Bilingual is Better
Photo courtesy of KCET

Photo courtesy of KCET

Several weeks ago I was invited to visit the set of the PBS series Los Niños en su Casa which is produced in Los Angeles (actually five minutes from my house!). As a blogger you get invitations to events that are not always relevant to what you write about.  You attend most because it’s a good way to network and meet other bloggers. We don’t write about them all because we want to maintain the trust you have given us to inform and connect you with resources and information to guide you through your bilingual upbringing journey.

I’ve decided to write about my experience with Los Niños en su Casa, not only because they treated me with great respect and I enjoy watching the show, but also because it’s truly the only bilingual-English/Spanish-series on TV right now and Alina Rosario, the show’s host, is a wonderful mom of a ten-year old boy she and her husband are raising bilingual and bicultural.  Can’t get more relevant than that!

See, the producers have taken up the challenge to create the same show, with the same topic every episode, and shot in the same set but with different hosts, guests and language! The English language version of this award-winning show is known as A Place of our Own and as Los Niños en su Casa in its Spanish version.

As described on their website- it is a daily television series, a website, and an extensive outreach program devoted to the unique needs of people who care for children. And, by creating the show and websites in both languages,  they are making sure their messages aren’t missed by Spanish speakers . These are visionary executives!

Alina Rosario

Alina Rosario

On the set, I had the pleasure of meeting the wonderful woman, mom, journalist and actress that has hosted the show since it started in 2005-Alina Rosario.

As the host of a show dedicated to providing hands-on resources for the daily challenges of raising a child, Alina is well aware of the importance of giving her ten-year-old son the gift of a second language and a connection to his Latin heritage.

Alina was more than happy to share her bilingual story with you. We hope reading each other’s stories will continue to inspire us all and make us aware that there are many ways to obtain the same results, given a true commitment and dedication from our part.

Can you give us a brief overview of how English and Spanish have been used in your household?

All family members in my home are bilingual. When my son was born, we committed ourselves to speak both English and Spanish to assure he had the exposure, a thorough understanding and a full comprehension of both languages. I would say a phrase, a word, or a comment, and I would be sure to repeat it in Spanish. I would do the same from English to Spanish.

Now that my son is 10 years old he can speak both Spanish and English fluently, and has become an excellent translator.

Due to my in depth and vast exposure, he has taught himself to read Spanish. This was accomplished by my daily commitment to speak and translate in both languages, to read to him in Spanish, to provide him with the availability of Spanish books that piqued his interest, to encourage him to view  Spanish movies and to listen to Spanish music.
My dedication and persistence to secure my son’s bilingual abilities have paid off, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.

Have you made a conscious effort to raise your son bilingual and bicultural?

Yes, I absolutely have with a passionate commitment.

I want my son not only to be bilingual, but also to have a strong sense of self and belonging. Especially when it comes to his heritage, his communication with his grandparents, family members and friends who do not speak English. I strongly believe these traits, passed from generation to generation, will have a profound effect on him.

I have lead by my actions. My son will have the tools, skills and foundation to pursue opportunities, dreams, desires and life goals while being proud of his roots, his family and his cultural history.

When it comes to talk about raising our children bicultural, it will be unforgivable to negate our children their given right to learn who they are, where they come from, and how learning about their culture and heritage can enrich their life and the life of others around them. Embracing their culture and fusing it with the one from the country where they were born, or where they live, can only make them so much more special. I also believe that if we teach them about our culture with love and respect it will make them feel proud of us and proud of who they are.

Hopefully he will carry and pass on these priceless “gifts” to his children and his grandchildren. Hence, they will pass them on to theirs, as the family and cultural tradition continues.

Alina Rosario with her son

My biggest challenge has been to compete with school and the TV.

When my son was 2 years old he started a preschool program and, in a matter of only three months, he was speaking more and better English than Spanish, plus, his vocabulary had improved at least 50%. Unfortunately, speaking Spanish took second place for him, and he was reluctant to use it.

We continued to talk to him in Spanish, but he would only answer in English. Of course, speaking only English at the preschool program four hours a day, and then watching two hours of cartoons in English, became a huge distraction and competition for the Spanish language.  It took a lot of work and dedication to bring him back to the bilingual road.

Which of these do you use as resources to increase language exposure?  Books-Music-Movies-School-Language Programs-Nanny/Daycare?

I use books, music, and movies to increase his exposure to the Spanish language.

We listen to Spanish music and radio stations in the car and we have watched most of the classic Spanish children’s movies together. I always encourage him to ask me if there is something he doesn’t understand about the movies. I also read to him in Spanish a few times a week and, most importantly, I speak Spanish to him all the time.

Do you have a favorite book in Spanish that you read to him?

Yes, it’s called “Habia Una Vez….” It’s a compilation of many different stories; our favorites are “La Caperucita Roja” and “Los Tres Cerditos”. These are favorites because they are fun stories and you can do dramatizations and do different voices and faces. You can let your child choose and play one of the characters. Then you can take turns playing different characters, have the characters be bilingual, or tell the story once in Spanish and once in English.

Ask your child to read the part of their character. It’s a great way to get your child to read and, if they don’t know how to read yet, have them at least repeat the lines after you.

Your words of wisdom to parents raising bilingual children?

As with anything we do with children, the most important thing is for them to have fun. It’s important not to force them to learn the language, but rather persuade them to be interested in learning it.

They need to have the opportunity to explore the language, not just by the daily verbal communication, but also by being exposed visually to letters and words, television, magazines, movies and books. They also need to be challenged mentally with games and conversations on subjects that are of their interest. We have to remember that if it took us from Kindergarten to high school to learn to speak and write Spanish correctly, we can’t expect our children to learn the language by just being passive listeners.

By raising our children bilingual we’re giving them a better future, but it takes time, work and dedication. Most of all, it takes perseverance from your child, but mostly from you.

Please leave any thoughts or messages for Alina and/or Los Niños en Su Casa in the comments.

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