Bilingual is Better

My kids sat at the kitchen table, in the house we rented in Mérida, México for the summer, so excited for their first clase de español. Although my kids understand Spanish completely, we love spending the summers in Mexico to get them to practice more speaking, enrich their vocabulary, and immerse them in the culture. Other summers we have enrolled them in cursos de verano, and they love the day camp atmosphere and meeting new friends. On this trip, however, we decided to hire a teacher to give us language and culture classes.

The first class was mainly talking, letting the teacher get to know the kids and their language abilities. They played games, read stories, sang songs, and she asked them question upon question about their home, friends and school. I was so excited to hear them chattering away! At the end of class, Miss Lulu sat me down and asked me bluntly if anyone ever correct their errors: “Noté que han desarollado unos… hábitos malos en cuestión de gramática” (“I noticed that they have developed some bad habits in their grammar.”)

Uf I was a little speechless at first. “Um, no tanto.. de vez en cuando…” Never wanting to interrupt a story or thought, and definitely trying hard not to embarrass them, I was usually so happy to hear them speak to me in Spanish that I let errors go. Maybe because we are on the go, or maybe because we are so used to hearing them- both my husband and I are not really accustomed to correcting these same mistakes that they continue to make.. But looking back to how many times they have repeated the same errors over and over, left me rethinking error correction. I had unwillingly let them burn these phrases into their little bilingual heads:

Soy más rápido de Toñito.

¿Puedo tener agua?

Yo me gusta esta quesadilla.

Voy a la baño.

I cringe as I type these, yet not a day goes by without hearing these. I hear how Miss Lulu corrects these easily in class — with no humiliation.

“En español, di ‘soy más rápido QUE Toñito,’ mi amor”.

”Repite: “¿Me das agua por favor?”

Obviously there’s a time and place for correction, and no reason to make hesitant speakers even more self-conscious. Especially for my more sensitive kids, if I were in public, I should make note and remember the lesson for later. We talked about the need to model proper Spanish — or at least give the kids exposure to different native speakers so they aren’t only getting input from me!

Another great strategy is that Miss Lulu has been singing plenty of songs, and playing lots of silly games (that I am attempting to learn!) that practice certain grammar points with endless repetition. One game, where everyone has to escape el lobo, has the kids describing what the lobo is doing in the morning.

Me estoy bañando”.

“Me estoy vistiendo”.

She also has been using the specific phrases in context during their conversations, practicing both grammar and introducing new vocabulary at the same time. For example, we had a lesson in tropical fruits.

A mí me gusta la pitahaya.. ¿a ti te gusta?

A mí me gustan las huayas… ¿a ti te gustan?

Before this summer, correcting my kids’ mistakes in Spanish simply was not on my radar. Now that I’ve seen different strategies that work, and now that my children’s Spanish really has reached a new level of fluency, I am going to try to start breaking these habits before they are further cemented.

What are some mistakes that your kids have adopted or acquired? How have you been able to break bad language habits?

{Image courtesy of Becky Morales}

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