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:

bilingual kids

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)

let-them-once-get-in-touch-with-nature-and-a-habit-charlotte-mason (1)

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.

1
2
3
4

Read more posts like this one:

Spanish Parts of the Body Songs for Kids

Inside: Spanish parts of the body songs: a list for kids on YouTube.   Here are my favorite songs for learning the parts of the body in Spanish. There are lots of games that work well with this theme, too, like Simón dice. Once your classes know the basic parts of the...

The Very Hungry Caterpillar in Spanish: Activities and Resources

Inside: Resources and ideas for teaching The Very Hungry Caterpillar in Spanish.    The Very Hungry Caterpillar has to be one of the most endearing picture books out there. Lucky for us, almost all of Eric Carle's iconic works are available in Spanish as well! My own...

Fun Spanish Learning Games for Kids (Preschool & Early Elementary)

Inside: Spanish learning games for kids (preschool and elementary).    I have a ton of Spanish learning games I've collected over the years. But I've been missing a list just for younger kids!  Here are games that are easy to explain, not-too-competitive, and require...

Cinco Monitos Song Lyrics and Free Printable

Inside: Lyrics and activities for the song Cinco monitos. Cinco monitos-- Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed-- is a fun song for little (or bigger!) Spanish learners. Use it to teach numbers 1-5, and beginning phrases like la cama, no más, la cabeza, and se cayó. ...

Being Brave With Language

Being Brave With Language

I have a terrible habit I’ve had to work against my whole life: I compare. Constantly. It’s a battle to remind myself not to do this. I do it with everything: how much I get done, how clean my house is, how our children behave. And it spills over into Spanish: how well my lessons go, how my classroom compares to others, how much Spanish our children speak, and how well I speak. (more…)

Why Your Bilingual Child Needs Poetry

Why Your Bilingual Child Needs Poetry

Inside: Why poetry is beneficial to bilingual kids.

When my son was two, it became obvious his English was more advanced than his Spanish. This wasn’t shocking (we live in the U.S.), but I wanted to figure out how to maximize our minority language. I began to watch what was happening in English.

While I teach, the kids are with my mom, a veteran homeschooling mother of over 20 years. My mom was always quoting and reading poems with us– from “This little piggy went to market” to Robert Louis Stevenson. And now Janio is getting the same dose of songs, nursery rhymes, and poems several days a week.

I realized I needed to up my game in Spanish to keep up, which meant some homework for me too. I didn’t have the repertoire of ditties to say when we were getting dressed, when the moon came out, or when we spotted a bird. So I bought Pio Peep, the classic (and beautifully illustrated) books of songs and rhymes in Spanish, and began collecting poems from Peru and Latin America here on my site. They needed to become part of me in order for them to be part of our family culture. Spanish is a beautiful, lyrical, language and perfect for rhymes.

So why does your bilingual child need poetry?

Poetry paves the way for reading, writing and speaking– for mastery of BOTH languages

Celeste Cruz of Joyous Lessons explains poetry this way:

It teaches an ear for language. It models brevity in writing. It prepares one well for more sophisticated reading. It is the mark of an educated person in many intellectual circles. It gives one a sense for diction and rhythm. It aids in understanding the many cultural references that draw on the classics. It provides a sense for metaphor in writing. It helps with public speaking. It sharpens the powers of observation. It exercises the memory. And so on.

I suspect this is why in centuries past children who spent far less time in the classroom could be articulate speakers and good writers, even without the plethora of books we have today. Their oral traditions were strong, and in many families even young children could recite vast quantities of poetry and prose.

Poetry develops a ear for good language and speech.
It teaches children how sounds work together: how to distinguish between different sounds and what sounds are similar. Poetry expands their vocabulary and embeds patterns of grammar and speech.

Poetry promotes cultural literacy.
Most bilingual children are also bi-cultural, and knowing the sayings and rhymes of both cultures allows children fully participate. Poems often include clues into a culture’s history and traditions, or insight into their way of thinking.  Knowing the little rhymes everyone else grew up on helps you get jokes and literary references, too!

Poetry is beautiful.
Pragmatically, poetry is good for your child. But the actual reason we teach poetry is that it is delightful, and trains children to recognize what  beautiful language is. Every child should have a repertoire of rhymes and poems they know by heart (and love) by the time they go to school. Charlotte Mason wrote,

Older (age 9?) children should practice reading aloud every day, and their readings “should include a good deal of poetry, to accustom him to the delicate rendering of shades of meaning, and especially to make him aware that words are beautiful in themselves, that they are a source of pleasure, and are worthy of our honour; and that a beautiful word deserves to be beautifully said… Quite young children are open to this sort of teaching, conveyed, not in a lesson, but by a word now and then.

For very young children like mine, I never make poetry into a lesson. It’s just a part of life: we say poems in the bathtub, when we read Mother Goose or Pío Peep, when we’re putting a band-aid on a scraped knee.

To find poems in Spanish, see my poems page or follow my Pinterest board! Let me know if you have any favorites– I am always looking for more!

Follow Spanish Mama’s board Poemas y Rimas on Pinterest.

The Benefits of Being Bi-Cultural

The Benefits of Being Bi-Cultural

bicultural blog

Being a bi-cultural family can have its fair share of challenges. Think disagreements in parenting (should the baby wear socks in the summer?) and traditions (how big does this 1st birthday part need to be?). It might mean never feeling home, or always missing the other home. But there are of course many benefits, and today I’m sharing five that I’ve seen in our family and friends.

1. Bi-culturalism promotes a posture of curiosity.

Rather than seeing other cultures and traditions as threatening or suspicious, bi-cultural kids and people tend to be curious. Whether or not they ultimately embrace an idea or tradition, they are able observe and consider with openness. We have a friend from Mexico who throws wonderful parties and the families there are a mix of all different places.When we talk about anything, you will constantly hear, “Well, how is it in the Netherlands?” or “Do they do that in Cuba?” Genuine interest is evident and makes for wonderful, unexpected friendships. (more…)

Page 3 of 512345
Menu Title