It seemed like such a good idea at the time: give our baby boy a special name that would connect him to my husband. We didn’t want to give him the exact same name, so instead we gave Monkey the same middle name as my husband. It is one of my favorite names in Spanish, and having the same middle name as his father is like a hidden treasure wrapped up inside him.
Except that Monkey can’t pronounce it. Not really.
Lately, Monkey has been very interested in learning everyone’s names. I think every child thrills at discovering that his parents are not just “Mommy” and “Daddy” but have names, and he gets a kick out of hearing anyone call us by them.
So we have been talking more about names in general, including his full name, which he had always heard but never really tried to say.
As I have discussed previously, Monkey prefers to speak English, although more and more he is asking my husband how to say things in Spanish, and when they spend time together without me, he is more likely to reply to my husband in Spanish.
Yet still, Monkey has told me several times recently that Spanish is what Daddy speaks, while he and Mommy and Baby speak English. (Keeping in mind, of course, that Baby doesn’t actually speak yet 😉 ).
It is clear that Monkey understands everything said to him in Spanish, and he often does nearly instantaneous translations of what my husband says. But because Monkey doesn’t speak Spanish much, when he does, it’s with a bit of an accent.
And so, like many English speakers, he has trouble with those infamous Spanish r’s: the rolled ones, of course, are the biggest problem. For Monkey they tend to come out more like l’s, so “carro” (car) becomes something like “cahlo.”
But even the single r’s are troublesome, since in Spanish they are flipped. The closest equivalent we have in English is the “d” sound in “Eddie.” These aren’t quite as difficult as the rolled r’s, but still they aren’t easy. Monkey sometimes pronounces them like an “l,” or sometimes in a consonant cluster the “r” becomes more like a “w,” as in “tres,” which he says more like “twes.” (“Cuatro” becomes “cwat-lo.”)
As you might have guessed with all the build up, there is a flipped “r” in Monkey’s middle name, and so he has trouble saying it.
In fairness, he can’t really pronounce my name either, and it’s in English. Lots of little kids have trouble with my name, I think because of the double vowel sound. They usually try to resolve it into a single vowel sound (Monkey says “Lana” instead of “Leanna”), or they add an extra consonant so that the “e” and “a” aren’t together anymore (as in “Lee-lana” or “Lee-nana”).
So how much does it really matter? Monkey is only three, and there are many words in English that he still pronounces in that adorable little boy accent (“yellow” becomes “hello” and “helicopter” becomes “dacocter”). Still, when someone can’t pronounce his own name, it raises questions about why the parents gave the poor child such a difficult name.
But I am hoping that as Monkey grows he will come to appreciate his beautiful middle name, and that it will become a hidden treasure, wrapped up inside him, a symbol of his heritage and a tie to his father and his father’s homeland. A treasure that, hopefully, he will one day be able to pronounce.
I am so thrilled to be hosting the new Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival for June. This month’s theme is Multilingualism and Travel, although we also have a few wonderful posts on multilingualism more generally. As always, the posts included in this month’s carnival are outstanding. I feel privileged to be hosting for such an amazing group of bloggers, and I know you will enjoy reading their work, too!
The Importance of Travel to Multilingual Families
Why is travel so important to multilingual families? Language learning, of course, is a major reason, but not the only one. MotherTongues gives a great overview of why travel with kids is important, including language acquisition, learning about diversity, and creating friendships around the world.
LadydeeLG also emphasizes the role that travel can play in teaching kids about language, heritage, customs, family, and diversity. She was also able to observe some amazing code-switching in her two year old during their last trip abroad!
Preserving family ties, language, and culture was also important to Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes. But while any exposure to another language abroad are significant, she points out that our efforts at home can make this process even more profound.
Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes
The blog Immersion in Language and Culture took the plunge and dedicated six months to living in the Philippines so that her kids could become fluent. (They actually ended up staying one and a half years!) Interestingly, she and others found that even during immersion travel, many people want to speak to them in English, so learning the target language is not always as easy as you would think! Keeping up the language now that they are back in California is still a challenge, but much easier thanks to their immersion trip.
