Bilingual is Better

Expose your kids to Spanish in these unlikely places

I’m not a huge breakfast eater — unless I go to the French bakery by my house, which is run by a couple from the south of France who moved to Denver five years ago. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but the bakery is on my way to Santiago’s preschool and so I stop in there regularly to devour freshly-baked croissants and the best baguettes I’ve ever had outside of France.

But one of the other reasons I love going there is that I get to practice my French with the owners. And whenever I go with my kids I get to show them — instead of telling them — how awesome it is that I can communicate with other people in their native language: one of the benefits of speaking more than one language.

Although it sometimes seems like there aren’t enough ways to immerse your children in the minority language outside of your home (especially the older they get), the truth is that sometimes we overlook some options that aren’t as obvious, but are awesome opportunities nonetheless. The best part about these is that they’re pretty simple things you can do on a regular basis which don’t require a lot of effort on your part.

1. Churches/Places of Worship

When I was looking into baptizing Vanessa, I knew I needed to find a church that offered services in Spanish so my  then 92-year-old grandmother, visiting from Perú, wouldn’t be lost during the ceremony. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, but I found one. Now, more than six years after moving to Denver, I’ve found many others. For me, it’s a great way to reconnect with my childhood, but it’s also the only way for me to participate in mass. I know this will sound kind of strange, but praying is one of those things I’d rather do in my native language.

Besides giving you and your kids the opportunity to attend services in the minority language, most churches organize activities and events outside of worship time. So this could be another great place for your children to be brought in contact with the minority language with others who share your beliefs. Due to the growing Latino population, you can probably find a place of worship that offers services in Spanish regardless of denomination.

2. Small, family-owned Latino restaurants

Although Denver is not devoid of Latino restaurants, it’s in its infancy stage when compared to Miami, where I spent the first 20 years of my life in the United States. Nevertheless, we have found a few great spots — some we frequent often because they’re near and some only on special occasions because they require a lot more driving. I’m talking about the kind of family-owned restaurants where Spanish is spoken freely and the menu is often in both languages, kind of like the French bakery I talked about at the top.

If you’re children are already reading, they can choose what they want and ask for it in Spanish! If not, you can introduce new vocabulary by talking about the items on the menu. This is also a great opportunity to talk about the importance of food for Latinos and the never-ending options we’re lucky to have.

3. Bodegas/Mercados/Hispanic Grocery Stores

Again, not a lot of these in my neck-of-the-woods, but enough for me to take my children and allow them to be surrounded by some of the smells and colors of our foods — an integral part of our culture. I’ve taken my daughter to one of this mercados and I’ve introduced her to some of the candy I used to enjoy as a child. Some is from my homeland, Peru, and some is from Mexico where I spent a few years as a child. Not only are these great places to expose our kids to Spanish, but also to our culture.

Keep in mind that these suggestions are universal, so they apply no matter which minority language you’re using. For example, just the other day, I drove by a Korean Methodist Church, which I later found out was started to cater to the Korean population in that area of Denver! The same can be said about ethnic food markets, not to mention restaurants and bakeries where other heritage languages, besides Spanish, is spoken.

{Photo by Big Grey Mare}

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