Bilingual is Better

Photo credit: alamosbasement

School is back in session, and this year I am back in the classroom too.  I was fortunate to have been able to take a couple years off after the birth of my boys, but now I am back to teaching Spanish to junior high and high school students.

Teaching is my passion, and I am fortunate to work at a wonderful school.  Working with teenagers is so much fun.  They are enthusiastic and eager to learn, but unfortunately for students who are learning Spanish for the first time, the memorization of new vocabulary and the study of new grammar concepts can become tedious and boring.  I consider it my job to make learning fun, to find new and effective ways for teaching a second language, and to make the information that we cover in class relevant to their lives.

After the birth of my first son, I started to research methods for raising children bilingually.  After finding this blog and discovering other resources both on the web and in the library, I became confident that I could give my child the gift of a second language.   My search provided me with different strategies to use, and I also discovered great books and music for children in Spanish.

Now that I am back educating older students, I have found that much of what I used with my boys can be used to teach my own students.  Many of the different activities that I would use at home with my young sons really helped facilitate the learning of Spanish with my students.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the enthusiasm with which the kids danced to Juanito sung by José Luis Orozco while learning the vocabulary words for body parts.  They loved watching a cartoon video clip in Spanish that incorporated many of the vocabulary words in the first chapter of our textbook.  Raising bilingual children is definitely giving me a new perspective on how to teach my own students in the language classroom.

Even before having my own children, I had always tried to make language learning fun.  Through the years, there have been a couple activities that have consistently remained popular among my classes.  As my own children grow, I hope to use many of these activities with them.  Different activities and games are a great way to engage our children in meaningful interaction which is key for developing their language abilities.

As a child, I loved to play board games and wondered how today’s child would respond to such games.  I was able to purchase Spanish versions of Monopoly, the game of Life, and Scrabble.  To help the kids play the games completely in Spanish, I provided them with a handout listing key vocabulary terms such as it’s your turn, take a card and move ahead three spaces.  The students loved playing in Spanish and even invented penalties for players that spoke English.  Although my sons are still too young for such games, I definitely plan to have family game nights in a couple of years.  Not only will it be a great way to actually use the language together, but it will also provide for valuable family time.

One year my students suggested that our class have a meal together using foods from Spanish speaking countries.  Working in groups, the students researched recipes on the internet.  Many were amazed at the diversity of dishes available in Spanish speaking countries.  Small groups of students worked together and made a culturally relevant dish at home.  In class we had a grand feast, and enjoyed trying different dishes from all over the Spanish speaking world.  While eating, the kids were required to speak in Spanish, and actually were motivated to do so to keep with the theme of the meal.

At home with my own children, I have started including my elder son in the cooking of our meals.  He likes to stir sauces and mix together ingredients.  It is a fun way to spend time together, and he learns a lot of new words working in the kitchen that he wouldn’t learn in other contexts.

Field trips are always popular with my students, but going on excursions that include the language and culture being studied in the Spanish classroom really makes learning exciting.  Museums in particular are a great way for students to be exposed to culture.  My students always return to school with a deeper appreciation of the language and culture that we are studying in the classroom.

This past summer I took my own sons to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  I wasn’t sure how long a two year old and baby would last looking at art, but was pleasantly surprised to find that they did enjoy the visit.  The Latin American wing particularly intrigued my elder son.  We talked about the different burial masks and ceramic dogs from Mexico.  We had a nice day learning and experiencing art together.

Learning a language can be challenging, but it can also be fun and rewarding.  By using a variety of activities and strategies both with my students and my own young sons, we are able to experience new cultures and enrich our Spanish.  Original and unique ways of learning makes the study of language relevant and meaningful.

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