Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Review: Diario De Greg (Un Renacuajo)

Learning a second language is a never-ending journey. I've reached the point where I can teach young children in Spanish as a bilingual early childhood teacher, and personally, I'm comfortable speaking to mija solely in Spanish as a way of raising her bilingually (mom speaks to her in English with a few words in Spanish now and then).

However, the process of learning the language itself never stops. Even in English, I still come across words relatively frequently that I'm unfamiliar with or have forgotten the meanings of, and I'm sure that if I ventured into any technical field (dinosaurs, medicine, chemistry, ancient literature, archaeology, etc), I'd find innumerable words I wasn't familiar with. But the point of all of is is that I still learn new things in Spanish every day, and one of the ways I do that is through reading.

Diario de Greg is the Spanish translation of the popular kids' series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and I'm three books into the series and enjoying them. Personally, I've found kids books to be a great source of 2nd language learning. Why not? After all, we all read kids' books when we were kids, and they contributed to our vocabulary growth and linguistic sophistication. The book is set up as a diary with illustrations peppered throughout as it details the life of a middle child in middle school.

I find it mildly funny, as in funny enough to keep reading, and the plot is interesting enough. I really needed a break from Harry Potter after the books started getting too long. Brenda and I stopped there after the 3rd book and plan on returning someday. For now, though, the Diario series is fulfilling the "Book" part of my Spanish Learning Triangle (the other two parts being telenovelas and the radio / music). I'd recommend picking it up if you're looking for a relatively easy read at the 200-page mark. You can find it on Amazon for only $12 or likely at your local library for free.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lullaby: Los Pollitos

Los Pollitos (the baby chickens) is another lovely little canción de cuna that we've been singing nuestra hija with some degree of frequency. It's a gentler song than Los Elefantes in that I find it easier to sing softly. However, I think Los Elefantes works better for mija right now simply because she's heard it much more. At any rate, it's a sweet little nana that I heartily recommend. Here are the lyrics:

Los pollitos dicen
pío, pío, pío,
cuando tienen hambre,
cuando tienen frío.

La gallina busca
el maíz y el trigo,
les da la comida
y les presta abrigo.

Bajo sus dos alas,
hasta el otro día
duermen los pollitos.

(The baby chicks sing, pi pi pi, when they're hungry, when they're cold.
The mommy chicken looks for corn and wheat; she feeds them and keeps them warm.
Beneath her wings, tucked in tightly, the baby chicks sleep for another day).

Isn't it sweet? 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Book Review: La Casa Adormecida / The Napping House

Here's another bilingual reader we picked up a few months ago. I've read The Napping House to countless preschoolers over the years, and when we decided to teach nuestra hija Spanish, the decision was obvio. Like La Oruga Muy Hambrienta, La Casa Adormecida is definitely kid-approved and a classic.

The story details a family of people and animals co-sleeping until awoken by a flea (ouch!). The book has a very cozy, reassuring feel, and the repetition makes it easy to learn new words and phrasing in both Spanish and English. You also learn lots of synonyms for napping, dozing, resting, and so on.

La Casa Adormecida is very affordably priced at around $5 at Amazon and will most likely be available for free at your local library in some form.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Game: Un, dos, tres, toca la pared! / Red Light, Green Light

One of the fun parts of learning a new language is discovering things you didn't know about your first language. For example, I'd heard of the game "Red Light, Green Light" before, but I'd never really played it or understood it until watching a Spanish movie (for grownups) named El Orfanato, or The Orphanage. There are a couple of scenes in the film where the game is played, with one being happy and the other being kind of creepy.

Here's a link to the happy scene, and here is a link to the scary scene so you can watch the game being played. And here's a Wiki link describing the game in more detail. It's also known as Statues, and has variants all over the world in a variety of languages. Here is the Spanish language Wiki, which describes a range of Spanish-language variants.

To play it in Spanish, you need at least 2 people, although more is better. One person stands facing a wall, and counts to three, at which point s/he knocks, and says "Touch the wall!" and turns around. While s/he faces the wall, the other players try to approach as quickly as possible, but must stop before the counter turns around. If they're caught, they need to go back to the starting line. The goal is to get to the wall (or counter) without being stopped.

Un, dos, tres, toca la pared!

After watching it in El Orfanato, I decided this was un juego I'd have to play someday. Now we just have to wait until nuestra hija is old enough to try it!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Why Start Early? The Benefits of Time!

(mija learning Spanish from day one)

One of the best things you can do if you plan on teaching your child a second language (in our case, Spanish), is to teach it from the start along with the first language. That is, teach both simultaneously! While it's certainly possible to teach a child to speak a second language to native levels after birth, such as through dual language education programs, the process is much easier if you can start the target language from day one, just as you would if you were raising the child monolingually.