Multilingual Mama has decided that travel is so important to her family that it takes precedence over keeping the kids in private language immersion schools. After all, travel can offer the full package of language learning plus cultural immersion, family ties, and great food!
Tips for Immersion Travel
So you know you want to take your kids abroad – now what? Kid World Citizen gives us a personal view of one terrific option: sending your kids to summer camp in another country. This is something we are definitely going to look into for our sons!
Kid World Citizen on Spanglish Baby
If this type of immersion travel piques your interest, check out the tips she gives on planning a summer abroad in this guest post on Spanglish Baby.
It is also possible to enroll your child in a local school abroad, as Soultravelers3 has done so successfully with her daughter, who otherwise homeschools as they travel around the world. She also emphasizes the hard work and sacrifice that are required to achieve real fluency in a foreign language, especially one as difficult as Mandarin.
BXL Sprout also explores the issue of fluency and how it is defined for multilingual children. As children become aware of their accent in a second or third language, how does this affect their progress in that language? What effect does good-natured teasing while abroad have on their self-confidence?
In some cases, multilingual families may find it necessary to balance out the language immersion experienced abroad. Too much exposure to one language can upset the delicate balance that many multilingual families maintain. Busy As a Bee in Paris has come up with a creative solution for her family’s upcoming trip to the US – speaking only Spanish as a family, since they will be immersed in English!
Busy as a Bee in Paris
For more tips on keeping kids learning while abroad, see our list of ways to learn through travel, including learning new vocabulary, exploring cultures, and getting involved with local volunteer projects.
When The Impact Is Not Obvious
Though beneficial, immersion travel can sometimes be confusing for young children. Glittering Muffins just completed a major cross-country move with their young son. Since they moved from French-speaking Quebec to English-speaking Alberta, their son has struggled to make sense of the change in language environment, something often puzzling for little ones.
Those of us with young children often struggle to see improvement in our kids’ language skills when we travel. When we took our son to Costa Rica last year, he was only 2 1/2. And while I know the trip did help his Spanish, it only had a small impact on how much Spanish he spoke.
Piri piri lexicon had a similar experience traveling with her young daughter to Brazil. There was no obvious breakthrough in her daughter’s Portuguese skills, though it did result in a new name for her, even a year later!
piri piri lexicon
Head of the Heard just took his young son on a trip to the UK and Ireland. Again, there was no great surge in speech, yet his passive language improved greatly, a distinction that rang true for me based on our experiences.
When Travel Is Difficult
One theme that came up again and again – whether in our posts or our conversations – was just how difficult it can be to travel with kids, especially young ones. Luckily, several bloggers offered ways to reinforce language learning even when you can’t travel. Third Culture Mama emphasizes the importance of taking kids outside of their routine in order to have meaningful interactions in the target language. This is important even when you are traveling, as it can be easy to not take advantage of these opportunities even when in another country.
More great ideas can also be found at A French American Life, who recruited friends to do a French immersion “staycation” with their young children this summer. There are so many places to explore in our backyards, without the stress of luggage, screaming babies, and acrobatic diaper changes!
Kids Yoga Stories presents another creative way to travel without going abroad, in this guest post on Moms Gone Global – create a yoga sequence the whole family can enjoy based on the language and culture of another country!
Kids Yoga Stories on Moms Gone Global
More Language Tips
One of the hard things about being a multilingual family is finding the right mix of languages. Open Hearts, Open Minds explores the question that nags most multilingual parents: How much is enough? How much of the target language should you speak to your child?
Is teaching your child another language still on your to-do list? Is it just one more “nice idea” that you can’t seem to get to? Project Procrastinot will inspire you to get started! I love that her tips make exposing your child to another language something accessible and achievable for anyone!
