Education, Kids, Life

Se Habla Español

March 1, 2012

I love when blog ideas just flutter from the universe into my lap! Last week my friend commented on a blog post in Spanglish. She then went on a tanget about how she needed to stop speaking and writing in both languages (at the same time). She noticed her little four year-old Daniela was speaking Spanglish as well. Hence, the conversation on bilingualism began…again. I have had this conversation with myself and have reviewed my own teaching of Spanish at home about a hundred times in the past five years. It is always on my mind. Ironically enough, CNN ran an editorial, “Mama, Would You Please Speak English?” written by Rose Arce this week! I found it super interesting. A bilingual mother battling an outspoken little 6 year-old who states, “This is America. Gente should be speaking English”. Ouch. Well, ok then. The question of where she learned that is an interesting topic for another post. If you are first generation Hispanic or Latino-American and your kids speak Spanish and English beautifully, then you are exceptional (give us your secret)! For those of us who are struggling every day, here are some ideas that are working for Jose and I.

I can’t complain about my five year-old’s Spanish. It isn’t perfect. But…he doesn’t fight us when we speak Spanish, he doesn’t say, “This is America…” blah, blah, blah and we really appreciate his effort. We also had the problem Arce mentions in her piece, Diego only knew Spanish up to preschool at age 3 then the English flood came gushing in. I did not want to push him to speak Spanish because I could see his little mouth could not spit out the words he was so desperately needing to share. We took a step back and focused on the following:

1. Expose to diversity We have been very lucky to live in Japan, Singapore and New York City. Diego was exposed to a variety of languages from the very start. He knows that there is a world outside Suburbia, New Jersey and even here he can hear many languages. Talk to your kids about language when they listen to a foreign one. Make it as natural as stating that the sky is blue.

2. Books There are classics translated into Spanish. There are cartoon character books your children will recognize…in Spanish. No excuses. Read in Spanish. At bed time, Diego is reminded to pick out two books: one in English and one in Spanish. Libraries now carry shelves and shelves of Spanish books for kids too. As I “read” to my 15 month-old, Santi, I don’t read the words. He picks out books and I point out all the pictures in Spanish.

3. Music Cumbias, Salsa, Rancheras– all of it! Just play in the background as much as you can. I have a few Spanish CDs in the car as I previously wrote about. Check them out here.

4. Learning Toys/Games Cartoon characters again! Handy Manny toys, Dora and Diego, Pocoyo…all available toys en español! We play the original Loteria and Spanish Bingo too! Leap Frog has amazing learning toys in Spanish, English and French!

5. Support Beg grandparents or caretakers not to give in to English. I have the occasional babysitter and for her to be bilingual is a strong must. Isabella spoke Italian and the kids knew that she spoke a different language. She would occasionally sing to Santi in Italian and he loved it. We don’t see our parents often but when we do we immerse ourselves in Spanish. My father had an “only Spanish” policy at home and if it bothered me before, it doesn’t bother me now!

6. Classes My British friend thought I was crazy for paying money for Diego to go to Spanish classes. Hey, it’s a priority for us. He was four at the time and did one year of a 45 minute class twice a week. You know why I did it (besides the crucial reinforcement)? Because I wanted Diego to understand that when you step into a Spanish speaking atmosphere-you speak Spanish.

7. TV “Oh, you want more TV time today? You can watch Planeta U (Univision: Sesame Street, Go Diego Go, Dora, and more ALL in Spanish) that I previously DVR’d or you get nothing. Take it or leave it”.

8. Speak to baby in Spanish It has always been so natural for me to speak to my babies in Spanish. I don’t know why. Maybe because my mom was an at-home-babysitter and I learned a lot about caring for children from her. Anyway, Diego was four when Santi was born. Like I stated before, he wouldn’t stop talking…in English! Now that he hears Jose and I speak only Spanish to Santi, he speaks only Spanish to Santi! And he’ll practice some more when baby #3 comes (by no means I recommend having children for the sake of teaching your oldest Spanish. I can see it now, “My Friend Betty Says….”)! jajaja!

9. Travel Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Argentina…complete immersion (especially if you are visiting family).

10. Don’t fight the Spanglish There is nothing worse than having a cultural war in your home. Kids tend to use the easiest word first. Ball or pelota? It isn’t easy to have fully bilingual children as first or second generation-American parents. Nothing is easy with parenting but we have to give it a try. We owe it to our children. You can correct your child if they start sounding like Dora (as my friend said) but isn’t it awesome that vocabulary is being developed in both languages? Just don’t push with correcting (unless the word they are using is wrong). The last thing we want is to turn our kids off from speaking Spanish. There are so many advantages as we already know but my main reason, the thing that pushes me to enforce it: I don’t want my boys not speaking to their grandparents because they can’t understand each other.

What’s your reason? And if you have other tips…please share!!!


