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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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.

 

Why Bilingual Families Need Books

Why Bilingual Families Need Books

When I was pregnant with our first, I would confidently pat my expanding belly and share with friends our plans to speak Spanish at home. We were right to make this plan: our little ones simply wouldn’t get enough Spanish time only speaking with Papá, a native Spanish-speaker. If we truly wanted them to be fluent they’d have to hear it from me too. Because I really do enjoy speaking Spanish, what I’d forgotten to consider was my love for my native tongue, English. Along came baby, and I wanted to coo over him in English, the way I knew how, and sing the lullabies my mother sang to me. Speaking Spanish with my kids, while an amazing gift to give, was going to take more out of me than I’d considered.

 

books and a non-native mama

 

Being a monolingual or non-native speaking parent is quite unique. Sometimes I envy my Latina friends here, who know their kids will naturally pick up English and can relax into their native Spanish at home. But if bilingual children are in fact the goal, parents like me simply have to be intentional: we have to get creative, and we have to put in extra legwork. If you are a monolingual and don’t speak the target language you will be especially reliant on songs, technology, or other people. For me, as a non-native speaker, children’s books have been my saving grace, and here’s why:

 

1. Books help ME, as a non-native speaking parent.

As we read books in Spanish, my own vocabulary expands. Reading together takes the pressure off of me: we are still speaking in Spanish, but I am not having to think or second-guess myself. And of course, my language skills are being strengthened along the way. One of our current favorites is El mejor libro de palabras de Richard Scarry, which has even the tiniest of illustrations labeled in Spanish. When my son points to “diesel switcher” (“la locomotora diesel de maniobras,” obviously!) on the trains page, we both learn a new term. Although technology can be helpful, there is no substitute for reading to your children. It should be a focus if possible because the language is coming from you—it’s your voice, your intonation, your lap—even while you, thankfully, are getting a break mentally.

 

2. Books provide natural boundaries for fitting English into the day, too.

 

We are living with family right now, an interesting language situation. Everyone upstairs speaks English; here in the basement it’s our little family speaking Spanish. From what I’ve researched, it really IS important to have perimeters for language: when our family speaks which language, with whom, etc. At the moment I want to keep it simple and not constantly mix when it’s just us, though later we might flex more. Since there are certain stories and poems in English I want to share with my children, books seem to be the perfect, natural, boundary for that. When we open our board book of Robert Louis Stevenson poems, it’s English time, and when we close it we’re back to speaking Spanish again. Books give me space to share English literature near and dear to me, without creating the confusion switching mid-conversation might.

 

3. Books can be translated.

 

Thank goodness for this one, right? I always think good books originally written in Spanish are a great find, but most of the books I come across are translations. Some translations are badly done, but there are more and more classics coming out in a variety of languages. Sometimes I will translate simple texts like “the cow says moo” as we go (which is great for mommy or daddy’s brain!), but it’s much nicer to find books already in Spanish. Many of my childhood favorites I want to pass on are available in other languages. I insist on the original Goodnight, Moon because I prefer the more lyrical English version, but how fun is it to read El Cuento de Ferdinando in Spanish, as the story takes place in Spain? If you are very new to the language you’re teaching your child, familiar stories are great because you will get more out them.

 

4. Books create an emotional bond to the language.

Technology and flashcards may have their place, but nothing compares to the emotional and cognitive processes that occur in both of us when I cuddle up with my son and we get lost in a good story together. Reading a story we love, or a poem that sounds just right, subconsciously deepens our love for the language itself. My son loves Cinco Monitos Subidos a un Árbol  right now and squeals with delight every time we get to the “Krak!” part. As we read it (over and over again) he is forming an attachment to that story in Spanish. Children need to feel affection for what they are learning, if they are to learn it well.

Even though there is something of a loss for me in not speaking my native English at home much, it is not certainly not all sacrifice!– we are developing our family culture and adding to what we know and love. One day my children will sing our family lullabies and say silly rhymes with their children, too, with one lovely difference: for them it will be the most natural thing in the world to do so in two languages, not one.

 

This post was written as part of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival, hosted by Maria Babin of Trilingual Mama.

5 Reasons We’re Raising Bilingual Kids

5 Reasons We’re Raising Bilingual Kids

Inside: Why we’re raising bilingual kids.

We never expected to be here, raising a family bilingually. My husband didn’t speak English until after we got married, and I didn’t speak Spanish until after I met him. And yet here we are, a mix of cultures and languages, like an increasing number of families around the world.

For a long time, here in the U.S., it was common for parents not to pass on their native tongue to their children. This was either done purposefully– due to shame or fear that the children wouldn’t learn English–or, accidentally. Often parents did not realize that failing to intentionally raise their children with both languages meant that their children lost the home language, or never developed fluency. Today, many families are waking up to this and realize that passing on a native language (or two!) is a precious gift. Here are our top 5 reasons for choosing to intentionally raise our kids bilingually:

 

1. Family Connections

 

My family speaks English, Pocho’s family mainly speaks Spanish. We want our children to be able to communicate easily and comfortably with both families. Both Spanish and English are part of Pocho and I, and of our marriage. We want the two languages to be a natural part our family life and who we are. Some jokes just don’t translate! Language is cultural, too, and we hope to give our children a strong identity for both American and Peruvian culture. We are, centrally, a Peruvian-American family.

 

2. Early Bilingualism is a Gift

 

As someone who struggled to become more or less fluent in Spanish, I want to give my children at least two languages from the beginning. Some things can be learned later in life, but language becomes more difficult to master the longer you wait to begin–and, I suspect it’s simpler with younger children than with teenagers. I have musician friends who lament the fact that their skills will always be slightly checked because their parents didn’t start them young enough. We can’t control what our children choose later, but they cannot control how early their language exposure begins. There are a lot of things we aren’t able to do for our kids, but speaking Spanish from birth IS one powerful gift we can give.

 

3. Education

 

Studies show that bilingualism offers enhanced brain development. It also opens up future career opportunities, as well as easier acquisition of a third or fourth language. Here in the U.S., foreign language still doesn’t receive too much attention in most schools. As an educator, I think it is a disservice to wait until high school to begin serious language study, when beginning younger would be more effective and less stressful. Many of us who took a couple of language courses in high school struggled to comprehend much, and then have since lost most of what we learned. We hope our kids experience languages positively and productively.

 

4. Kids Who Think Globally

 

It is easy to live in the United States and think “small”– whether that means only having friends that look like you or being afraid of different cultures, even those within your city. It is also easy, if you can’t speak a culture’s native language, to either idealize or be prejudiced against its people. In the U.S., our Hispanic population is rapidly growing, and forming real friendships through shared language is a wonderful ability. We want our children to appreciate other cultures and embrace the differences around them. Even if they never leave the country on their own, speaking another language will help them to think critically and generously about the world around them.

bicultural families

 

5. It’s Pretty Cool to be Bilingual

 

There! I said it. That’s a terrible word choice for a teacher, but when I finally became comfortable with Spanish, the confidence boost it gave me was unbelievable. I had actually mastered something useful and exciting, and, yes, I felt cool for once. There are many incentives for raising a bilingual family, but for us it really comes down to the joy of being fluent in multiple languages.

We realize it’s easier said than done to do this. Sometimes the extra effort is HARD! But at the end of the day, we would regret not passing on this huge part of ourselves to our little ones. Our hope is that they will love the open world they have been given and see it for the blessing it is.

 

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