And if you are looking for a great way to record your child’s language development or your family travel adventures, Non-Native Bilingual Adventure recommends Project Life, a simple way to record everyday moments that would otherwise be lost.
What are your tips for language learning? Have you traveled abroad with your kids?
This is the latest installment of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival, re-created by piri piri lexicon. For more on the carnival, including past installments and how to get involved, visit the carnival’s main page.
Now that I have entered the third trimester of my pregnancy, we are renewing our efforts to pick a name for our Baby Monkey. It took us forever to decide on a name for our older son. In fact, we didn’t settle on one until a week before he was born, though my husband was on the fence until the very end.
As it turned out, my labor went much more quickly for our little Monkey than we had been told to expect for a first baby, so we almost didn’t make it to the hospital on time. As we zipped down the highway at 90 mph, my husband – terrified that he would be delivering the baby on the side of the road – kept yelling, “That name you like? I love it! It’s great! You can name him that! Name him whatever you want! Just don’t push!!“
We are hoping to best that deadline this time around, plus I suspect my husband is going to park me at the birthing center a full two weeks before my due date. (We made it to the hospital on time, by the way, though just barely 😉 )
Choosing a baby’s name is never easy, but the process is further complicated in a bilingual household. We wanted a name that wouldn’t sound “weird” in either language, and it needed to be something relatives on both sides could pronounce. And then we also had to choose a name that would sound good with our Spanish last names. Whew!
To help us out, I thought it would be fun to hear stories from other multilingual/multicultural families about how they chose their children’s names. They were all so gracious in sharing their adventures. In fact, there were so many great stories, I have decided to divide this into two posts. Here is part one – Enjoy!
I thought we had a challenge choosing a bilingual name – Valerie and Alex of Glittering Muffins are part of a trilingual household (French, English, and German)!
Cordelia of Multilingual Mama also tried to find a name that worked in three languages (French, Spanish, and English). Yet she writes, “Sigh, in the end the ones that work we didn’t like and the ones we like were always weird in at least one language. But you know what? Relatives learn to pronounce and accept 🙂 Just go with what you love.”
Certain language combinations present particular challenges. Daria of Making Multicultural Music writes that “the hardest part for us was that Spanish, Greek, German and Slavic have different diminutives… We had to consider what the name would turn into in each when you added the “Ito” or “chen” or “oula” … After too much consideration, we just went with our first choices – Kyra or Anya and Josef Anthony after his grandads.”
Varya of Little Artists writes, “We didn’t choose the names for their meanings, but something that would be easy to say in Russia, English and Chinese. Though I tell you – in Arabic Te-sa doesn’t have a very good meaning and neither in swahili!”
Picking names that work in both languages can be a real plus with the extended family. David and Mariela of Sacramento eventually settled on an English first name (Sophia) and a Spanish middle name (Luz) for their daughter, since “dad’s a Euro-mutt and mom is Mexican.” They had originally considered a French middle name but settled on Luz, “which coincidentally (read: was absolutely intentional) is mother-in-law’s middle name.” Yet they write, “it turns out there was an added benefit to the names we chose. Abuelita and abuelito (grandparents on mom’s side) speak Spanish only and have had difficulty with the American grandkids’ wacky, non-Español-ish names. However, as it turns out, Sofia Luz is the same in English and Spanish, which earned us some brownie points with the abuelitos.”
Many parents try to honor their children’s culture heritage when choosing names. Berglind in New York writes, “My daughter’s first name (Brynja, pronounced Brin-ya) is Icelandic and her middle name is Arabic (Amina) and then her last name is Norwegian (Birkland) so her scandinavian and her middle eastern backgrounds are all represented. I can’t tell you how much it meant to my family back home in Iceland (where I haven’t lived since I graduated from high school almost thirteen years ago) that our daughter has an Icelandic name (and speaks Icelandic).”
