A few months ago I was texting back and forth with my good friend Melanie of ModernMami and she came up with the excellent idea of getting our girls to become pen pals. Although they’ve only met each other once when we visited Disney last year, we figured it’d be a good way for them to keep in touch and practice their Spanish at the same time. Plus, I have such fond memories of my own pen pals growing up (I had one in Panama and the other one in Mexico) that I immediately jump on it!
After I explained to Vanessa the concept behind having a pen pal, she got really excited and want to get to it right away. But it took us a little while to get started because she was still in school at the time. When we finally got around to it, I must say that Vanessa was very proud of what she ended up sending Melanie’s daughter in Orlando.
She started by writing her a little note with a few sentences in Spanish (and one in English!) and I just let her say whatever she wanted. She then decorated the card with drawings and stickers. But she wanted to send her new pen pal a little gift too, so she decided to make her a necklace using beads to spell her friend’s name. And then we put everything in a package and we went to the post office together so Vanessa could send it off. Now, she’s patiently waiting for her pen pal to respond!
I love the idea of an old-fashioned (snail mail) pen pal for bilingual kids because it allows them to not only practice their writing skills in Spanish, but it gives them a perceived need to continue being bilingual. In other words, Vanessa’s so excited about keeping in touch with her pen pal that if we keep this up and she ever starts refusing to speak her minority language, I’ll have a great reason to remind her to continue speaking it.
In terms of how to get started, I think that in an ideal world, your child can be pen pals with another bilingual child whose parent you already know, but doesn’t necessarily live in the same city or state. When I was younger, all I had to do was look in the back of the teen magazines I used to read (like Tú, does anybody remember that one?) and see if there was anybody interesting. Today, I’d be very worried about my kids doing something like that…
There are, however, some options available online — which I haven’t tried and I’m not endorsing — that you can research and see if it’s something that would work for you and your bilingual child. Here are some:
Do you know of any others you’d care to share with us? Did you have a pen pal yourself? What do you think about your bilingual child having a pen pal?