3 Must-Own Books for Every Spanglish Home

3 Must-Own Books for Every Spanglish Home

Inside: Recommendations on books for bilingual families and raising bilingual kids.

I often start posts on bilingual parenting by describing the beginning: a new mom. Staring into my new baby’s eyes, hoping I wasn’t crazy to think I could raise him in Spanish. All those stacks of books for bilingual families I got at the library, the hours researching Spanish nursery rhymes. Raising my kids in Spanish felt like a daunting plan.

I didn’t expect to be at another crossroads so soon, but here we are! We’re about to switch continents, with two little ones in tow. We’re swapping our minority and majority languages, and I’m as full of question marks as when I held my first baby.

 

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Thankfully, I’m now surrounded by an online community of of writers and mentors. Life changes and family dynamics change, but I know where to go when I have questions. When I meet families, I know just where to point them. These three books for bilingual families are where I start; book you really need as part of your bilingual toolkit.

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Books for Bilingual Families

 

1. Bringing up a Bilingual Child

I’m a long-time fan of Rita’s writing. She’s level-headed and smart when it comes to sensitive issues, like handling criticism from other families, or balancing a driven approach with a happy family atmosphere. This handbook for raising bilingual kids is a perfect place to start, as you draw up a vision for your family. Here you can find answers to the most-asked questions and get guidance on setting up a language road-map for you family. You’ll want to bookmark her blog, Multilingual Parenting, as well. Rita offers the sage and calm voice that I so needed as a new mom, pouring over my library stash and wanting very much to know how to make this all work.

2. Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability: Ideas and inspiration for even greater success and joy raising bilingual kids

This book will probably make you smile; it will certainly make you think deeply and inspire your commitment to raising bilingual kids. Adam writes in the preface, “My aim, really, is to put you right in my shoes for a virtual experience of my own journey to date.” He writes as a parent in the trenches, and an educator who sees the big picture.

If Rita’s book is for the parents at the drawing board, this is the one to read with your morning coffee. Each easy-to-read chapter delivers a boost of “This is worth it!,” “You can do this,” and “Here’s how,”– a dense serving of wisdom and wit you’ll need all day to unpack.

The first half covers the perspective of parents. Half of good parenting is just working on ourselves, of course, and here Adam helps us explore our own beliefs, and habits. Five years into our language journey, I needed this. I needed to renew my sense of urgency, and I needed to re-examine our family practices. Without laying on the guilt, Adam reminds the reader that children’s exposure to language largely depends on the parents, and that everything we do matters.

The second half focuses on principles. Adam offers tons of concrete suggestions for making the most of the time you get with your kids. Here you’ll find practical ideas you can implement right away– from using books and games, to communicating with extended family, to storytelling and keeping language-learning lively. This is the kind of resource you can come back to year after year, as your circumstances change and you need to tweak your family plan.

What I love about Adam’s approach is that joy is the real target. He is a master of making everyday language fun; always reminding us that how our kids feel about home and language is as important as the language acquired through our years of work. Don’t miss his blog at Bilingual Monkeys either– there are tons of resources there!

3. Arroz con Pollo and Apple Pie: Raising Bicultural Children

Can you believe there’s a book just for Spanglish families? There is! And it’s wonderful.

There are lots of books for bilingual families out there. Biculturalism is slightly different: What if my kids reject our heritage? How can I help them at school if I’m not fluent in the local language? How do I balance my childhood norms with the rules and expectations in the new culture?

Arroz con Pollo and Apple Pie addresses these intricacies of raising bicultural kids, from a parent and writer who knows them well. Although it will be helpful for any family with hearts in two places, it’s an especially good resource for families coming to the U.S. with Latin American roots. Maritere eloquently captures the tension of loss (leaving home), and hope (making a new life, in a new place).

