Being raised in a home speaking a foreign language and practicing different customs has brought bountiful enjoyment in my life. However, let’s just say it was challenging at times while growing up. My name was unique: one “n,” not two. My lunches consisted of “exotic” leftovers in lieu of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Pig roasts took the place of crawfish boils for celebrations. You know those English nursery rhymes you heard as a child? Well, I am learning them alongside my children. And, my daughter will most probably celebrate not only her Sweet 16, but her Quinceañera as well. Despite these experiences, I am thankful EVERYDAY to have been immersed in another culture and language. This immersion made me different, and this difference made me unique, and this uniqueness made me thrive and become the person I am today. Aren’t those the experiences that make us?
It was through these daily interactions that I became aware of the world beyond our city and fostered understanding, tolerance and respect for other cultures. Because of this, even more so now as a parent, I want to pass down these experiences and lessons to my own children, as done by my own family. Studies reflect that the earlier you expose your child to another language, the potential for success in mastering pronunciation and comprehension exponentiates. In addition, whenever possible, it is best to surround yourself with native speakers, not only to develop an “ear” for proper inflections but also to learn and understand different dialects. As with anything else, repetition is key in the learning process. For example, I have received strange looks while makin’ groceries, especially in the produce section calling out each produce its name in Spanish, followed in English and then again in Spanish. However, it works! Just the other day while the two played in their Dora kitchen I overhead my oldest say, “lechuga,” while handing her little brother a fake head of lettuce. This recent explosion in her vocabulary makes my heart sing! With a growing segment of the population speaking two, if not more, languages, it is not unreasonable that we as parents would want to expose our children to a second language before the high school years to prepare them for the world that is becoming ever so “smaller” and accessible due to technology. Below are some suggestions to help your little ones, and perhaps yourself, flourish in a second language.
Getting a head start on a bilingual future
Purchase electronic toys with a second language feature. Leap Frog, Chicco and Fisher Price offer endless options, from entertainment tables to talking cubes to instruments.
Create a Pandora station filled with children’s songs in another language.
Hire a bilingual nanny or babysitter, even if only for a few hours a week.
Add age appropriate books in another language within your child’s library.
Hire a tutor specializing in another language to provide a one on one educational experience and encourage learning through homework assignments and other exercises.
Learn in your home or on the go along with your child by purchasing CDs and/or DVDs from reputable companies.
Enroll your child in a language immersion school or program.
If one parent is bilingual, have he/she consistently speak to the child in her native language and encourage a response in the same language.
WLAE-E (PBS), in Spanish, has a weekday morning lineup including family English shows dubbed in Spanish, for example, Thomas & Friends, Angelina Ballerina and Bob the Builder, just to name a few.
Create or enroll in a bilingual Mommy and Me group. Encourage everyone to speak only in the foreign language.
Download translating Apps on your phone, ipad or computer to encourage adding a few new words a day to your vocabulary.
Surround yourself with family members and houseguests that speak another language and willing to share their customs.
Add children shows in another language to your Amazon Prime and Netflix watch list for viewing.
Considering adding television shows that are designed for fostering the exposure of another language, for example, Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go!
I loved this article. My husbands family is from Panama. We started speaking to my son in Spanish within days of coming home from the hospital. We have tons of bilingual toys and books. I think its a great asset.
Thank you for your comment, Nikki. I agree that it is a great asset to know another language. I am sure your husband’s family is trilled that your son is learning their native language!
We speak to Andrew in French sometimes, as I can speak it and my parents speak Cajun French. But since not many toys offer that option and there are few shows, etc. that offer a French option, it’s not as easy to immerse with daily stuff because it is not as readily available. But I sing to him in French and have taught him a few expressions. He hasn’t picked up on them yet, though!
Andie, that is wonderful that you speak French! My husband’s grandparents grew up speaking French and they at times sing French songs to the great-grandchildren. Southeast Louisiana’s traditions and heritage is so entrenched with French customs and traditions that I wish the language was more prevalent in the area.
My oldest is in a French Immersion school and he is doing just great! I get amazed how he is now using the language daily at home.
Mary, that is wonderful that he is learning French and it sounds like he is also enjoying it!
are oldest 3 are in a french immersion program . . . the youngest 2 are getting a little head start from the older ones. they will read them french books and teach them songs and words here and there . . . we love it!
Emily, thank you for sharing. That is wonderful that all of your children are learning a second language!
I, too, am raising my kids to be bilingual in Spanish. I have LOVED being bilingual, and I appreciate the effort my mother put into sharing her language with me and my sister. As a mom, it’s hard, isn’t it? It’s a big job to bring up bilingual kids! Your ideas are all really good.
I got a bunch of ideas from attending an early intervention class for my son who had speech delay. They suggested giving kids choices to encourage them to speak. I especially like this because when you say ¿Quieres agua o leche? you are actually providing the answer in the question. It’s perfect. They hear you say it, think about its meaning, and then repeat it back to you. And what better incentive to speak than when you WANT something?!
We also used songs in Spanish about stuff we were doing all the time, like brushing teeth or getting dressed. I would just write little tunes, sing them during the activities (along with gestures) and before long, the kids would sing them to ME! I loved that…and those songs actually ended up being the basis for Mommy&Me style classes that I taught in my neighborhood.
My husband and I ended up recording the songs, and building a business and curriculum around them.
Singing, moving and learning language is a GREAT combination–good for the brain, the body and the heart!
Piña, thank you for sharing some additional information and ideas on teaching our little ones a second language!
GREAT post! Knowing multiple languages is such a powerful asset, and the best way to do this is to start learning at a young age. Your child is incredibly lucky to have this opportunity!!
Thank you for your message, Marie! You are right, it is a great asset that I pray they will continue with them into adulthood.