Bilingual is Better


“Hello and how are you? I just happened upon your site and love it. I have an older child now who is learning Spanish in middle-school, after French immersion in elementary, but am emailing to you as a Spanish teacher for young children.

I have spent my professional career teaching Spanish to high school-aged students and older. However, now I am working with a few friends’ children; their parents want them to be exposed to Spanish and to become possibly bilingual. I know the latter is nearly impossible since none of the parents speak Spanish and the girls have little exposure to it outside of their time with me. There is a chance for a babysitter to attend to their needs but the majority of the parents are looking for a more academic approach to their learning.

My concern and question is…what do you think the best approach is for me during my one-hour a week with them? They enjoy games but become frustrated when they are losing because of language and they refuse to use Spanish during the competition (they are 5, 6, 7, 8 years old). Their competiveness spirit is not helping them use the language. Songs are not their thing. We have used art to describe and speak but I believe they are getting tired of that as well.

Second, do you think one hour is enough since they are not hearing Spanish outside of my time with them; should I recommend time with bilingual families?

Again, I am at loss and a bit frustrated. Any guidance?

Thank you.

Andrea Romano Vespoint”

Hi Andrea / Hola Andrea,

As most of us realize one hour each week is not enough to help these young ones become bilingual.  I applaud anyone attempting to expose their children to more than just their native language, but the research has shown that once-a-week-exposure will not help you raise a bilingual child.

What are the benefits of once-a-week-exposure?

  1. Neural pathway connections are formed for later language learning
  2. A genuine curiosity about second languages, other cultures and their people is stirred
  3. Exposure to more than one language is helpful to the cognitive development of a child

 

What can you do with this particular mix of 5-8 year olds to keep the Spanish learning at its optimum experience?

  1. Incorporate storytelling with puppets assigning each child a part in the story based on their personality, level of Spanish proficiency, and their interest in this medium
  2. Use cooking during your time with them – alternating the week’s lesson with arts & crafts, cooking, games that are not competitive but simply playful, and music.  (I know you mentioned they are not into music but given the right props to use with the songs they could be coaxed to try it.  Using bilingual songs with a catchy beat combined with props from the Dollar Store will make the music relevant, and we all know how much music lends itself to long term retention in learning.)
  3. Allow a child to be the “maestro/teacher” for a part of each week’s time together.  Give them the ‘assignment’ the week prior so that they might prepare something ahead of time using their parent’s computer, iPad, Android App or simply a library book to bring to your Spanish fun time the following week.  Kids love being teachers to their peers, and it allows for the learning to grow organically.

 

What should you suggest to this group of parents to increase the exposure to Spanish as their children’s second language?

  1. Encourage attendance of any and all local festivals, library events, and beyond that feature Spanish food, music and language.
  2. Suggest they visit their local library for free resources that appeal to their individual child’s learning style using the Spanish language.
  3. Inform them of FREE online resources that provide them tools as parents to learn right along with their children (here are two FREE ones:http://www.bocabeth.com/Bilingual_Resource_Area/default.php  and http://www.onlinefreespanish.com/ )

 
With these suggestions, tips and tools I am certain you will feel positive about the gift you are providing this future generation of children.

Happy Educating!  ¡Sea feliz educando!  ~ Boca Beth

Beth Butler.-Bilingual educator of young children and strives to create better communication within our increasingly diverse society. She is the founder of the internationally acclaimed Boca Beth language learning series which has garnered various parenting awards.  Ms. Butler lived in Chile and Mexico where she learned Spanish as her second language and has been bilingual and biliterate for more than 30 years. She has spent over 25 years in the field of preschool and elementary education writing and recording four bilingual music CDs in Spanish and English, as well as producing three bilingual educational movies for children.  Read Beth Butler´s answers here.

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