by Ann Benson, Director of Somos Amigos
Queridos Padres, Dear Parents,
It’s interesting how some parents of young children often stumble, hold back, second-guess, freeze, freak out or quit when it comes to teaching their children a second language.
In my case, I speak quite a bit of Spanish. Currently I teach parents and young children Spanish. But when it came to speaking in Spanish to my sons when they were children (the optimum time to learn languages) – I spoke ZERO Spanish to them!
My older son, now 30 years old, recently reminded me of this over lunch several weeks ago. “Mom, why do you help parents learn how to teach their children Spanish? Yet, when I was little you didn’t teach me anything!” He was quite perturbed with me and rightfully so. Looking back, I didn’t speak to them in Spanish because I was too worried about doing it “correctly”. I don’t speak native Spanish, so I was worried about giving them “bad habits”. Plus, I was a single working mom and I never seemed to have the time or energy to “think” in another language while parenting.
As a consequence, my children never felt comfortable with the thought of learning a second language. My older son actually switched his major in college to one that didn’t require two years of a foreign language because he couldn’t get an “A”. He tried to do well in Spanish classes during high school but felt that he just couldn’t grasp it. In the end, my son got a degree in something he had little interest simply because we wanted to avoid having to take a foreign language class! Ugh!
Years later, I came to realize the importance of being a good “Ambassador” for a second language and culture to your children. Today I embrace this role by helping others become “Ambassadors” of Spanish and the Latin culture for their own children.
You too can become a second language “Ambassador” to your children. First, welcome the second language in your life, have fun with it and embrace it fully. Introduce your child to the second language. Speak in it to your best ability while walking, bathing or just hanging out with your child. Dance to it, and be excited about it. Observe aspects of the language, listen to the language often, and feel it become part of your world. Here is how:
- Learn how to read it. For Spanish, phonetic pronunciation is easy to learn. Look for Spanish books for children that have the words and/or alphabet written out phonetically to help you learn and then READ. For other languages, look for introductory books with the phonetic pronunciation provided. Just one book a day would be a great start. You can also read books in English that focus on the related culture. When you go to the grocery store, point out any signs and labels that you find in the second language – be interested in them – try to read them.
- Listen to the language. For Spanish, you can listen to local Spanish radio. Online radio offers a variety of languages. Watch free YouTube videos for children in the second language. KLRU/PBS Spanish programming has many beloved children’s shows in Spanish that you can watch together with your child.
- Sing songs in the second language and move to the music. Music is the KEY to opening your child’s mind and heart to a second language! Learning songs together will develop their “ear” for the new sounds and will help them with their diction (singing is one small step away from speaking). Purchase a children’s Cd in the second language and turn your car into a “Language lab” – listen and sing along – don’t be afraid of mistakes! Learn songs that are available on-line and sing along. Enroll in a bilingual music parent/child program where you will sing and dance with other families in your targeted language – this provides the important social element to the learning process and again it is so much FUN! At home or at a music venue around town (in Austin there are many!) dance and sing to the music in the second language. Remember that movement adheres to the sounds, rhythms and inflections deep into the brain and creates a strong emotional bond with the culture that will last a lifetime. Most importantly, show them that the second language is FUN!
- Engage in activities that are part of the culture. For example, activities to learn a bit about Mexican culture could be to make homemade tortillas or Mexican hot chocolate!
Be sure to demonstrate a “CAN DO” spirit through play just like you would in introducing swimming by playfully splashing eager droplets on their face. Remember, it’s not about getting it right – it’s about loving it and embracing it so that your child will also learn to embrace it with gusto and confidence.
Buena suerte papas – Good luck parents, you can do it!
Somos Amigos Founder/Director/Instructor