About to go for a walk with my little Monkey when he was just a few weeks old 🙂
Kertu writes, “We are an Estonian (me) and Kenyan (my husband) family, and all our children’s names, as we decided, celebrate both of our cultures. So our girls have Estonian first names and Swahili middle names. Our son is named after my husband, for his first name and I chose his second name, which is Estonian. Our son’s second name is Hannes, that was the name of the first Estonian Baha’i. By the way, my husband and son are both called Nelson, the older one after Nelson Mandela.”
Gina of Connecting Famiglia and Seoul and her family became multicultural in a special way when they adopted a little boy from Korea. She writes, “It took us a while to come up with a name for our little guy. His Korean name was Park Jinsung (their surname comes first). We wanted to keep a part of his name, so we used Jin as his middle name, which means treasure in Korean. We finally agreed on Grady for the first name which means renowned.”
Different cultures also have their own customs about choosing children’s names. Tallulah of Bilingual Babes is from the UK, and her husband is from Ghana. She writes, “As my children are Ghanaian they automatically ‘qualify’ for Ghanaian names according to the day of the week on which they were born, so Schmoo is Abena (Tuesday) while Pan-Pan is Kojo (Monday). Other than that we chose first names that we loved. My daughter’s is from a favourite film and gets mispronounced at her French school, while my son’s is from Brittany, so he fits right in.”
Erin in Iceland shares that in that country honoring the local culture isn’t just nice to do, it’s the law! “We googled boys names when we were looking for names. the names had to work in icelandic, english and finnish and finding names that would work in all three countries was a puzzle. one of the names had to be icelandic according to law. after a lot of searching, late nights, and thinking we’ll never reach a conclusion, we chose the names Darian Adam and Nicolas Aron. the second names are both accepted by icelandic law but are international. Darian is Gaelic and means “precious present” and Nicolas means “victory of the people”. and since having children for us was not an easy process, the names are very appropriate.”
Giving children names from a particular culture can be a way to demonstrate one’s love for that country. Hailey in South Africa writes, “My husband is Xhosa (same as Nelson Mandela) and I’m a peachy Californian. We gave our kids Baha’i first names (Tajalli and Dayyan) and Xhosa middle names (Thandazani and Nkosinathi). Their first identity and culture we wanted to promote was their Faith and then their South African roots since that is where we live. Black and mixed South Africans love calling them by their african names. I think it makes them happy as it shows a celebration and acceptance of their Africaness although they have a peachy mom. This is very important teaching because it shows we have completely overcome the ‘white is better’ mentality that is still epidemic.”
Dealing with Negative Associations
Yet honoring one’s heritage can be complicated in today’s charged climate, and parents often have to consider all of the implications a name can have in different cultures. Michelle in Minnesota – herself half Iranian and half American, married to a man from India – writes, “My son’s name was originally going to be Roshan Alexander but everybody asked how I thought he was going to get a job with a foreign name, so we changed it to Alexander Roshan but everybody except for 2 of his first cousins call him Roshan. It is both Persian and Hindi, with the same meaning, so that part works well. Most names my husband came up with were problematic for me, because in India, names generally communicate religion, caste, and region, and I did not want any of those things (but especially the first two.)”
So many things to consider! Still to come, honoring family and choosing names with meaning!
Be sure to watch for Part 2 of this series, coming soon!
Thank you to everyone who shared their stories here. What a lucky bunch of kids, to have such thoughtful parents!
How did you choose your child’s name? We’d love to hear your stories, too, so please share in the comments!
We are so thrilled to be hosting this month’s Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism!
So what is a blogging carnival? It is basically when a group of bloggers all write posts about a topic and submit them for publication in one spot. A blogging carnival on bilingualism is such a great idea because bilingual parenting can be difficult (but fun!), so creating a community of like-minded folks is a great way to gain support and learn new ideas for encouraging bilingual education in your home.
For more information about the blogging carnival, such as how to participate or host, please visit the carnival’s amazing administrator at Bilingue Per Gioco.
And now, on with the show!