Available in both English and Spanish, Arroz con Pollo and Apple Pie follows the stages of immigration and biculturalism– from the honeymoon period, to homesickness, to striking a balance between two cultures. Each chapter explores different aspects of family life: learning a new language, generational differences, advantages of biculturalism, and even going back home after many years away. Whether you are an immigrant yourself or just trying to pass on family traditions to your children, you’ll be able to find information and good advice.

This is the book for your nightstand, the one you pick up when you need guidance, or reassurance. I’ve been reading it while preparing to move our family back to Peru, as I leave my home culture. It’s helped me anticipate challenges, while also seeing all the good than will come, too.

I love that Arroz con Pollo and Apple Pie reads as a partial-memoir. Maritere did extensive research to include stories from every imaginable background: from undocumented families, to well-known public figures. Some stories encouraged me and made me want to cheer, and some were a gentle reminder that circumstances will never be perfect. That ache for the other home might never go away, but it helps to know others feel it as well. And it helps to know that good, good things can come from this bicultural life, too. Read more of her writing at her website.

What are your favorite books for bilingual families? Did I miss a Spanglish family staple? Let me know in the comments below!

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50 Picture Books Every Spanglish House Needs

50 Picture Books Every Spanglish House Needs

Inside: Bilingual books in Spanish and English, for kids.

No Spanglish home is complete without a stash of bilingual books for kids in Spanish and English. Thankfully, there are more and more available now!

I often walk in the door exhausted after a day of teaching, to kids who have heard English all day. Even though my brain just wants a break, they need these hours to be in my non-native language. So we grab one of my childhood favorites, cuddle up under a blanket, and get the best of both worlds. And really, they’re not the only ones who need rich input. I do too!

I have a separate post of authentic children’s books in Spanish, with a focus on Latino culture. This bilingual lists includes book originally written in English or translated from a third language. (more…)

Creating JOY in the Bilingual Home

Creating JOY in the Bilingual Home

Inside: Joyful bilingual parenting, as part of the “A to Z of Raising Multilingual Children” series, from the Piri-Piri Lexicon.

Good teachers know this about their students: they won’t remember most of what you say. They will always remember how you made them feel. These are good words for parents of bilingual kids, too, as we make our hundreds of parenting decisions. What is best: OPOL, or minority language at home? Where should the kids go to school? What if the kids refuse to speak the home language?

And in the end, our kids will decide how they want to live. Perhaps they will see our hard work and sacrifice right away, or maybe they’ll put that minority language on the shelf, most of their adult lives. I suspect it will partly come down to how they feel about the languages they know.

So I want my kids to look back on their bilingual childhood as a beautiful and rich time, one in which the feeling was joy.

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Remembering Why We’re Doing This

It’s easy to get caught up in the logical reasons we’re raising bilingual kids, and to be driven in our approaches. Of course we want them to be successful in school or careers. But that doesn’t get at the joy we’re going for. Over the past four years, I’ve spoken to my kids in my second language, and at times it’s been tiring, hard work. I do it because I know it will make their lives richer and better. I remember the friendships Spanish has given me, and the wonder of making Peru my home for a time. I think of the conversations they can have with cousins and grandparents, and how they will develop empathy and appreciation for other cultures. I think of jokes and laughter that can’t be translated. Those are the beautiful things make it worthwhile; they provide a why big enough to carry into adulthood. (more…)

Thankfulness: The Practice of Perspective

Thankfulness: The Practice of Perspective

Two years ago I was very pregnant with my second baby, living in my parent’s basement. We only planned to stay a few months, to “get back on our feet.” Two years later, there we were still. It had been yet another year of constant car repairs, a failed business start-up, a new baby and no maternity leave. My husband’s Peruvian credentials were not the same here, and college credits didn’t transfer. We were stuck, and not in a way that coupons could fix.

Things eventually got better, but at the time I thought they might not. And now I see that as a gift.

(more…)

Bilingual Preschool at Home: A Peek Into Our Day

Bilingual Preschool at Home: A Peek Into Our Day

Inside: Bilingual preschool at home. 

