Bilingual is Better

Image source: alamosbasement

Editor’s note: This is our last post in our Back to {Bilingual} School week. While we tend to talk a lot about younger children, this post is perfect if you have upper elementary or even older bilingual kids. We hope the variety of posts we’ve presented here this week will help make the back to school transition easier regardless of your kids’ schooling situation. Oh, don’t forget to enter the awesome giveaways we’ve put together for you… you still have time.

The bus screeched to a stop at the corner and my youngest son gave me an impetuous hug before he took off running, ready for his first day of Fourth Grade.

Adiós!” he called over his shoulder, as his Anglo classmates boarding the bus turned to look.

Adiós, chiquito!” I called back, knowing that despite his age, he still doesn’t embarrass as easily as his 13 year old brother, and besides, the kids at the bus stop couldn’t understand us. “Te quiero mucho! Buena suerte y portate bien!” I said. He waved and smiled, and then, just as quickly as the summer had come, it was gone again. My children were both officially “back to school.”

Back to {Bilingual} SchoolWhat does this mean for me, besides valuable quiet time to write and a house that stays clean most of the day? It means my children just left hours a day of Spanish immersion and have traded it for a classroom where they will speak, read, write and hear only English. For a parent trying to raise bilingual children, this can be worrisome. The possibility that all the progress that was made over the summer will be lost is very real – but what can you do about it?

Get serious

If you’ve been slacking off with your second language at home, it’s time to re-commit to using it as much as possible. Your child will have 6 to 8 hours of English while at school each day – they don’t need more of it when they come home. Whether you’re talking to your child, or talking to your spouse, use the second language as much as possible. Your bedtime story each night should be in the target language, too.

Encourage friendships with other bilingual children

If you volunteer in the classroom or attend a school function, seek out other parents who are raising bilingual children. Set up playdates, or if your child is older, simply encourage the friendship. If they become friends, there’s no guarantee they’ll use their second language together at school – but it’s worth a shot.

(Roxana did that beautifully with her daughter Vanessa when she went back to school this year!)

Use your weekends wisely

Saturday and Sunday are the only full days you’ll have with your child during the school year. Take them places which encourage use of their second language whether it be Spanish language mass at the Catholic church, a prima’s quinceñera, grocery shopping at the Latino Market, or a cultural event at a local museum.

Spanish 101

At the end of last year my 13 year old tested so well that we were given the option to let him start Spanish one year early – ahead of his classmates. They didn’t have to ask me twice if we were interested!

Opportunities like this are not always made known to parents, so be proactive. Contact your child’s school guidance counselor and talk to them about how important bilingual education is to you. Ask what opportunities are available for your child, whether it’s an after school club or an elective course, there may be programs at the school that you didn’t know about.

Invade the iPod

Most schools allow older children to carry an iPod with them on the bus as long as it’s put away during school hours – and my 13 year old son has carried one for several years now. To make the most of his ride to school, I downloaded music in Spanish to his iPod.

The important thing here is, don’t force music on your child that they don’t like. The last thing you want is for your child to rebel and declare “all Spanish language music is stupid” just because you pushed them to listen to something that wasn’t up their alley.

You must find out what genre of music your child likes in English, and then find the Spanish, (or other target language), equivalent. Popular bilingual, crossover singers like Prince Royce and J.Lo are especially well received, but you will have to find out what your individual child likes. Most teenagers are music lovers and would welcome the invitation to talk to you about their favorite singers/bands – so make it an open conversation. Let them share songs with you so that you can share songs with them. (You may even learn a little bit about what’s on their mind based on the lyrics they identify with.)

(If your child is open to it, there are also free “Learn Spanish” podcasts available from iTunes.)

Plan a trip

Our recent trip to El Salvador showed me the power of full immersion. We were there for only 12 days, but the changes in my children’s skills and enthusiasm far exceeded my expectations. They learned so many new words and were actually fighting over who got to talk to cashiers, waitresses, taxi drivers, etc., because they were so eager to use their Spanish. So, if you can afford it, don’t wait for next summer. Start planning a trip for winter or spring break.

Going back to school at summer’s end is inevitable, but with a little extra effort made at home, it doesn’t have to mean lost ground on their path to bilingualism. Stay consistent, padres!

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