Ways to Encourage Bilingualism
Of course, the number one question for bilingual parents is how to encourage their kids to be fluent in more than one language.
Many parents have found that keeping learning fun is key. For example, Tallulah of Bilingual Babes has found some wonderful French websites that teach language in an enjoyable, interactive way. Tracey of Native Tongues has set up a bilingual playgroup to encourage her daughter to speak Spanish at the same time as she develops new friendships.
Why is this the case? Lina of Best4Future (the host of last month’s carnival) has some wonderful observations about why using song and rhyme works. In addition, she made a great video showing how she puts this into practice to teach her daughter to count in Chinese. (Her kids are in the video as well, and they are adorable!)
Chantilly of Bicultural Mom reminds us that the choice to raise your child to be bilingual is about so much more than language. It also has cultural and political implications that make the bilingual experience unique.
Learning language is also intimately connected to heritage and family. Maggie of Life at the Zoo shares a very “sweet” tradition from Germany that she has transferred to her son’s English education and wonders whether she will have to bend the rules of tradition to do it all over again when he starts German school.
We here at All Done Monkey have so many exciting things in the works that we can’t keep it to ourselves anymore! Here is a preview of what you have to look forward to in the coming months, but first, a recap of our current projects:
Go Orange Campaign Against Childhood Hunger: As we announced earlier, we are so proud to be a part of this initiative, which involves ordinary people throughout the US and beyond. It is such an inspiration to see what they have been doing in their communities. Although my little Monkey and I haven’t been able to be as active in this as I had hoped, due to illness and preggo exhaustion, I will be sharing with you ideas and activities from around the web, including ways you can get involved in your own community to support this important cause. If you aren’t following us on Facebook, you are missing all of the action! While I will be sharing resources from the campaign on the blog, you will find much more on our Facebook page, including statistics and articles on everything from how to start a food drive to how to talk to your child about hunger. Remember to check the Moms Fighting Hunger Facebook page for all of the latest.
Culture Swapper: This is the second month’s we have been participating as a co-host to this amazing collection of multicultural ideas for kids, along with Kid World Citizen and the Culture Swapper’s creator, Worldwide Culture Swap. Last month we had an amazing collection, and this month looks to be just as amazing, with activities and recipes from all over the world, including the US, Latvia, England, France, Malawi, Tahiti, Thailand, and India!
Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism: At the end of every month, bloggers from around the web come together to share their stories and tips about raising bilingual children. We were so pleased to be included in the July and August carnivals and are happy to announce that this month we will be hosting! Keep an eye out for this exciting collection on the last Thursday of September. We can’t wait to see what everyone has been up to this month!
In the next several weeks we’ll be doing guest posts for some wonderful blogs. The topics include a fall craft, a book review, a review of our local train museum, and a tribute to those suffering from breast cancer. We also will be featuring some wonderful guest posters here, so stay tuned! Here are some other upcoming projects, in roughly chronological order:
Baha’i Mom Blogs: The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed this adorable new button in our sidebar. It was designed using the artwork of an amazing artist (more on her in a future post) who generously allowed us to use her work for our site. The Baha’i Mom Blogs blog ring is a project very near to my heart, and I am proud to have played a small role in getting it off the ground. The participating blogs are (fittingly) very diverse in their approaches and topics covered, but the common thread is that we all base our blogs on the principles of Baha’i parenting, which you can read more about on our website, where you can also find a full list of the participating blogs and websites. Starting tomorrow, I will be featuring one of these blogs a month, to help introduce them to our readers and give you a flavor of the wonderful bloggers we have the privilege to work with!
Kid Lit Blog Hop: We are excited to be working with Renee of Mother Daughter Book Reviews again. The Summer Weekly Reading giveaway she headed was a huge success! She has again assembled a great team of bloggers, including many of those that participated in the book giveaway, this time to host regular linkups of children’s book reviews. The first one will be next week, so get ready to find some great new reads to enjoy with your little one!
