I recently shared that I had a little bit of regret from taking my children out of a Spanish dual language program, which provided not only academic instruction in Spanish, but daily interactions with our Spanish speaking tribe, who we came to love like our family.
You may be thinking....Rita, you say you speak Spanish to the kids all the time. Our one parent on language model continues in our home. I home school the kids ( using a classical curriculum in English) 3 days a week, which give me 5 days to immerse them in Spanish, and guess what???? It's not enough. After two years of leaving our dual language program, they prefer English, and getting them to be interested in reading or writing in Spanish is very challenging. My 10 and 9 year old can read and write in both languages. In Spanish at grade level, and in English above grade level. My 6 year old is an emerging reader in both languages, but is more fluent in English reading.
About 7 years ago, I worked briefly for Gena Vaughn of Spanish Over Coffee, and she gave words to something that I knew to be true about language. Relationships are established in specific languages, and it is difficult to shift out of those. If you are bilingual, think about a person with whom you interact with in Spanish, for example, what happens when you need to speak to them in English for some reason? It seems very unnatural. This is true for me with my parents, my siblings, my husband, my children , and even certain friends. I speak to them naturally in one of the languages.
I have noticed that my children are still early enough in their language development , that they will slip into their language of choice (English) very easily with me. I, on the other hand, have an almost physical response to them speaking to me in English.
These are some of the things that I do to maximize the exposure my children get to Spanish (the target language).
- Early, I made sure my family understood the importance of establishing a Spanish speaking relationship with my children. I remind them when necessary.
- Have play dates with other Spanish speaking families. Mariana Du Bosc of Bilingual Avenue has some good guidelines on how to plan one at various developmental stages.
- As they get older, we let them spend time with friends whose home language in Spanish away from you. They'll have no choice but to join in, and happily do.
- Join a fun Spanish class. My kids have enjoyed Spanish Book Clubs, Writing Club, Spanish Theater, and Parent/Child Spanish for the last three years. It give them enrichment in the target language in a fun way.
- . Read to your children in the target language. With my youngest, we read one book in English and one in Spanish nightly, and at other times during the day. Ideally, my husband should read in English, and me in Spanish, but the logistics get in the way. With my older kids we have tried some audio books in addition to me reading, but haven't been able to find a great selection.
- Listen to Spanish music. When they were younger, they enjoyed some of the classics, in addition to Jose Luis Orozco and Trepsi. Now that they are older they like Juanes, Jesse y Joy ( a bilingual sibling group from Mexico) and Shakira.
- Use technology. My kids will text or send emails in Spanish with no complaints. They also get to use Whats App, Facebook Live, and Skype to keep in touch with my grandmother and aunts in Guatemala.
- Travel to increase Spanish exposure. Nothing gets the Spanish flowing like wanting to play with Spanish speaking cousins. We are lucky enough to spend extended periods in Guatemala.
- In Houston, the Children's Museum, the Museum of Natural Science, have exhibits in Spanish. Even the zoo's exhibits are in Spanish. We've gone to watch our friends perform Peruvian dances and play mariachi music. This weekend, Houston even hosted a mock bull fight.
- Don't give up. When my children respond in English, often it only takes me repeating what they are saying in Spanish to get them back on track. Remind them of the gift that being bilingual is, preferably not in the middle of a language battle.