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Spring Into Spanish: Seven Simple Steps For Bilingual Bliss

Aug 17, 2007
Running around the neighborhood I bet you have heard this once or twice, "I know she knows how to say it. I heard her singing her colors in Spanish just this morning. Lisa, tell my friend what red is in Spanish right now!" Or perhaps this scenario rings a bell, "Jorge, I am warning you! No more English. If you want something, you have to ask me in Spanish starting ahora!"

Parents across the world see a very global future for their children and want to prepare them for it. We have read or heard about the reports from experts about bilingual children scoring higher on standardized tests and reading sooner than monolingual children. Yet there seems to be a struggle to achieve that blissful state of learning.

Many times children rebel at using their native language of Spanish; thus eliciting threats from the parent of no communication in any other language but Spanish. Then there is the Anglo parent who, with all good intentions, eagerly enrolls their child in a fairly expensive once a week language class; only to wonder why that same child will not 'perform' for family and friends her new words in Spanish.

With the following seven simple steps and suggestions you and your family can bloom into a second language journey - blissfully and with smiles:

1. Start the second language learning as early in your child's life as possible. Experts agree - the earlier, the better. Think of how you learned your native language. It's all about vocabulary at first so remember that repetition is the key for all your child's learning.

*Experts say it is just as easy for a child to learn two words in two languages for one item as it is to learn just one word.

*Introduce the new language bilingually, using the native language and the new together, for any child birth through 8-10 years old. (Immersion should be used for children 8 -10 and older.)

2. Find a bilingual language learning program, product or class for your child that incorporates the following components necessary for success: visual, music, beginning reading and verbal exchange. Give your child the opportunity to enjoy the new language daily for 10 to 30 minutes (depending upon the age of your child, more time needs to be spent as your child continues to develop his language skills).

3. Show your child you value speaking a second language.

*If you speak mainly English in your home invite a Spanish speaking friend over, attend cultural events where both native & new languages are spotlighted through music, dance, food and more and turn on the Spanish channel on TV and the radio.

*If you speak mainly Spanish in your home invite new English speaking friends over and get them involved in learning Spanish as you cook for them, entertain them and welcome them into your home, visit the local library for bilingual books and fun children's programs and make learning the new language fun for your child and yourself.

4. Do not allow anyone try to convince you that learning a second language needs to come after your child has mastered her native language. The myth that children will be language delayed or have a language disorder if a new language is introduced early in life is just that - a myth.

*The latest study out of Texas on this subject suggests that children up to the age of five can learn five languages simultaneously.

*I will caution that you not settle for immersion for your young child during her school day. It should not be 'sink or swim' in the English only classroom for the Spanish speaking child nor should a Spanish only class be used with your English speaking first grader.

*Your child should be allowed contact with his/her native language throughout the day until at least the age of 8-10 years old.

5. For Spanish speaking families it is a lot of work to continue your native language within your home and community when English is the dominant and daily language your child hears. As in most of parenting, keep a smile first of all.

*Refuse to fall into the trap of making your child 'perform' in your native Spanish language. Encourage your child to appreciate their native language by appreciating it yourself and speaking it with love.

*Try not threaten to speak only in Spanish to your child in order to get them to respond back to you in Spanish. This will alienate them from you, their language and their heritage.

*Your child will understand everything you say to them, but your child might often times make the conscious effort to refuse to verbalize back in their native tongue due to your threats.

*One last note: You, as the parent, need to practice your new language of English. Try to make it a family effort to soften your accent when speaking English.

*Instead of being embarrassed by your Spanish accent, show your child you are proud to be Hispanic and will continue to work on your new language as you ask your child to work on their native language. Practice what you preach!

6. Have realistic expectations for your child. Becoming fluent in a new language takes time and takes living the language. Avoid getting a one-on-one tutor for your child during the early years (birth - 8 years old).

*This language journey should be fun - filled with music, games and creativity (not conjugating verbs and grammar).

*Try not to look for your child to be conversational after benchmarks you set up yourself. Every child learns and develops differently.

*Allow your child to enjoy this language learning by not pressuring your child to excel in or perform in either language. The sign of a true linguist is one who code switches. That is, one who can flow between both languages easily within one sentence, one thought, one conversation.

7. The ideal situation in any home where the parent wishes to raise a bilingual child is for one parent to speak Spanish full time with their young child while the other parent speaks English full time. They would flow back and forth between the two languages while explaining things in both languages when possible. We all realize this takes a tremendous amount of effort.

*We also realize that this is not the norm in most households across the world which is why we look for simple solutions that fit into our daily lives.

You can do this. You can give your child the gift of a second language. You are your child's best teacher. You just need to find the tools to jump start their second language journey today.

You know what makes your child excited about learning. You know what you can fit into your daily routine and still make it fun for all. You just need to do it!
About the Author
Beth Butler is the creator of the BOCA BETH Language Learning Series for young children. Find out how fun and easy it can be to introduce Spanish to your child. Sample the BOCA BETH bilingual music and movies for free at http://www.bocabeth.com
Call toll free 1.877.825.2622
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