Kid Blogger Network Playdate Blog Hop: Petunia of Go Kid Yourself is heading this fun blog hop, which will feature ideas on playdates from kid bloggers all over the web. We can’t wait to see what everyone links up!
Cinderella Around the World: This is the brainchild of Becky from Kid World Citizen. Each participating blogger will review with their little one a version (or two) of the Cinderella story from a different part of the world. Every continent will be represented! My little Monkey and I will reading Cinderella stories from Spanish America and the Southeastern US. We are so excited to participate. As he would say, “Ready, get started!”
Fall Linkys: This series was started by Alecia of Chicken Scratch NY. If you are looking for a place to find great ideas for fall, this is it! We will cover everything from decorations to recipes to the big day itself – Halloween! We are proud to be hosting the Fall Kids’ Craft linkup, so stay tuned for some wonderful activities to do with your little monkeys!
Pinterest Scavenger Hunt: Arah of ArahBella’s Vintage Finds is spearheading this super fun contest, which will start October 1. Each day you will receive a new clue, directing you to a specific post on a different blog. Participants have the chance to win a fall-themed prize at the end of the hunt. Look for more details soon!
Random Acts of Kindness series: I was inspired, as so many people have been, by a blogger who spent her last birthday committing random acts of kindness. A friend encouraged me not to let this fall into that big dustbin called “Great idea! Maybe someday…” and so I have assembled a dream team of some of my very favorite bloggers, who have each committed to having a Random Acts of Kindness day with their little ones. Starting in November, we will share the experiences of one of them every week. Prepare to be inspired! Also, look for an opportunity to share your own random acts of kindness!
Maternity leave: As we prepare for the arrival at the end/beginning of the year of our Baby Monkey, I am working on lining up guest posters for my maternity leave. So while we are taking time to snuggle with our new little one, you will be enjoying some wonderful articles on a wide range of topics, including babywearing, cloth diapering, and more! And so even though I know you will miss us, these posts will be so great you may be a little sorry to see us return 😉
What have you been up to lately? We’d love to hear about your upcoming projects!
We are so excited to be participating in this amazing collection of articles from all over the web on raising kids to be bilingual. In addition to our post on Finding Books in Spanish for Your Toddler, you can also read about everything from games to build vocabulary, reflections on whether to push kids to speak a second language, and starting chapter books with your bilingual child. Languages covered include Spanish, French, German, and Chinese!
Looking for some good books in Spanish to read with your toddler?
First, the good news: There are so many more Spanish-language books available in non-Spanish speaking countries than ever before. Our library has a section dedicated to Spanish children’s books, as does our local bookstore. And of course, there is the internet, which puts an entire library of books at your fingertips.
The bad news? You’ll still have to do more legwork to find quality materials than you will with English books. Oh, and that “library” at your fingertips? Most of it is available for a price (more of a bookstore than a library).
But don’t be discouraged! There are lots of wonderful resources available to help you find Spanish books you can share with your little ones. Here’s how to get started:
1. Ask your librarian. Those that know me know that I am a HUGE fan of libraries and librarians. They are one of our greatest untapped resources. Many people don’t realize that most librarians have advanced degrees in library and information science: yes, an entire science dedicated to helping you find the books and resources you want! What could be better? So don’t let all that education go to waste! Your librarians don’t just shelves the books, they select them, meaning they have gone through catalogs and catalogs of available books to find the ones they think are the best. They will be able to help you find good books for your child in Spanish and recommend other resources as well. If you can find the children’s librarian, then you have really hit the jackpot, because they are the ones in charge of selecting the children’s books and other media.
Also, ask about events at your library. Ours sponsors storytimes, including ones in Spanish. If there is not a Spanish storytime at your branch, there may be one at another location. The same holds true for books – often branches within a metropolitan library system will specialize a bit, catering to the population of their neighborhoods. So a library in a part of town with a large Spanish-speaking population will often have a larger collection of Spanish-language materials. You may want to make a special trip to browse in person and talk to the librarians there, though you should also be able to access the materials by requesting them through your local branch.