This post was written as part of a Multicultural Kid Blogs Round-up for A Day in School Around the World. Welcome to our bilingual preschool at home in the U.S.!

We woke up to a cloudy, cool day. This is a rarity for North Carolina in August, much like children sleeping in would be. My kids did today– of course they did, on the day I choose for a look into our bilingual home! But normal has never been the name of our game. Not since the day I moved to the jungle and met a Peruvian guy who didn’t know English, and not since the day we decided to mesh two lives, two languages, two cultures.

My day starts at the blissful hour of 8:00, when I hear my son  Janio (3) waking up. I am not sure what this miracle is, but I’m thankful for the sleep. Pocho recently started working 2nd shift, and we are trying to get used to it and orient our schedules to go bed and get up later. I stayed up too late, as usual– cramming in blogging and planning for the school year.

Today is a slow day, mostly at home. Once I start back to work in two weeks this will all look different. While I teach part-time, the kids go to my mom’s house. She is the wonderful sort of grandmother who takes them outside for hours, knows all the birds, and reads poetry. They love going to her house. With Grandma, cousins, and friends, it’s English, and so this year we must stay on track with Spanish at home. Janio and I play Memory, with our new bug cards.

 

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One of my goals for being school-ready is that my kids can name and identify 10-20 insects, 10-20 birds, 10 trees, 10 plants, and 10 flowers in Spanish and English. This really has less to do with memorizing anything than with what I call “making friends.” In this case, it is noticing, loving, and knowing things in nature, and in our own backyard. I myself am missing a lot of nature terms in Spanish, and I’ve been making little Bingo games and game cards so we can learn the words together. Today I have to look up some of the bugs. Janio is new to the game, and we play as best we can.

Janio eats breakfast and plays quietly, trying not to wake Daddy and Mairi-Jean (1). I squeeze in some emails and planning. When everyone is up, after 9, we make breakfast. I let the kids help, and they drag chairs over to the counter. Coffee spills everywhere. Janio helps himself to an egg to crack, and it does– on the floor. I grab cleaner and spray the mess, and while I’m looking for  a rag, Mairi-Jean decides to join the fun. She slips on it and falls on her bottom. This sounds about right: lovely visions of children developing habits of helpfulness and work, and here we all are covered in raw egg.

I have been immersing myself in Charlotte Mason lately, and plan to do “preschool” a la Charlotte Mason this year. This may sound like an oxymoron if you are familiar with her work, because she strongly advocates delaying academic work until children are 6 years old. She does, however, have recommendations for young children and I feel the need to label so that I’m intentional in following them. I think preschool is a time of becoming: children developing into the curious, attentive, loved persons they’re born to be. I don’t think that’s best accomplished by pushing early academics or fancy crafts, either. It comes from having beautiful things to find and love. This means lots of nature, time, free play, poetry, music,beautiful books, and habits.

We clean up and eat, and end up outside for a while. It’s spitting rain a little, but the kids play anyway. I am in the middle of several books and optimistically bring one by Madeleine L’Engle, of which only a few pages get read of course. I know I need to be reading good books if I want to be a good teacher, here or at school, and I’m so enjoying being back at it.

 

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My biggest goal every day for preschool is time outside. It’s also the hardest one for me! Charlotte Mason taught that young children need many hours outdoors, time with real things. I think we tend to value books and lessons as the best thing to prepare children for school, but she says that’s actually not true.  Being outdoors is better, where we develop the art of observation, wonder, patience, and reverence for the world and life. This dependence on the actual senses paves the way for “book-learning” later, as well. Thankfully, today is cool and it’s nice to be out. It doesn’t always work, but I try to let them find things to do and play on their own. I did tell Janio we are looking for things of three, in an experiment for math later.

 

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The experiment actually does not go well, as he is more interested in throwing the rocks than anything else. I snapped a picture anyway. He usually loves numbers (especially 3, his age), and we’ll try again later. No rush; this could wait for Kindergarten! My idea is to spend the next years or two just becoming friends with numbers: telling stories, making patterns, arranging smallest to biggest. We might find combinations to develop number sense: look, these two shells are orange and that one is white, and these two shells have lines this way, and that one has lines that way.

