Anne-Marie Sánchez: Words that foster love for language

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From an early age my parents taught me the value of languages. My parents grew up in Colombia where it is common to send your children to school in a language other than your mother tongue. It was seen as a way of preparing your children to have opportunities beyond their country. So when they moved to Canada and learned that their kids could learn French as a first-language for free, they immediately advocated to get me into that school system. By the time I was five, I was learning English, French, and Spanish. 

I am grateful they gave me this opportunity. Knowing different languages is to understand that we do not all think the same way; it is to be able to explore different cultures more intimately; it is to have a better understanding of where people are coming from. 

I love how in Spanish there is the word “estrenar,” which describes wearing something new for the first time. A word like this doesn’t seem to exist in English. I like to think that the Spanish language values the specialness of wearing those fantastic sunglasses you just bought for the very first time. 

Another Spanish expression I use often with my family is “y me quede como un zapato.” The literal translation is “and I was left there like a shoe,” but what it means is ‘I was left there like a total idiot’. How the heck does a shoe equate to being an idiot? I have no idea but it makes perfect sense in Spanish!

I find it fascinating that French from Quebec is so different from French in France. In France, it’s very common to use English words such as “le weekend” or “le parking,” whereas  in Quebec they appear much more protective of their language, and resist using English words as much as possible. 

As for English, my father used to say that that it is the trickiest language to learn. How do you explain to someone learning English for the first time that cough, tough, dough, all sound different, even though you only switch out one consonant? That’s just unfair! 

And now with three kids of my own I’m trying to instill in them my love for languages. I wish I could say it’s easy! They’re learning English and French quite well. We live in English-speaking society and they go to a French school. Some of my friends are intrigued by French school, but worry they wouldn’t be able to help their kids with their homework. To this, I try to gently challenge them: thousands of newcomer children are here in Canada with parents who do not speak English, and they thrive at school. I would argue that if kids know they cannot ask help at every turn, it makes them more resilient. 

So we have English and French down, but it’s the Spanish that is challenging. My husband and I speak to our kids in Spanish but it was easier when they were younger. When you speak to them in Spanish and they always respond in English, it can wear you down. Even if they don’t learn the language fluently, my hope is that we are planting seeds that may still grow in the future. And if nothing else, we are still exposing them to the beauty and the value of multiple languages.

Anne-Marie is a project manager at the London InterCommunity Health Centre and has been advocating for women for the last eight years with the purpose of creating positive social change in London. She helped found the grassroots organization Women & Politics and is now the Chair of the board. She is also a member of the City of London’s Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Oppression Advisory Committee. She is also the recipient of the Government of Ontario's Leading Women, Leading Girls award for her work in the community. Most importantly, most of her time is dedicated to raising her three wondrous kids, Lucas, Samantha, and Veronica, with her husband, Andrew.