2. Go abroad. The truth is one of the easiest ways to get a good book in another language is by visiting a country where that language is spoken. Taking a trip? Try to stop by a
local bookstore. If possible, try to find books printed in that country. Be aware that some stores may specialize in local books, while others (often large commercial bookstores) tend to carry the more well-known titles from other countries, including books translated from English. This is especially the case in smaller countries, such as Costa Rica, which have smaller printing industries. (Many Spanish-language materials come from Spain, Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina, among others).
And if you aren’t able to travel yourself, ask friends to pick up some books for you when they go abroad.
3. Search the internet. You can search the catalog of most local libraries from their websites. In the “Advanced Search” option, just change the default language setting to “Spanish.” You can also find books by searching large sites like Amazon, although the vast majority of these are books translated from English into Spanish. If possible, it is better to find a guide such as this one from the University of Illinois, which can point you to quality resources. You can also search in sites such as the International Children’s Digital Library. Keep in mind that if you find a book that you like online but are hesitant to spend the money to buy it, search for the title in your library’s catalog, as it may already be there. If it isn’t, mention it to your librarians and see if they will purchase it! They are always happy to know about great books.
4. Follow the leads. Once you have found some books that you like, look for more by the same author or printing press. The same tip is true for books in English – I have found some of my little Monkey’s favorite books this way!
A few caveats
As mentioned before, be aware that many books in Spanish that you will find in English-speaking countries are actually translated from English. While some may have a problem with this, it does have its advantages. If you have a bilingual kid that you are trying to keep interested in Spanish books, having a book of his favorite characters (such as Clifford or Cat in the Hat) in Spanish may do the trick. Just know that there are many bad translations out there – another reason to stick with authors and printing presses that you trust.
Also, depending on where the book was published, you will encounter regional variations in the Spanish. For the most part this is not very noticeable, but we have definitely run across this. It is especially obvious in books about colors or food. For example, many countries use “marrón” for “brown,” although in Costa Rica it is “café.” And names for fruits and vegetable especially vary quite a bit. This might be a little confusing for children when they are very young, but when they are older it can also be a fun way to teach them about the different regions in Latin America.
Happy reading, everyone! Qué disfruten de leer con sus hijos!
What are your favorite resources for finding Spanish books for your children? For those of you that read to your children in another language, such as French or Chinese, how are your strategies different or the same?
Not every moment has to be teachable. Sometimes they can just be cuddly.
As mentioned in an earlier post, right now we are lucky enough to be visiting family in Costa Rica. Besides the joy of seeing relatives we see only every few years and of being in such a beautiful country, the visit is also something of an experiment for raising our bilingual toddler.
At home in the US, our little Monkey is immersed in an English environment, so although his Spanish comprehension is very high thanks to my husband’s efforts, our son now speaks English almost exclusively. While in the beginning his language acquisition was split almost evenly between the two languages, now that he is older and interacting with more (English-speaking) children, the balance tipped in favor of English quite a while ago.
So how would he respond to being immersed in a Spanish-speaking environment for three weeks?
We are only halfway through our stay, but so far there has been no obvious change in his speech. He does experiment with new words, playing around with those he finds particularly amusing (“Venga!” Come!), and he is more likely to use some Spanish words than he was before, but in general he still speaks almost totally in English.
Why is this the case? I have a few hypotheses:
1) Total Spanish immersion? Well, not quite…
The truth is that our little Monkey is not living 24-7 in an exclusively Spanish-speaking environment, mainly because of me. I still tend to speak to him in English, though I have dropped the “native language only” rule that we follow at home – where my husband speaks to him only in Spanish and I speak to him only in English. We have done this from the beginning so that he learns to properly distinguish between the two languages.
