Monday, August 20, 2007

Chispa in LATINA Magazine – Teaching Spanish to Your Children

A few months ago, I was contacted by LATINA Magazine's Lifestyle Editor for an article on encouraging your children to speak Spanish.

Well, the magazine is out, and I'm quoted in it ...



We spoke at length, and it was a shame that the feature she was writing could only be 300 words! The article is concise and well written, but I would like to add a few tips that we had discussed. (And these points are equally valid for Spanish teachers or for anyone who wants to learn or improve their Spanish.)

1. Start as early as you can ... but it's never too late!

Yes, I said in the article (only half-jokingly!) that kids should start learning languages "in utero." But that doesn't mean that if you start when your child is 10 or older, you've lost your opportunity. I am proof of that - I didn't start learning Spanish until high school, and I now speak with near-native fluency. (And I am still learning and improving every day.) Anyone can learn at any age. Of course, it's easier for young children, but don't let that stop you if they - and you! - are older. Being an older learner has its own advantages. So yes, start as early as you can ... but it is never, ever too late!

2. Immerse, immerse, immerse! Create a language-rich environment in your home - and don't forget your community....

Family, friends, games, music, books, culturally authentic television shows and videos ... keep the language alive by using it and making it an enjoyable and "siempre presente" part of your daily lives. Try a game with post-it notes - write the names of household objects and label things around the house (watch out for el gato, though!). And don't forget your community! Of course, it's great to take the kids back to a Spanish-speaking country, if you can ... but if you can't, you can probably still find that same type of language immersion experience right in your own town or close by.

3. Make Spanish fun for yourself and your child.

Tie learning to an interest that your child has, or that you and your kids have in common. Do you like cooking? Bicycling? Reading? Legos? Do it in Spanish! Nancy Marmolejo created a fun game with her young daughter, where they each have a Spanish "persona", and when they're in character, they can only speak Spanish.

Remember, the key to any learning is motivation. If it's fun, they're motivated. If it's done in a way that produces stress, then the brain goes into defensive mode, and cannot absorb new information (it's called the affective filter, and I won't bore you with the details, but it is one thing I remember from all those educational theory classes I took, and the one I most agree with). I think it can be counterproductive to force the issue and make children respond in Spanish when they're not ready to do so. Trust that if you are providing as much exposure as you can, the kids are absorbing the language – and eventually they will produce it on their own (sometimes when you least expect it!).

4. Be proud of sharing your language and heritage with your child, and don't beat yourself up if they're not perfectly bilingual yet!

It's common for bilingual children to respond to their parents in English. Some parents may feel discouraged by this. Rest assured that if they are responding to you, they understand you - and that means the language is programmed into their minds. When they need it and are motivated, they will find a way to use it.

The Chispa Spanish thematic units I'm creating are designed to provide maximum exposure, make learning fun, and highlight Latino culture and heritage at the same time. And just as I tell teachers, "These are not babysitting videos" – i.e., these are not materials to put in the DVD player and let the kids passively watch – the same is true for families. These are active learning tools, with accompanying enrichment activities for parents and children to enjoy together.

So check out Chispa and LATINA magazine this month!

1 comment:

Nancita said...

Ruth!
Congratulations on the article. Can't wait to see the Latina magazine logo on your site "as featured in" right above it!!!

love,
Nancita