When you start teaching the second language, or L2, from day one, you give your child the gift of time. Think about it: Why do you frequently hear adults struggling to speak foreign languages when there are so many preschoolers all over the country who seem to speak said foreign language fluently? In most cases, it's because those preschoolers have already spent much more time absorbed in the language than have the adults.

If you spend five years hearing Spanish and nothing but Spanish during your waking hours, and are constantly spoken to in Spanish and responded to and reinforced whenever you make an effort to speak Spanish, and simply need to be able to communicate like a five year old at the end of the period, you'd probably get pretty good at Spanish too! Especially if you didn't have any adult or family responsibilities, and simply got to live like a kid with lots of attention and playtime. And you'd have an advantage over a 5 year old, because you can read books!

In other words, if you want to learn an L2 as an adult, you need to do whatever you can to get as much input in that language as possible within the confines of your daily life. And if you want to teach an L2 to a child, then you need to give that child as much input as possible, as early as possible, and for as long as possible. A 14 year old raised bilingually from birth will have a 14 year head start on someone who starts taking Spanish for the first time as a 14 year old in high school. And while it's definitely possible to make up for lost time if you increase your rate of input, it's much easier if you don't have to make up that time to begin with.

Start early. As early as possible. And don't stop.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bringing Up a Bilingual Baby

(Mija resting next to nuestro gato).

This article from Pregnancy and Newborn magazine provides a nice introduction to the idea of raising a baby bilingually from birth. Here are some key points:

"A child’s ‘first’ language will not suffer through the introduction of an additional language.”

A number of folks worry about children getting confused and not learning the first language (in the US, English) well if both are introduced. However, there's lots of research showing that this isn't the case. Babies raised in two languages typically learn both well as long as they're given sufficient input in both.

"The most successful bilingual learning begins with both parents discussing their desires, aligning their expectations, and establishing a game plan early on."

In other words, start out with a plan. Brenda and I discussed things over and over again before committing to our approach, as she initially had concerns about how the addition of a second language would affect our family dynamics, in terms of when each language would be used and how we would understand each other.

“Many parents have had success with allocating one language to one parent,” says Mackey. “This way each parent provides rich native input in each language.” Decide beforehand that one parent will address baby in the first language while the other parent uses the second, and baby will be able to separate the two more effectively in the long run."

This is generally the approach we use; it's commonly described as OPOL, or One Parent, One Language. I primarily speak to la bebita in Spanish while Brenda typically speaks to her in English. However, there's no need to have a rigid separation; as long as at least 30% of the baby's waking time is in a language, s/he can learn it. 

Sometimes Brenda uses a Spanish word or two, such as una mano, dos manos while la niña plays with her hands. And there are plenty of families where parents freely go back and forth between the languages together. The important part is that there's lots of input in both languages, regardless of who is speaking it.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Lullaby: Los Elefantes

Canciónes de cuna, or nanas, are lullabies, and it's been a goal of mine to learn a few of them for mija. Brenda has focused on learning English ones, and I've been specializing on Spanish ones. However, Los Elefantes is one that we've both learned and frequently use for nuestra hija whenever she's fussy. Los Elefantes (audio link here) is a lullaby about an ever-increasing number of adventurous elephants. Here are the basic lyrics:

Un elefante se balanceaba sobre la tela de un araña
como veía que resistía fue a llamar a otro elefante.

Dos elefantes se balanceaban sobre la tela de un araña
como veían que resistía fueron a llamar a otro elefante.


One elephant was swinging on a spiderweb. When he saw that the rope held, he went to call another. Brenda and I disagree over whether the elephants were swinging or merely balancing; she says balancing, and I say swinging. But the general idea is the same. Those crazy elephants!

It keeps going like that as high as you want, although typically we'll try something else if she's still fussing by the time we get to ten. She's reached the point now where she'll often pay attention (at least for a little while) if she hears it while fussing, and sometimes, when combined with rocking her, it can calm her completely.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Book Review: The Very Hungry Caterpillar / La Oruga Muy Hambrienta

Bilingual readers are some of my favorite books in the world right now, at least when it comes to teaching mija Spanish. While I'll definitely read whatever I'm personally reading to her from time to time, I prefer choosing one of the books that I'll soon be able to read to her and have her actively engage me with. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a great example, especially in board book form, since it's a classic and definitely kid-approved.

The story details a little caterpillar who goes about eating various foods over the course of a week. Beyond teaching the life cycle of the butterfly, you can also use it to teach the days of the week, counting from 1-5, and a range of food vocabulary. The re-readability is high, and I'd highly recommend the book in its bilingual form, or simply in English.

Personally, I learned a lot of food vocabulary, including ciruelas and bizcocho de chocolate.

Mija appears to enjoy the book, although, being only 8 weeks old at this point, it's a little hard to tell how she'll feel about it in a year. It's modestly priced online at around $9 at Amazon and available for free in your local public library.