to use “Fuuuuuck!” and “Shit!” because Spanish can be vulgar like that. Or, in ancient Roman, “Fuckit-o, shit-o sum”

Guilt is what I feel at the end of every day for not teaching more Spanish to my daughters. Maybe the term I’m looking for is the word for doing a poor job at teaching my daughters my native language: fumble, struggle, coming short, me la estoy cagando.

I am often reminded by others that I need to speak to my daughters in Spanish. And it’s not only people who speak Spanish or polyglots. I am even reminded by people who struggle with one language: “To the munchkins Spanish you should speak in.”

My list of “Shoulds” as a parent keeps on growing, and everyone around me says it is not long enough. In reality, I only have time for a handful of cans. When I’m on my deathbed, I’ll have an even larger list of “should’ves-would’ves-could’ves,” which brings us back to regret and guilt and knowing that the answer to whether existence is real resides in our feelings of shortcomings.

The reminder hits a nerve. Of course, I want to teach my daughters Spanish. I just don’t know why I don’t do it. I write in English. I read in English. I work in English. I speak to my wife in English. Speaking my native language feels more like speaking a second language now, even if I speak English with an accent and grammatical errors.

I offer them tons of little things in Spanish so they can be interested in the language and never feel like there is only one language. But I am very inconsistent.

While I do want to open a world of linguistic possibilities to them so they get to experience knowing different languages, of knowing so much of our world is relative and constructed by the language of a specific community, or of knowing how to call a “redomado hijueputa,” a name he won’t understand; I often spend all my energy gentle-parenting them because it is also second nature to me and counter to the way I was raised. It is yet another language to learn and speak.

If I were to fall short in anything in life, I would rather fall short in teaching my daughters a second language and not fall short in teaching them to be kind and compassionate human beings.

In that way, they will be able to say, “Compassion, ergo sum,” and not like their dad and other Spanish speakers, “Fuckit-o, shit-o sum.”

However, I will never stop trying to teach them Spanish because I know the many joys of calling someone by names they will never understand. At least, that’s how I know this ‘merde’ is real.

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