Bilingual is Better

I take my boys to a weekly Spanish class. The majority of the children have had some exposure to the language, which makes this the ideal class for us. My sons always use Spanish with me, and it is the language that they use with each other.

During the art session of this class, one of the mothers started to ask me what I have done to get my kids to be so fluent in Spanish. I rattled off the usual, that I consistently speak to them in Spanish, they only watch TV in Spanish or their other minority language German, we sing songs in Spanish and read together daily. This mother claimed that she used many of these strategies, and although her daughter understood Spanish, the child always chose to respond in English. When we were discussing our husband’s language skills, it was then I realized how important the role of both parents is for the learning of other languages.

I am lucky that my husband grew up bilingual and always speaks to our kids in German, his second language. My husband also supports the children learning Spanish with me since he understands and speaks some Spanish. During our summers in Costa Rica and Peru, he has always taken classes to improve his abilities.

The mother from our Spanish class explained that unfortunately her American husband only spoke English and doesn’t understand Spanish at all. She felt her daughter’s reluctance to use Spanish came from the dad’s inability to speak or understand Spanish, and that English was always used when dad was around. In fact the mother of this little girl lamented that her husband didn’t even have an interest in learning Spanish. What a pity! It is such a missed opportunity for him and his daughter.

To be honest, I was initially rather critical of this father. How could he not want to learn his wife’s first language? Why did he have no interest in learning his daughter’s second language? Even more perplexing to me is how anyone living in southern California would not want to learn Spanish, a language that is so commonly used and prominent throughout the region.

As I pondered these many issues, I also began to reflect on my own language usage and abilities. I had to admit that although my husband has gone to great lengths to learn Spanish, I have done very little to learn German, the language he uses with our sons.  Although I understand the majority of the German used in our home, I have never studied it and can’t speak it. By not trying to learn the language, I am sending my children a mixed message, it is important for them to learn the language, but it is not important for me to do so. This double standard has got to change! There is nothing like the start of the New Year to start learning something new!

I have always believed, and many studies have proven, that children are greatly influenced by our behavior and will often follow our example. Our own actions and values greatly influence those of our children. To support our multilingual children, I have decided that it is time for me to get started with learning German. I know that my study of German and the efforts to learn will show my children how much I value language learning. I also want them to see that it can be a fun experience. For my 2013 New Year’s resolution, I will make learning German a priority.

As most people know from experience, it is very hard to stick to resolutions, so I decided to come up with a plan that would make studying German possible given my already busy schedule. Analyzing my typical day, I realized that there were times that I could study, and I would even be able to recruit my children to be my own private language teachers.

Prior to going on vacations abroad, I would always try learn some of the language of the country that I was visiting. As a result, I have had some experience with different language learning programs. For me, the most effective method has always been the Pimsleur method. Many of you may be familiar with this approach since it is used in the Little Pim language learning videos for children. This method is ideal because I don’t need to follow along or study with a book. I can listen and learn German while driving to work or while exercising, and my local library even has the first level available for checkout. So now I can study doing activities that I have always had in my schedule. I’ll be learning new words and phrases, as I commute to work, go for a run, or even while lifting weights.

On my iPad, there are two folders of apps that I let the kids play with. One folder is full of Spanish apps, while the other has German ones. Although these apps are specifically for children, I am finding that I too can learn vocabulary by playing with them. I love using the apps together with my children. It is a great way for us to have fun and learn together. Eventually, I will download some of the adult apps to help me with the acquisition of the German language.

Perhaps my favorite way to learn German is by having my children teach me. My 5-year-old is really enjoying the role of being mom’s teacher. While walking to the store yesterday, we worked on colors. I thought that I knew all of them, but as he quizzed me in Spanish to say a German color, I found that I did not know gray, white, or pink, and my pronunciation of black had both of my boys giggling. They had me repeat after them multiple times until they were satisfied with the way I pronounced the word. It is fun to play these language games with the boys, but I also think that it greatly enhances their learning. Teaching mom makes the children the experts, and it makes them realize that they have a skill that mom does not have. It also supports their learning to speak another language since everyone in the family is learning and speaking the languages of the home.

This year, I resolve to study German since by doing so I will be supporting my children in their learning of the language. I will also be giving my children the chance to be the teachers and the experts. My own study will model that learning another language is fun and fulfilling. Most importantly, I will enrich my life by learning German, especially since it is one of the languages that my husband and children can speak. Our home will truly be multilingual with English, Spanish, and German spoken by all!

{Photo by ferdy001}

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