But during our visit I have switched to speaking to my little Monkey in Spanish. This is in part to aid in the “Spanish immersion” effect but also because I am now experiencing what my husband experiences at home. He often tells me that he will switch to English when around others that do not speak Spanish, because he feels rude otherwise. Indeed, this is a problem experienced by many bilingual parents. I feel it keenly here, since we are visiting with family that have not seen our little Monkey since he was a baby. They all want to spend time with him, and since he spends so much time with me or my husband, I feel like it is rude to exclude them by speaking in English.
Still, when we are alone, I tend to switch back to English. Toddlers love routine, and my little Monkey is used to hearing only English from me. Besides, I am still most comfortable talking in English, so when we are alone, it is a nice break to be able to switch back to it.
I also drop the Spanish if my little Monkey is tired or otherwise feeling grumpy. When he needs to be comforted, it is not the time to worry about teaching him another language. What he most needs is to feel safe, and often that means speaking to him in ways that he is most used to. After all, not every moment has to be teachable. Sometimes they can just be cuddly.
2. Age and Awareness
A big factor in my little Monkey’s continued use of English is the fact that he is still just a toddler. At two and a half he is just emerging from the age of parallel play, so often when he plays with his little cousins, they are all in the same space but playing their own little games. And when they do interact, much of their play (hide and seek or running around the courtyard) does not require much verbal communication. So the fact that they are speaking different languages is not a problem – indeed, they don’t even seem to notice.
Beyond this, it appears that our little Monkey is not aware that others do not understand him when he speaks English. For one thing, it is rare that my husband or I is not standing by to translate, but on a more fundamental level, I think he assumes that everyone understands him no matter how he speaks. After all, Daddy always understands him in English even though Daddy talks to him in Spanish, so why shouldn’t the same be true for Tia and his cousins?
3. Adapting to Many Changes at Once
Of course, being in a Spanish-speaking environment isn’t the only – or even the biggest – change our little Monkey is currently experiencing. I’m sure he is much more conscious of being around so many new people. Though at home I make an effort to take my little Monkey to playgroups and so on, he still spends most of his time with just me and my husband. Not so in Costa Rica!
Here we are blessed with a large extended family. Nearly every day since our arrival our little Monkey has been exposed to a seemingly endless parade of new relatives. We visit his grandparents’ house on a near daily basis, and each time we go there we find a different configuration of aunts, uncles, and cousins visiting.
I know how he feels – this is my fifth visit to Costa Rica, and still I am meeting new relatives!
4. Less Talking Overall
And so my little Monkey tends to stay close to Mom and Dad, quietly observing everything going on around him. Typically this will only last for a brief period of time, and then he is off running and playing. But even so I have noticed that he does not talk nearly as much as when it is just the three of us.
Is this just shyness or an awareness of the Spanish being spoken around him? I tend to think it is the former, because when he does feel comfortable and start to speak more, he talks quite unselfconsciously in English.
So in the end, what will come of our little Spanish immersion experiment? First of all, we know that teaching our little Monkey Spanish wasn’t the main purpose of our visit. We are principally here to visit family, which we have been lucky enough to do in abundance.
Also, the visit has been a confirmation that our efforts at home have paid off. Despite the fact that our son speaks mostly in English, it is obvious that he understands everything that is said to him. When relatives speak to him in Spanish, his responses – though in English – make it clear that he understood them perfectly. For this, I give full credit to my husband, who makes an extraordinary effort to speak to our son solely in Spanish.
And at this age, the most important thing is that our little Monkey develop a love for the language, since this seems to be one of the most important factors in determining whether or not a child will continue speaking the language as s/he grows older and leaves the exclusive orbit of his parents’ influence. Many bilingual children avoid speaking the second language once they start school, as it becomes more important to blend in with their peers.
If nothing else, I feel secure in the fact that this trip strengthened our little Monkey’s association of Spanish with people he loves, a connection already cemented because of his love for his father. And in the end, that is the most important gift we can give him.