Bilingual is Better

Photo by Nikstarter

This post was originally published on February 18, 2009.

One of the biggest challenges we face in our bilingual journey is being consistent and finding ways to nurture the minority language outside the home. No matter which method your family chooses to use–OPOL (One Parent, One Language) or mL@H (Minority Language at Home)–it’s important to have resources and strategies to immerse your child in the second language in fun and playful ways.

I know, for a fact, that my daughter, Camila, is learning words much faster from her little friends at daycare than she is at home, even though she only spends two days a week with them. We also have an English-speaking playgroup we meet with every week and other activities in which she actively takes part in. Most of them in English. I know, my bad.

Make the Second Language Cool

Why is it “my bad?¨ Well, because I know, from all the reading and research I’ve done on the topic of raising bilingual kids, that one of the most important ways to enforce language learning is for your kids to engage in activities with other children in the language you want to promote. In our case, that would be Spanish. Simply put, my daughter needs to feel that Spanish is cool (yep, even at 18-months she can figure out what’s “cool” for her) and widely accepted by participating in situations where she can easily express herself while also having a blast. After all, children learn best through play–especially with other children. Parents, and “their” language, soon enough become “not cool.”

Photo by wolfpix
Photo by wolfpix

So, how to do it? What are some of those outside-the-home, cool activities in which children can engage in to stimulate language learning? Here’s our list:

1. Playgoups, Playgroups, Playgroups!

Perhaps the most important and enriching activity for both child and parent is a playgroup in the second language. Why? Because it exposes your kids to others his same age speaking his same language and gives you a chance to meet parents going through the same things you are. Plus, it’s free! Preferably, try to find a group which will commit to speaking only Spanish, or whichever language might be your case, around the kids. A good idea is to structure the playgroup to include music or storytelling in Spanish. Can’t find a playgroup in your area? Start one! You might be surprised at the response you’ll get. Very soon, Roxana will be writing about tips on how to start your own playgroup. She’ll interview a Denver mom who made it happen and now has over 40 members in her group.

2. Storytime in the Second Language

Recent research suggests that children learn more vocabulary when being read to than through normal conversation. Of course, you can read to them anytime, but you can also make it more special by incorporating it into their regular activities. Storytime allows them to interact with peers as well. Many local libraries and bookstores have storytime in Spanish, check with those in your area. If you can’t find one, call and suggest it. Libraries are always eager for volunteers, so why not volunteer to read a story to kids every other week or so? Major bookstores are also open to anything that will bring them traffic. I recently talked to the children’s section coordinator of a major bookstore chain about the possibility of starting a Spanish storytime with them and she loved the idea. Of course, I need to help spread the word and find a storyteller, but they will provide the venue, the books, art supplies for crafts and snacks.

3.  Structured Language Classes

There are many music and arts classes designed especially to motivate children’s learning through interactive play. Music is an excellent way to motivate language learning as it is repetitive and a great whole-brain exercise. You can also reinforce it by playing the CDs at home and in the car.

4.  Heritage Festivals in Your Area

Photo by kevindooley
Photo by kevindooley

One thing is for sure: we Latinos like to party and we have our share of festivals to prove it. Just to name a few: Cinco de Mayo, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Hispanic Heritage Month, Posadas, Carnaval, and so on. Mark the dates on your calendar and check your local listings for celebration events. This is a great way to transmit part of your cultural heritage to your child, while enriching him with new experiences. Talk to him about the foods, the beliefs, the traditions. Plan arts and crafts projects related to each festival. Feeling his second language connects him to a wider aspect of his family that will nurture his learning.

5.  Travel to your Native Country

I know times are difficult and this might not be a realistic option for all of us at this time, but if you only plan one trip a year, try to make it to a country that speaks your child’s minority language–especially if there’s monolingual family to visit. Being absolutely immersed in the language will leave her no option but to speak the language and eventually boost her confidence. Travel will also broaden her horizons and give her global and cultural perspectives which are priceless.
In short, make language learning interactive and fun for both of you. Actively search or start your own activities. It will be rewarding for the two of you.

Share with us the ways you promote language learning outside the home? Have you started your own playgroup, circle or storytime? We’d love to hear about it. Let’s motivate each other through this process.

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