(As a first-grade teacher, I found that parents often got caught up in what their kids could do, more than who they were. And from the schools, we have a whole system of burned-out elementary students, pushed into work too soon, into long days with little time outdoors. I’d like to see more emphasis on what children love, and less on what they can dissect.)

Back inside, and it’s after 12. I let the kids watch a DVD that teaches French while I make lunch. I enjoy the calm. (We are very good at banning tablets and phones… movies, not as much as I’d like.) Supposedly, I am staying a step ahead practicing myself on DuoLingo and Coffee Break French, but I am not keeping up. Something to work on this year. Since we already speak Spanish and English, I figured I should practice what I preach and start our first foreign language young.

Lunchtime with Daddy before he goes to work. It feels very South American to eat a big meal in the middle of the day, together. Rice, beans, fried eggs, and tomatoes and cucumbers in lime. Janio plays another round of memory with Pocho, while Mairi-Jean tries to climb onto the table and grab all the cards.

 

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After, I let the kids snuggle into bed with me. We use our “morning time basket,” though it’s not always used in the morning. This is where we do the bilingual essentials– the very best, beautiful books, poems, and songs. There are a lot of things I feel I do badly still (too many movies, never enough time outdoors), but I am so glad for all the music and poetry. Janio must know well over 3o poems by now, in Spanish and English. We don’t always say or sing them formally, it’s just part of bedtime, driving in the car, or putting on shoes.

 

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Books in Spanish are a lifesaver for me, too. Even though I can communicate what I need to, it’s not always the best and richest language. I love that when we read books, I am still learning alongside the kids. Mairi-Jean will finally listen a little longer, instead of just trying to eat the books or turn all the pages before we can finish the page.  You can find my Spanish recommendations here.

Naptime, and the end of our “school day.” The whole day is really school, of course– learning to be, having things to love– but I’ll end the detailed version here. Later we are off to Grandma’s and I teach a quick Spanish class. We eat at her house, and Mairi-Jean goes to bed since she never actually napped. Janio stays up and watches a show in Spanish, and then we read in Spanish before bedtime. Thank you for joining us!

 

La educación es un ambiente, una discplina, una vida. Charlotte Mason

 

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The Best Way to Learn Spanish With a Native Speaker: 7 Tips

The Best Way to Learn Spanish With a Native Speaker: 7 Tips

Inside: Tips for learning Spanish with a native speaker.

 

I’ve had several questions lately about children trying to practice Spanish with a native speaker (usually a family member). Families realize they have a great asset in the native speaker, but aren’t sure where to start. I often write about raising bilingual kids, but today I’d like to focus on families who are trying to teach an additional language, one the parents might not be fluent in.

Families often have multilingual relatives or friends, and would like to take advantage of that, but… it’s harder than it looks. For the rest of the post, I’m going to use a hypothetical situation as our example. Let’s say there is a family whose grandmother speaks Spanish and English. Her daughter speaks a little Spanish, and the grandchildren speak little to none. The grandmother would like to speak Spanish with the grandchildren and help teach them.

So, one day Grandma calls up on Skype. And… she suddenly realizes she doesn’t know where to begin. Should she just immerse her grandchildren in Spanish, and trust they’ll pick it up? How can she maintain the relationship and teach them something? How can she make sure the kids don’t get frustrated and give up on communicating?

Here are 7 Tips to help you navigate the situation!

 

1. Go for Comprehensible Input, Not Immersion as Input.

 

Immersion–just speaking the language without limiting speech– is great if you have massive amounts of time. If you can go spend every summer at Grandma’s, by all means go for immersion. In the situations we’re discussing though, you will have to be more intentional and use the time you have wisely. You will need to limit new vocabulary and focus on recycling, recycling, recycling the words they know.

