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.

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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

 

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

Motivating Kids to Use the Minority Language

Motivating Kids to Use the Minority Language

Last night I was curled up on the couch with Janio (3), reading before bedtime. He brought some of his favorite books, one of them a book in English with little farm stories. I usually translate the stories into Spanish as I read aloud. It makes it less relaxing for me, but seems worth it. Last night I was really tired, and halfway through reverted to English. Janio didn’t miss a beat: “Mommy, no inglés. Quiero escuchar en español.” 

How does a 3-year-old know the different between me speaking Spanish and English? That I don’t know. His insistence on Spanish, though, confirmed that the hard work has been worth it. The stories and conversation and laughter in Spanish have produced a sense of affection for the language, an early sense that Spanish means family and warmth.

Rita Rosenback from Multilingual Parenting asked a group of bloggers our best tip for motivating kids to speak a minority language. There are so many things to say, but I’d like to focus on advice for non-native speaking parents like myself.

We decided early on against the OPOL (one-parent-one-language) approach, because I spend more time with the kids. Hearing Spanish just from their dad probably wouldn’t be enough. And so for the past three years, I’ve been raising my children in a language that isn’t my first.

As much as I love Spanish, there is a real sense of loss at times. Though it has become my go-to “mothering language,” I still wonder if my voice is less natural. I wonder if there is a loss of nuance and complexity, or eloquence. Like any good American mother, I doubt my parenting choices often. But at the end of the day, raising my children in Spanish as a non-native speaker is a decision I’ve never regretted. The gift of bilingualism is worth the sacrifice.

 

So here’s my #1 tip for non-native parents: Learn the minority language with your children.

 

How you go about this will depend on your own language skills. Here are some concrete suggestions for different situations:

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If you don’t speak the language at all:

  • Begin by learning what you can, especially with little ones. Instead of focusing on mastering grammar, learn phrases you can use right away. Label things in your home, buy some basic books, and listen to simple songs.
  • Learn the question words so you can actually learn from your child: What is that? How many are there? How do you say this in ______?
  • If your children are older, let them see that you are putting the effort into learning the language. Let them know you value it as well.

If you are somewhat conversational:

  • Consider setting apart certain times, days, or activities to speak the minority language. Without committing to parenting in the language, this allows set apart family time to speak it together.
  • Think of fun activities you can do in the minority language. Find a game or board game everyone enjoys and learn the vocabulary needed to play. Foster a sense of affection and fun around speaking and using the language.

If you are fairly fluent and plan to parent in the minority language:

  • You can probably speak comfortably with other adults. Raising kids in a different language will feel different: pay attention to terms of endearment, directions, and how parents speak to their kids in the language you are using. I had to listen to Hispanic mothers coo over their babies before I felt comfortable doing so myself, in Spanish.
  • Focus on studying the minority culture. Learn poems, nursery rhymes, and fingerplays when your children are young.
  • Allow language “breaks.” There are a few books in English I really love, and book provide the perfect boundary to speak English with my kids. I really do treasure these times. Allowing myself moments like this helps me stay committed to Spanish for the long haul.

 

Bugs, Dirt, and Kids

Bugs, Dirt, and Kids

For Christmas, my mom’s gift was the book Lasagna Gardening, along with several promised deliveries of manure and mulch. Yes, I know– my nature and garden-loving mother is amazing. This week was another delivery of mulch, and we all got outside to work on getting our beds ready for springtime planting. We’ve been saving eggshells, coffee grinds, and all other fruit and vegetable scraps for compost. This is one of the layers for the garden, and also great for patting around our blueberry bushes and baby apple trees.

This is our first spring in a house of our own, and my first stab at actual gardening. We’ll see!

Here in NC in early March, not much is growing yet. Little signs are appearing and growing, though, and with them my resolve to take the kids outside more. I know Charlotte Mason encourages us to get outside in all weather, but I am a bit of a baby when it’s cold. I have started to think through preschool plans, and am reminded that loving and enjoying nature is at the center. One of my favorite Mason quotes (one I’ve referenced in another post) is this one:

“Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life.  We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things. ” (Vol. 1, p. 61)

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Little ones needs tactile ways to learn about God, and what is more hands-on than admiring and exploring the plants and animals he has made? In this age of early academics and stressed-out seven-year-olds, I think we would be wise to spend more time with bugs and dirt. would be wise to spend more time with bugs and dirt.

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