Bilingual is Better

Heritage Languages booksA few days ago I was invited to Hart Elementary in Austin to read to Pre-K and K classes. As always, it was a great experience and the kids took an active part in the reading.

This time, I chose Un globo café chocolate and I gave each kid a “bolita de estambre”, a pompon, to engage them. I wanted them to imagine that they also had a balloon, like Pedro, Margarita and the other kids in the story, and that the pompon was their balloon. I wanted them to imagine that they were standing in the “zócalo”, surrounded by balloons of all colors, balloon vendors, people eating ice cream, a fountain and a church, and I wanted them to imagine the experience of taking a stroll with their parents on a Sunday afternoon.

The kids got excited and laughed when I told them, “Look, there’s the fountain!” “… and over there the church,” “there are many trees, watch out or you may bump into them!” When we started to describe the balloon vendors in the illustrations, one of the kids commented that there is no equivalent in English for the Spanish word “globero” and that you must use two words: “balloon vendor.” This gave me the opportunity to talk about the many words that describe characters and traditions that are unique to the Latin culture such as “nevero”, the person that sells sorbets, “bolero”, the person that shines shoes, or “zócalo”, the main square found in most Latin-American towns. This got the kids thinking about different words in one language and the other, making the reading much more enriching.

In the end, the kids put away their pompon. It was now an imaginary balloon, ready to be used again later that day when the kids told their parents the story of the boy that wanted a chocolate brown balloon.

There are aspects of many cultures that can only be properly understood by mastering the language spoken in them. Enriching the vocabulary of our kids will help them to not only speak better, but to develop abstract reasoning skills and, therefore, to think better.

Adriana Pacheco Roldán, is a children’s books author who has taught Spanish as a second language for most of her professional life. She has always found news ways to teach Spanish, not only as a tool for communication, but as a tool for developing critical ways of thinking and understanding culture, history and traditions. With her husband she founded Heritage Language, a publisher of bilingual books. She is currently a doctoral student of Hispanic American Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. Adriana was born in Puebla, Mexico, and she is very proud of having raised three multilingual and multicultural boys and one girl.

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