Bilingual is Better

travel immersion

Our family was fortunate to have had the opportunity to once again immerse our children in Spanish by traveling abroad. You may remember that last year we spent the summer in Peru. This summer was spent in Costa Rica. There really is nothing like travel to enhance your child’s language skills and to provide them with global and cultural understanding. Such trips require planning and effort, but the work is well worth it.

Since I do not have family living in a Spanish speaking country, a lot of research is involved with putting together an adventure that will be both fun and educational for the entire family. Months prior to the trip, I am looking at schools, possible homestay arrangements, and tourist destinations that will be interesting. Having now been through the planning, traveling and living abroad experience twice, I feel that there is some advice of value that I can pass on to families that would like to embark upon similar journeys.

Homestays

In both Peru and Costa Rica, we lived with local families. The homestays in both countries were arranged through the schools that we attended while abroad. There is no better way to be immersed in the language and culture of the country than to actually live with a local family.

Be careful! Our experience in Peru was wonderful! We ate with the family daily, and they went out of their way to help us get to know the city where we were living. The family enjoyed having students come to get to know their country and culture.

Unfortunately, we did not have a similar experience this summer. It was obvious that our Costa Rican family had us only to make money. The television was on constantly, and there was very little interaction with the family. The single mother was gone three nights a week, and we were left with the three children and a teenage babysitter. The house was also dirty, and we were often hungry because there was not enough food during the meals. Although my husband complained in writing at the school, nothing changed.

No matter what country you are visiting, homestay experiences will vary enormously based on the family and their motivation for taking in students. Have a back-up plan if the family does not work out. Be sure that you can either change families or living arrangements, if you find yourself in a situation that is just not the right fit. Try to avoid paying for the entire stay so that you have the freedom to make a change if your living arrangements are less than ideal. It is also a good idea to have a back-up plan to avoid being stuck in a home that makes you uncomfortable.

School

In Peru, my children studied Spanish with a Peruvian teacher. They learned songs, read books, played games, and did art projects with their teachers. While in Costa Rica, they attended a Waldorf School.

Working with individual teachers was far more conducive to the language learning of my sons. The teachers were able to specialize their instruction to best meet the needs of my boys. They were also exposed to excellent Spanish and were required to speak with their teachers without using English.

The Waldorf School provided very little teacher directed instruction; rather the kids were encouraged to play. While the boys did use Spanish to play with their peers, since they were only 2 and 4 years of age, the Spanish was limited and not very complex. While peer interaction is important, we were easily able to meet other young children by just taking a soccer ball to the park with us. There is nothing like having a teacher work with your child individually to further their linguistic skills.

Activities

In Peru, I arranged play dates with other Peruvian children, but in Costa Rica, I signed them up for music classes and Tae Kwon Do. The structured martial arts and music classes were so much fun for my children, and they were a great way for the boys to get to really know other Costa Rican children. These enrichment classes enabled the boys to both further their language skills and to experience different activities that they can continue to pursue in the future.

Travel

We did travel while we were in Peru, but I wished that we had done more. This year I scheduled extra travel days into our Costa Rica adventure.  The boys loved exploring the rainforests and beaches, and they were particularly interested in the animals and wildlife. To make our travels even more educational, we would hire guides who would take us on nature walks helping us to spot animals and telling the kids about what we were seeing, all in Spanish. We would have the guides use Spanish with the kids and us. While learning about the animals and nature around them, the kids, my husband and I were also hearing and using our Spanish.

An immersion experience in a Spanish speaking country is a great way to reinforce the Spanish language. Not only will your child gain linguistic skills, but they will also acquire a greater understanding of some of the different customs and cultures of the world. Planning a trip abroad can be challenging, but the efforts are worth the time and research.

I hope that my experience and advice helps with your plans to take your kids to another country to speak Spanish, become familiar with the culture, and to get to know another country and its people.

{photo via marinakvillatoro}

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