Trilingual Parrot, Monolingual Son

Jennifer Vides refuses to let a trilingual parrot show up her monolingual son.

The Green Chicken

By Jennifer Vides

I recently spent a few days at my parents’ home, where I was warmly greeted by my mom – a full-fledged white girl raised in Texas – and my dad, who was born and raised in El Salvador.

Their Amazon Yellow-Nape parrot – AKA “The Green Chicken” – was not as enthusiastic about my arrival (yes, I teased him when I was a child. Don’t judge). He’s been in my family since we acquired him in El Salvador in 1973, so yes that makes him around 37, and older than my brother, I should point out.

The Green Chicken literally grew up with us. He traveled with us from El Salvador to Puerto Rico to Costa Rica and to Miami. He continued on to Brazil, then Canada, back to Miami and finally to Houston.

As a result, he is trilingual: He speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese. And with every word he uttered during my visit, it was like he was taunting me with his language skills.


My kid only speaks English.

This is a sore point for me. My older sister and I speak Spanish and English fluently and French badly. My younger brother and sister add Portuguese to the list since they also lived in Brazil. (I need to say my younger sister also speaks German and French, or she’ll get mad at me.)

I suppose I could cut myself a break and say that hey, my sibs and I learned Spanish because we grew up in Latin America, so we didn’t have a choice. And I could say that my kid only has occasion to use his Spanish when he’s speaking to me. Yeah I could say that but it would be a total cop-out. I mean: I live in L.A.

The truth is: my sibs and I had a choice. Well, my parents did. They chose to put us in bilingual schools. And I don’t mean the schools where the U.S. Embassy kids go when they are in Latin America, where Spanish is taught one period a day in much the same way it’s taught in U.S. public schools.

No, my parents sent us to schools where the population was mostly not American. We HAD to speak Spanish. At home, we were more-than-encouraged to learn Spanish. And with every move, we learned a new kind of Spanish, since in every Latin American country the Spanish is different.

I swore I’d be the same way; that no matter what, my son would learn Spanish. I mean, think of the advantages, right?

Turns out? It’s not that easy. I married an American of Polish & Irish descent who wholeheartedly supported and encouraged my desire to teach our son Spanish. But the kid refuses – mostly because it was, by necessity, an English-speaking household. He’ll learn words I push on him. But fundamentally he isn’t interested in learning.

So here I sit, sick with the realization that The Green Chicken could be stealing my kid’s jobs of the future. (I kid, I kid.)

But in all seriousness, I’m re-motivated to make sure my kid speaks Spanish.

I’m not letting that Green Chicken show up my kid.

Jennifer Vides is a PR practitioner, writer, blogger, tweeter, and mom to the funniest kid on Earth. The daughter of a Salvadoran father and Texan mother, Jennifer was raised in El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Miami, and has worked in Miami, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. These experiences have made her a culturally-confused Latina who can’t roll her Rs but who speaks Salvadoran, Puertorican, Costarican, Cuban, Mexican and..well you get the drill.

This essay is reposted from her blog Mami, Deconstructed.

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By Contributor on June 4, 2010 · Posted in featured, the habla habla

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Tweets that mention When the Parrot Speaks Spanish and your Kid Doesn't -- says:

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jennifervides, Tiki Tiki Blog, Dan Perez, Carrie at, Carrie Ferguson Weir and others. Carrie Ferguson Weir said: When the parrot speaks more languages than you do. A great essay by @jennifervides #FF for #pr and overall fab. [...]

Posted on June 4th, 2010

Rebecca at Toothwhale says:

My mom is a full-fledged white girl raised in Florida and my dad was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I don’t speak Spanish and neither do my three sisters. Oh, how I wish I had become fluent as a child. Stick to it. Don’t let that green chicken win.
.-= Rebecca at Toothwhale´s last blog ..We’re reading: Fancy Nancy books =-.

Posted on June 4th, 2010

Carrie says:

Definitely listen to Rebecca! Don’t let the Green Chicken Win.

Thank you for sharing this hilarious essay with us.

Posted on June 5th, 2010

The gold digger says:

That parrot has been alive too long. Just saying.
.-= The gold digger´s last blog ..In which I make the mistake of talking to my boss about my love life even though it’s obvious he is interested in me and then he asks me out =-.

Posted on June 5th, 2010

Unknown Mami says:

I am so tired of parrots from other countries coming here and taking jobs away from our monolingual children! Haha…

I’m raising a bilingual daughter and it is hard as heck because I am the only one in the home that speaks Spanish and I feel like I’ve lost a lot of my Spanish, but I’m trying. She doesn’t speak much, but she seems to understand me.
.-= Unknown Mami´s last blog ..Fragmented Fridays =-.

Posted on June 5th, 2010

Tracy says:

I heart this post so much! It’s hilarious but also relate-able.

It’s kind of cool to “meet” half Salvadoran/half Anglos because I wonder if their experience will be similar to my children’s.

In my story, I’m the “white girl” and my husband is from El Salvador. We have 2 boys and are trying to raise them bilingual. It’s not easy! This summer I’ve re-doubled my efforts and am speaking only Spanish to the kids. If it becomes comfortable, maybe it will be permanent. (We usually speak Spanglish, with English being dominant.)

So far, we’re off to a rough start, but I think it will get better. Maybe you can send The Green Chicken over to help me out ;)
.-= Tracy´s last blog ..Spanish Summer Mutiny =-.

Posted on June 7th, 2010

Lisarenata says:

I hear ya. Raising my kids bilingual is much much easier said than done. I keep at it though, I don’t want any green chicken taking their jobs. Great post.
.-= Lisarenata´s last blog ..tagged… :: me toca… =-.

Posted on June 7th, 2010

Marcela says:

I hear ya Jennifer!!! Love your post! I struggle getting my son to speak spanish also, and now after saying that I would get the baby to speak spanish no matter what, I am finding her preferring english also. ) :

You tell that green chicken not to take my baby girl or son’s job!!!!!
.-= Marcela´s last blog ..breathing =-.

Posted on June 7th, 2010

Jennifer says:

Thanks, guys. I seriously sat there watching this bird rattle away in 3 languages and got so mad at myself. Glad you guys enjoyed the humor in the situation. Let’s get to making our kids bilingual, shall we? Happy Friday :)

Posted on June 11th, 2010

Essays by Latina Bloggers and Writers says:

[...] Card Gone Wrong, a video essay by Unknown Mami.I Say Autobus, You Say GuaGua by Roxana Soto.Trilingual Parrot, Monolingual Son by Jennifer Vides.Ed. Note: The Tiki Tiki Blog turned a year in May 2010. This week, we take a look [...]

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