Comprehensible Input (CI) is just that… input that is understandable. It’s language that’s comprehensible because of pictures, gestures, or because all the words are known. CI is actually the way people acquire language itself, so don’t worry about teaching grammar or having Grandma correct the kids. They need to receive rich, interesting, chunked language from her. Although some isolated vocabulary is okay (numbers, colors, food etc), phrases are even better (How are you?, My favorite food is pizza., etc.) Remind the native speaker as well to speak slowly and clearly.

 

2. Begin with Interesting, High-Frequency Phrases and Topics.

 

Start by learning and practicing phrases that are natural and interesting to your kids. Perhaps Grandma can begin the call every week by asking things like, What did you do this week? What was the best part? What was the worst part? If the children are beginners, they can begin with just isolated words: park, party, test. At a much more complex level in the language, it might later be, I played at the park with friends, I went to a party, and I had a test at school.

In fact, if you know she asks that every time, the kids can think about their week, look up the words they need and learn them before the conversation. They will also be more motivated talking about that than random words. Make sure grandma models how to say hello, good-bye, and questions like, Can you repeat that? or How do you say….?, in case they get stuck.

 

3. Use Visuals as Needed.

 

If your children are absolute beginners, they are going to run out of things to say really fast. Grandma is also going to be very limited! It may help to have something to look at together. Perhaps the kids can draw their weeks, and do their best to describe it. Because there’s a picture, Grandma can ask questions and help them find the words they need. She could also use a picture or an object and tell them about it.

Reading books over Skype could work, as long as they are appropriately simple. Repetitive books like Brown bear, brown bear work well, or perhaps something they know in English.

 

4. Use Questions.

 

It’s really best if most of the talking is done by the native speaker. After all, what your children primarily need is input. But you don’t want it to be a monologue, and Grandma needs to know if she’s being understood or not. Questions should be frequent, to check in with the kids and make sure they’re tracking. With beginners, low-pressure yes/no, and either/or questions might be all they can handle: Did you like the park? Was the test good or bad? Did the caterpillar eat an apple or an orange?

Language teachers also use circling to ask questions. If Grandma is reading a book Se Vende Gorras, she might ask, Did the monkeys steal his hat? Did lions steal his hat? Did monkeys steal his glasses? It may be helpful to learn interrogative words like who, what, and how, to ask and answer questions.

 

5. Learn Poems or Songs in the Native Language.

 

The advantage of learning poems or songs is that you can practice them between visits, perhaps online or on a CD. Make up little motions to accompany the poem or song and make it more comprehensible too. You might even ask Grandma if she’ll record some songs, poems, or read-alouds to use at home.

 

6. Play Games.

 

It can be exhausting to practice a new language, both for the learner and the native speaker. Take some of the pressure off by having some games you can pull out during the visit or call. Try some of these:

  • Bingo. Send Grandma the word cards, or a list of them, and have the kids play against each other while she calls out the terms.
  • Guess Who. Mail Grandma one board, and keep copies at home too. This is great for practicing yes/no questions!
  • Slap-it. Put cut out copies vocabulary cards on a table, and make sure Grandma has a matching set of terms. Grandma calls out the words and the kids compete to slap the card first.
  • 20 Questions. The kids can take turns thinking of something. Grandma asks yes/no questions trying to guess what it is.

 

7. Be Sensitive to Everyone’s Needs

 

Like I said, language learning can be daunting. Start slow, and keep sessions short at the beginning. You don’t want Grandma to feel like she’s losing out relationally with her grandchildren, and to get burned out on teaching. You also don’t want your kids to get overwhelmed and shut down, either! You will want to have a regular schedule, both to stay consistent and have a boundary: we talk in Spanish to Grandma on Tuesday, and on regular phone calls we speak English.

Keep it fun and upbeat! You are giving an incredible gift to your kids. Make sure they feel the joy as well.

 

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7 Tips for Learning a New Language with a Native Speaker

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