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  • Reply Nancy March 2, 2012 at 12:00 am

    Estoy muy asombrada y te admiro mucho por tu dedicación al enseñar a tus hijos el español, para mi se me ha hecho muy difícil concentrarme solamente en un idioma al hablar con mis hijos especialmente cuando nesesito que me hagan caso inmediatamente. La verdad me avergüenzo de mi misma al ver que no he puesto el esfuerzo sufisiente para enseñar a mis hijos el español. Pero todavía no es demasiado tarde, y cada vez que me doy cuenta que lo estoy perdiendo me acuerdo de ti y de tu dedicación en hablarles a tus hijos el español, me gustaría dar tips en este tema pero no los tengo mas que decir “concentración ” y recordarte en cada momento que sabemos hablar otro idioma y que hay que practicarlo antes que a nosotros se nos olvide. Gracias Betty por ser una gran inspiración.

    • Betty
      Reply Betty March 2, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Gracias Nancy! No, nunca es tarde! TQM! xoxo

  • Reply Maria Gabriela Fernandez March 2, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Fabulous article and really great points! I will be implementing some of what you’ve talked about in the article.

    • Betty
      Reply Betty March 2, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Maria, My first comment after launching on Facebook. Thank you!!

  • Reply Yvette S March 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Love it! Thanks for the tips/ideas! I am very GUILTY of my kids not being able to communicate with their grandparents! I am so ashamed and will definitely put the effort in to teach them. I know the importance and advantage of being bilingual. I want my kids to learn spanish and I am determined for them to learn. I shall start tomorrow since I will be home with them all weekend!

    • Betty
      Reply Betty March 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      Never too late! I can recommend a bunch of Spanish books. Let me know what you are looking for!

  • Reply Bertha March 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Where do I start? You made me laugh and cry al mismo tiempo. I too got critized by my hispanic and non-hispanic friends when we decided to put Daniela in spanish classes. I want her to know her language, and know the proper Spanish. It was my first language and I want her to have that and to know that!
    I do most of things you suggested. Starting tonight, we’re reading 2 books instead of 1, one in spanish and 1 in english. Thank you! I TRY to only speak Spanish to her, and Luis does English, and that’s pretty much the way it has been since she was born. However, once she started daycare, she caught on to english pretty fast. I still remember her first english word! “outside mommy”. You’re right, I shouldn’t fight it. She is using the right words, I just wished she used the right sentences.

    • Betty
      Reply Betty March 2, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      Let’s stick with it mama!

  • Reply Veronique March 2, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Hi Betty!
    We are raising our boys in 3 languages and it’s not always been an easy ride! First, they started speaking very late. I don’t know if I’ve been doing things right, cause I’m mostly on my own trying to teach them English and French, but they seem to be speaking/understanding them equally. I mostly speak English at home, and when we are outside the house or if we are with my family, we speak French. I have found out lately that they figured out that my family doesn’t speak English and that they only use French with them. They also know their dad doesn’t understand French and never use it with him. I would say that it is important to have clear boundaries. Home=English, outside=French. Works for me so far. At home, I only talk to them in English, even if they know I speak French too. But I do sing and read in French too. I’ve translated songs (you remember “I can sing a rainbow” we sang at ABC? It’s great to teach them colors in both languages). They are only 2 and half, so they can’t give me the “we are in Quebec and we speak French here!” attitude yet, let’s see when they turn 6… 🙂

  • Betty
    Reply Betty March 2, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Awesome Veronique! Wow…3! We are having a hard time with 2! Congrats!

  • Reply Francela March 3, 2012 at 1:34 am

    I’m trying very hard for my two boys to be bilingual as well! I understand how difficult it may be. I’m currently the Bilingual Coordinator for North Berwyn. We’ve had a lot of resistance (from staff and administrators) to launch a bilingual program. Last year we got audited by the State and required us to be in compliance and begin a bilingual program. My staff and I are working towards educating all stakeholders on the benefits of bilingual education.
    Throughout this process, I have found Kathy Escamilla to have good articles. Spanghlish Baby also has good ideas and reads. For a Professional Development day, I showed the staff a documentary, “Speaking in Tongues”. If you get a chance, watch it!
    I’m so glad you are blogging about this topic. Can’t wait to hear more!!! Take care

    • Betty
      Reply Betty March 4, 2012 at 1:44 pm

      Wow, our school district in New Jersey is starting to teach a language in Kinder!!! And it will be Spanish! Why are so many people opposed to bilingual programs? I am familiar with Spanglish Baby but not Kathy Escamilla…I will be looking her up! Thank you and good luck!! xoxo

      • Reply Francela April 12, 2012 at 11:58 am

        That is so awesome of your school district! Take advantage of that. I am aiming to begin a Dual Language Program in our District. Soon we will be under new administration (Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent), hoping this will be a “good” change for our district and community.
        Take care.

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