Raising bilingual children in the United States can be challenging, but having a plan in place, significantly increases your chance for success. If you are not lucky enough to have a bilingual school to support you, creativity and effort are necessary to help your child acquire Spanish.
In my head there was always an informal idea on how I would raise my children to speak Spanish, but now that they are in preschool, I am re-evaluating my action plan. To make sure the boys continue to speak Spanish I am addressing how, when and where they will be hearing and speaking Spanish to be sure that there is enough time spent in the language. In order to reach our language goal, I have decided to use a variety of different contexts and strategies to help them become bilingual.
Spanish Speaking Playgroup
I joined my Spanish speaking playgroup when my now 4-year-old was only six months. Through the years, my sons and I have made some great friends. I think the power of the playgroup comes from the joint goal of the moms to provide our children with the gift of a second language. The kids are exposed to Spanish from many different people and a variety of different situations. They hear the moms speaking Spanish, and they play with their friends in Spanish. Now that the children are getting older, we are trying to incorporate some more structured activities to expose them to Spanish by doing art projects, singing and dancing to music, reading and discussing the stories in Spanish, and of course we always make time to just play.
My husband speaks to our boys only in German, and I use Spanish with them. To support our linguistic endeavors, I only let my sons watch TV and movies in Spanish or German. They are still young enough that this has not yet been an issue; rather they are just thrilled when I let them watch a program. Fortunately many movies have a Spanish language tract, and there are quality children’s programs in Spanish on TV too. The internet has also been another great resource to find programs in other languages.
I currently take my sons to a Spanish for Spanish speakers class. The teacher is wonderful, and they love to go. The class is taught completely in Spanish. Having been unsuccessful at finding a bilingual preschool in my area, I am happy to have found a structured class that builds on many of the literacy skills they are learning. As they get older, I am hoping to keep them in Spanish classes. If I am unable to find classes that meet our needs, I will teach them to read and write on my own. I know it will be a challenge, but I hope to make learning a fun and enriching experience for all of us.
When I was young, I attended catechism classes, and I am raising my children Catholic too. Fortunately our church offers religious education classes in Spanish, and I plan on enrolling my children in them when they are in first grade. I plan to be a volunteer too, so that I can help organize even more events and religious celebrations in Spanish.
I read to the kids in Spanish every day, and we always listen to children’s music in Spanish. When they get older, and even when they are reading on their own, I still plan to read to them or have them read to me. I have many happy memories of my mother reading to me and my siblings, and I want to create those memories with my own children. Reading together does not have to end when your child learns to read, rather it can evolve into an activity that the whole family can enjoy.
We listen to a lot of children’s music in Spanish, and when they are older, I also plan on introducing my sons to popular Spanish music. I often use music in my classroom and was pleasantly surprised this year when the students asked me to bring my iPod to the movie night I was chaperoning. They liked the music from class so much, that they even listen to it in their free time.
Our trip to Peru last summer did wonders for the Spanish of everyone in the family. My husband and I are hoping to take a trip to immerse the children in one of their languages every summer. We want to stay with home-stay families instead of in hotels, take Spanish classes, become a part of the local community, actually experiencing the culture of the country we are visiting. There is really no better way to improve language skills than to be immersed in the country and its culture.
I know that it will at times be challenging to raise my children in Spanish, but I love the language. I am convinced that my motivation, and by having a plan in place, we will succeed. I am sure that my strategies will adapt and change as the kids grow, but by having a plan in place, we will reach our bilingual goal.