Tuesday, October 15, 2013

FAQ - Bilingualism

Did Papi teach you Spanish?
No. I began studying Spanish in 8th grade; walking up to the high school with some classmates to join in the Spanish 1 class. By senior year, I was in Spanish 5, aka AP Spanish. After high school, I went on 4 mission trips to the Dominican Republic over the span of 2 years. That time added up to nearly 3 months in the DR. I had plenty of time to practice my Spanish there. :) I only took 1 semester of Spanish in college, but after graduation, I was hired to be an ESL/bilingual teacher at a local elementary school. I did parent/teacher conferences in Spanish, and before long, took and passed the state's Spanish language fluency exam. Then, I was given a temporary bilingual endorsement while I took 6 courses in bilingual education and ESL teaching methods. The last 5 years I taught, I was teaching between 60-70% of the school day in Spanish to Spanish speaking 3rd and 4th graders. I met Papi while teaching ESL and taking those bilingual endorsement courses.

Why raise your kids bilingually?
I have wanted to raise my children bilingually since I was in high school. Though I didn't understand the logistics of it, I knew that language learning is easier for children than for teens and adults. I was in the midst of trying to learn Spanish, and kept thinking how much easier it would have been if I had begun at a younger age. I didn't know if my future husband would know Spanish or not, but I was determined to pass the results of my studies along to my children.

When Papi and I got married, I was studying all about bilingual education, and the research that goes along with the topic. Papi, having grown up bilingually since the age of 7, also wanted to pass along the Spanish language to our children. The research we read only confirmed this more.

Why Spanish?
It's the only other language I know. Spanish was a natural for me from the first class I took. It wasn't exceptionally easy, and I didn't always get the best grades, but it just made sense, and I was able to communicate with so many more people. Then, with Papi being a Spanish-speaker as well, it just made sense for our family to be bilingual.

Why don't you speak English to your kids?
The key to raising children bilingually is to find a balance between the languages. This also works if you want to teach more than 2 languages. This balance is different for each family depending on many factors, including the languages spoken by the parents, languages spoken by the extended family and frequency of visiting them, the predominant language of the community, languages of church and school, etc. For us, just about everyone our family sees on a regular basis, and everywhere we go, is in English. Church, friends, home school group, even extended family (on both sides, for the most part) is in English. Even though we only speak Spanish to the kids (and that is lessening up a bit as they grow older), they are still receiving quite a bit of English on a regular basis.

Do your kids know English?
Yes! Though each child's timeline has been slightly different, they have all been more or less fluent in both languages by 3 years old. By 5 years old, they are on par with their peers for language development in each language. For example, they speak and understand English as well as any other English-speaking 5 year old, and Spanish as well as any other Spanish-speaking 5 year old. When I add in literacy as well, I have found that though they learn Spanish literacy first, by the time they are in first grade, they are above grade level in both languages for reading, and at grade level in writing. Papi and I are very much ok with a slow start when the results are so magnificent in the long run. (And really, we're only up to 3rd grade right now, and already seeing the advantages of bilingualism.)

What if they have an accent?
Everyone has a accent. It's just that you only notice it if someone's accent is different than yours. If you travel to any other part of the country, or especially any other English-speaking country, you will notice right away the accents of those around you, and they will surely notice yours. So, will they have an accent? Yes, and that's normal. Now, what if they have a Spanish accent? Well, that is also more normal than you may think. There are more people who speak English as their 2nd language in the world than the number of people who speak English as their 1st language. So, in all actuality, I am the odd one, not my children, having learned English first and speaking with a distinctly American accent.

Of course, having begun to learn both languages from the beginning, at the same time, it is also quite possible that they won't have a Spanish accent. Studies show that when children begin to learn a language before beginning puberty, they are more likely to pick up the nuances of the languages, and much less likely to sound like a second language learner. That definitely says something about our school system's approach of waiting until high school to teach foreign languages...

Why not Italian?
Being of Italian descent, I would love to teach my children Italian, but the language was not passed on through the generations of my family. Italian wasn't an option for foreign language at my high school, so I couldn't learn the language at school either. I suppose I could learn it know, but it would take time I just don't have to devote to language learning at this point in my life. Plus, I can think of only 2 people with whom I could communicate in Italian, and neither of them live close to me. I see them once per year each, at most.

Will they learn a foreign language in high school?
Probably. Since the age of 3, JA has wanted to  learn a 3rd language. First she wanted to learn French, and then she wanted to learn Hindi. I am holding her off from a 3rd language until at least junior high, to best ensure she has a strong base in both English and Spanish first. I plan to follow a similar timeline for the other children as well. What language will they learn? I don't know. That will be determined by their individual interests, as well as availability of resources. If any of them choose not to study a 3rd language, that will be ok, too. We can always study more thoroughly Spanish and English vocabulary, grammar, and literature.

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