Bilingual is Better

Photo credit: Vimages

When I was ten years old, after eating breakfast and saying good-bye to my older siblings who headed out for high school, it was time for Spanish dialogue class with my dad.  He had a book of dialogues he had used while learning Spanish to be a missionary in Mexico.  We memorized dialogues and I had to put dramatic expression and movements to them.  I still remember the dialogue about waiting in line for a buffet lunch, “Ay, que cola mas larga!”  After my father left for work, my mother started our homeschooling routine.  After devotional, journal writing, math and history, we would do our Spanish homework from that week’s Spanish class.  My mother taught weekly Spanish classes to other homeschoolers.  In the car, on our way to piano lessons, I remember listening to Spanish tapes that my mother and father had created. The tapes taught the Spanish concepts from that week’s Spanish class.  I had to learn it well because my mother always asked me to “model” how to greet people or recite the dialogue we were working on in front of my friends in the class.

Homeschooling allowed Spanish to become a part of our everyday routine while growing up.  I was homeschooled from preschool age until 8th grade.  My parents had lived throughout South and Central America when they were first married, and wanted to share their love for the culture with their children by teaching them to speak Spanish.  They always took advantage of any opportunity to speak Spanish with waiters, church members and really anyone they heard speaking Spanish.  They invited a Venezuelan exchange student who was my age to live a year with us.  When I became a teenager, my parents had the opportunity to go on a mission to Honduras.  While living there, I was homeschooled for two years and also I attended an all-Honduran private school to completely immerse myself in the language.  Homeschooling gave me the flexibility to spend large amounts of time developing friendships and becoming involved in the community in Honduras.

My husband and I both share a love for the Latin American culture.  Neither of us are native speakers but he lived for two years in Guatemala and learned to love the people and culture there. We decided to raise our children bilingually, speaking both languages to our children.  We have assigned Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays as our “Spanish days.”  This past year, my oldest daughter turned five and was old enough to start kindergarten.  Because of the great experiences I had being homeschooled and my love of teaching, I decided to homeschool her and plan on homeschooling all of my children.  I am excited to incorporate Spanish into our daily learning.  I want my children to not only be able to communicate, but to read and write in Spanish.  I want them to have a rich vocabulary in a variety of subjects.  As my children become more involved with activities outside the home, I am realizing the difficulty of speaking in Spanish when so many classes and friends use only English.  I am happy that homeschooling allows me to involve them more in Spanish during the day than if they went to school in English.

Many times I have considered putting my children in an immersion school.  I observed an immersion preschool a couple of years ago.  As I watched the teacher read a book to the children, I realized that only a few of the twenty students had an opportunity to respond to her questions.  I contrasted this with how I read stories at home with my daughter.  We talk about every page.  She asks questions; I ask questions; we talk about the pictures; and we discuss what we think will happen next.  The one-on-one approach of homeschooling allows for more interaction and immersion in speaking and discussing in the language.  There are still advantages to immersion programs, but I have decided that the more personal approach was best for our family.

This past year has been dedicated to teaching my daughter to read in English.  We integrated Spanish into songs, weather and calendar time.  Our ocean science theme included many books in Spanish. Sometimes my daughter couldn’t think of the word “pulpo” in English.  We participated in Spanish playgroups and she attended her weekly one-hour Spanish immersion class.  Next year, I hope to teach her to read in Spanish.  I am currently researching Spanish reading programs to use for the next year.

We are enjoying homeschooling bilingually.  We have the flexibility to integrate Spanish in everything we do.  We are taking advantage of opportunities we find to immerse our children in the language.  Someday, I hope my children will be fluent in the language and love the culture that is such a part of who I am.

Tatiana Richardson is the mother of three girls under five with whom she plans on going the bilingual homeschooling route. She was raised as a bilingual (English/Spanish) “gringa” thanks to the love, determination and homeschooling of her mother, Ginny.  They both blog at Wanna Jugar With Migo, where they share their creative ideas about teaching Spanish. Their other blog, Teaching Generations, is exclusively about homeschooling.

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