Bilingual is Better

The following question was sent by Ellen, a teacher who’s concerned her student is refusing to speak Spanish.

“A Spanish-speaking native second grade child doesn’t want to speak Spanish anymore. His mom speaks very little English and wants Carlos to preserve his first language. The child is speaking only English and is refusing to speak Spanish anymore. What can the mother do?”

Dear Ellen,

In your question you did not specify whether the child is in a bilingual or an English-only program. It might be possible that at some point your student has learned the perception that he should not be speaking in Spanish, or that English is more important than Spanish. Having an authority figure such as a teacher validate students’ primary language goes a long way in motivating students to feel proud about speaking their primary language. Your efforts towards elevating the status of Spanish while he is at school will also assist the mother’s efforts to maintain Spanish at home.

If you are teaching in an English program, there are many steps that you can take as a teacher in order to elevate the status of Spanish in your classroom. One strategy that you can employ is to introduce literature, poetry, and songs that include words in Spanish or characters that speak Spanish. Another useful strategy would be to make a big deal when you encounter Spanish-English cognates (i.e., words that are similar in both languages) as well as latin-based prefixes and root words, asking students to use what they know about Spanish to identify the meaning of words in English.

If you are in a bilingual program, all of the previously mentioned activities can be used to elevate the status of the Spanish language. In addition, it might help to place your student’s desk next to other students who are motivated to read, speak and write Spanish. Another recommendation is to find ways for students to use Spanish outside of the classroom for extra-curricular or community-based activities in order for students to find value in speaking Spanish outside of the classroom.

At home, your student’s mother should learn about her son’s interests in order to engage him in speaking Spanish about topics that he is passionate about. Many children with older siblings who speak English sometimes tend to gravitate towards English, so the mother should also engage her older children in activities where everyone exclusively speaks in Spanish. She should talk to him, sing to him, tell him stories, talk about the importance of bilingualism and engage in nurturing activities with him in Spanish so that he will associate the Spanish language with love, pride, and family. If there are family members in another country, they can write letters together as a family and send cards to their loved ones in Spanish. Another excellent way to have children practice Spanish can also be to invite other families with children over to the house, while everyone works on a project, plays games or participates in an activity together where they are having fun and practicing Spanish.

The most important thing is that they have fun as a family–most students will be motivated to practice the language if they are having fun while doing so!

Melanie McGrath.-- is a coordinator of Dual Immersion and transitional bilingual education programs in Southern California. She provides professional development training and assistance to parents, bilingual teachers and administrators in the areas of biliteracy development, bilingual program design and English language development. Melanie can also be found blogging on Multilingual Mania. Click here to read her answers.

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