Monday, April 7, 2014

Movie: Frozen (and why it's an awesome choice for teaching Spanish)

Frozen is one of those movies that mi esposa and I have been watching todo el tiempo. I think we've seen it at least four times so far, which is a lot for us, since we tend to watch movies only once before moving to the next. But Frozen was--is--different. We've got it on DVD now, and will probably find ourselves watching it many, many times more.

Without going into too many details (it's a movie you should see for yourself), it deals with sisterhood, friendship, romance, and the understanding of love as putting someone else's needs before your own. The messages are good, the plot is solid, and it's a funny and surprisingly engrossing movie.

If it's that good in English, could it possibly be that good in Spanish? Yes! Thanks to the magic of DVDs, you can switch the audio track from English to Spanish (or French), and watch the entire movie in a different language. They even sing the songs in your language of choice, and the animation of the faces and mouths match the language!

Since the AAP doesn't recommend exposing children to media until they're at least 2, this isn't a film mija will be watching this year, or next. But in a couple of years, it'll be waiting for her as quite possibly the favorite joint movie of her madre y padre. You can pick up the BluRay / DVD set at Amazon, as well as the DVD alone here. Either comes with the audio tracks in three languages.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bilingual Child-Rearing Myths

I'd been a fan of the idea of raising mija bilingually for quite a while before she was born, so I'd already familiarized myself with a lot of the truths and myths about bilingualism online. However, there are still lots of people contemplating this idea who might come across naysayers, whether online or in real life, and worry that raising their hija or hijo in Spanish or any other language besides English might harm them in some way. As a result, I figure it's worth reviewing some articles that deal with this topic.

I recently came across this article from BabyCenter that targets some of the more common myths about bilingual child-rearing. I thought it was a good one, and wanted to share some of my thoughts on a few of the points.

1. Growing up with more than one language confuses children.

As noted in the article, this isn't true. It's an interesting myth, though, since in most other countries beyond the US, the experience of being raised in multiple languages is a common one. I remember an article in a class I took on language a year or two ago that stated that about half of the world's children were raised bilingually (or at least multilingually). That's pretty rad.

3. Bilingual children end up mixing the two languages.

I also liked the article's take on this. Yes, mixing happens, but it's natural, normal, and not a big deal. I've overheard or been part of many conversations with adults fluent in Spanish and English who frequently dropped in English words here and there in the middle of predominantly Spanish conversations. It's actually something I've been working to become more comfortable with since mija arrived; it's better to substitute "diaper ointment" in English when explaining to her why I'm rubbing it on her skin than it is to stop in the middle of a sentence and fumble around endlessly for the term (which, by the way, from a Google search, appears to be something like crema de pañal). Code-switching is normal, both in kids and in grownups!

4. It's too late to raise your child bilingual.

Definitely untrue. But as I wrote earlier in the theory section, the sooner you start the process, the better. 

5. Children are like sponges, and they'll become bilingual without effort and in no time.

I like this one. Llevo 2 meses speaking to my daughter in Spanish, and she hasn't said a word back in either language. Then again, she's just 2 months old. It takes time. I'm tired from work a lot, and often just want to crash when returning home. But bit by bit, it adds up.

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.