Bilingual is Better

Last Saturday, Univisión premiered the second season of the Emmy nominated, family show “¡Viva La Familia! de Todobebé.”  If you´ve never had the chance to watch it-it airs every Saturday at noon/11am Central-you´re missing a very entertaining, heart-warming, star-studded and informative show in Spanish for the whole family.

It’s hosted by two beautiful mamás: famous Mexican actress Aracely Arámbula and renowned parenting author, bilingual mother of two and founder of Todobebé, Jeannette Kaplún.

I´ve been lucky enough to meet Jeannette in several occasions, so I can personally vouch for the charisma, professionalism and true elegance of this very successful Latina woman entrepreneur.  Jeannette has lots to celebrate this year, with a popular and loved TV show on the air and the 10th anniversary of her brainchild website Todobebé.  Todobebé is acclaimed as the most popular website in Spanish for new parents, as well as the first in its class.  TodoBebé has spanned into an international TV and radio show, a parenting book and constant appearances for Jeannette as a parenting expert in the U.S. and throughout Latin America.

However, I´m sure she would tell  you her real success story is her bi-cultural family.  Jeannette-born in El Paso, TX and raised in Chile-and her Peruvian husband are together raising both their son and daughter bilingually and bi-culturally.

Jeannette shared some of her personal insights and tips with us.  We strongly believe that we learn best from each other’s trials and success stories.  This is Jeannette’s:

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

At home we speak Spanish. Even though my children sometimes speak among themselves in English, we are very strict about using Spanish every day, all the time. English is for school. Spanish is for everything else. My husband even has a game: el que habla inglés, pierde (if you speak English, you lose). My children know I speak English and trust me to help them with their homework, but they also know that I speak to them in Spanish unless we have a guest that only speaks English.

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

Both my husband and I believe strongly in raising our children bi-cultural and bilingual. Personally, if I could get them to speak more than two languages I would be even happier. The more languages you speak, the easier it is to erase barriers between cultures and countries. In the future this also will be key to professional development. I also agree with research that touts the intellectual benefits of bilingualism. On a more emotional side, we want them to be able to relate to their grandparents, great grandparents and cousins, so we teach them not only the language but traditions, history and funny words or stories. We also expose them to Latin music. We love to sing and dance as a family! Sofia is a big fan of Mecano, Fanny Lu, Shakira, Fonseca and Juanes. Michael on the other hand prefers rock en español.

So far, what has been your biggest challenge in raising them  bilingually?

The biggest challenge so far is that my son and my daughter prefer to speak amongst themselves in English. And of course, they speak sometimes in Spanglish and I need to say the appropriate word in Spanish so they learn it. It’s tiring sometimes, but I try to always be consistent. The older they get, the more they prefer English; so it takes a lot of insistence on our part as parents to make them want to speak Spanish.

What are the main  resources you use to increase language exposure?

Aside from our conversations, we have relied on books in Spanish and music to get our children to love our culture and roots. We have been very fortunate as well because most of our children’s caregivers and teachers speak Spanish, so they could understand our children when they mixed English with Spanish words. We have also used DVDs; we simply select Spanish language on the DVD settings so they can watch their favorite movies in Spanish instead of English.

My husband, who’s Peruvian, is also great at making up games to expand vocabulary.

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

Siempre te querré (Love you forever) by Robert Munsch and Me Parezco Tanto a Mi Mamá/Me Parezco Tanto a Mi Papá by Jorge Ramos is a fun bilingual book.

Your words of wisdom to parents raising bilingual children?

Don’t give up! But most importantly, even if your kids speak to you in English, resist the temptation of answering back in English. Consistency is key. Insist on using Spanish, and show them how proud you are of your roots. Even if it’s for 5 minutes a day, set aside a time for Spanish only. And also try to read books or short stories aloud in Spanish; if you cannot find fun books locally, make your family story in Spanish with family pictures. Young children love photo books!

Get to know more of Jeannette by following her bilingual parenting tweets @JeannetteKaplun.

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