This post was written before I decided to quit blogging for a while. I'll leave you with some reflections about bilingualism and homeschooling.
A few days ago, Monica, who runs the Latin Baby Book Club, asked me if I would like to contribute an interview for her recently launched blog called MOMMY MAESTRA, where she writes that:
The goal of this blog is not how to teach your children Spanish (there are already plenty of blogs and websites for that), but rather to share with you ideas and educational resources in English and Spanish that are available for those of you raising bilingual children.And as she also remarks, anyone that wants to find out resources and ideas to encourage the children love for learning will surely find plenty of both at her blog.
Needless to say I accepted her proposal and this is my contribution.
When I started blogging and had to decide on a title, HOMESCHOOLING IN A BILINGUAL HOME was the one which described what I was embarked to do with my girls. Although I have written about our family, believes, our thoughts about curriculum, our influences and principles that we hold for the girls education, I do not think I have talked much about how our bilingualism determines, shapes, enriches, and challenges our homeschooling.
I have read many books that deal with bilingualism since my days at the university and teaching, but the most valuable observations are the informal ones I've seen of children and people (students, friends, family members) who had Spanish and English different degrees in their day to day, my friends who are immigrants or have other language and culture in their life. My years of raising my daughters in a family with two active languages, English and Spanish, and with Italian and Maltese, both spoken by my husband, have also provided me with some experiences and observations I'd like to share with you.
Often I believe we take bilingualism for granted at home. To me there is no boast in speaking Spanish, I lived in Madrid for 27 years, I learned English since I was little, my listening and speaking skills were not very good, but coming to live and work in Texas took care of that fast, and dating a wonderful man with whom I had to speak in English took care of it even faster. My husband speaks three languages proficiently and he has conversational Spanish, we speak English at home with him but I speak Spanish to the girls when I'm alone with them and sometimes a bit in public, but I try not to appear as not polite or rude. Once around acquaintances I addressed my girls in Spanish while at the food line and was scorned by someone who I don't believe meant to insult, but who felt threatened by someone speaking in an unknown language. I try not to take offense because being a first generation immigrant (despite of the fact I am and feel a citizen of this exceptional country), I'm very conscious of the effort we should all do to adjust and become part of your new embraced country. My husband feels like this, and our girls are not only Americans, but GRITS (Girls Raised In The South ;-)
Back to BILINGUALISM. We have all heard the one parent one language saying. That is very true. If you can have that situation, children will normally learn both languages, their dominant language being the one they are surrounded and practicing more, but both languages will eventually be very well learned, specially if you homeschool, since sending them to school in just one language will drastically cut the exposure time to the second language. If parents both speak the minority language at home, and children go to schools in the dominant language, they still have a good chance of being bilingual. However, I've noticed that how much they can acquire or maintain both languages depends on how proficient and consistent the parents are or try to be in both languages.
It can be the case for those whose native language is other than English and live in the States, to not feel qualified to teach their children at home. They think their accent and lack of knowledge in general on how to teach will not make it possible for them to educate their children successfully. Bear in mind that many mothers or parents born and raised in the States feel the same lack of ability to teach their children at home. We know that parents without a college degree can successfully homeschool their children, but many times not having the degree affects our self esteem and makes us believe we are not fit for the task. In many cases like ours, neither my husband or I knew that homeschooling even existed. Homeschooling is a relatively common thing for Americans, there have always been those who chose this, with a boom in the past years that is making this alternative as common as mainstream, specially in Texas where we live. For us it was a progression of thought. First our child or children (if we had them as we wanted to) would be in a regular class so that they'd learn perfect English, then they'd be in a bilingual or dual class, so that they could learn English and maintain their Spanish that I planned to teach them as much as I could before they started school. By the time I was pregnant with my firstborn, they'd be homeschooled! It took us some time to believe that homeschooling is not something some weird parents who want to raise their children in a bubble chose to do.
Many families with only one language understand the advantages of learning a different one. Once we decided to homeschool I read many general books on how to do this. At the time I read some books based on Charlotte Mason and her own writings. I left those books aside for a while and when I started to blog I kept searching and learning more about her and knew that this was the type of homeschooling I wanted for my family. I read "When Children Love to Learn" and that became to me the compass that I've never left anymore. Charlotte Mason wrote about children learning other language, French, and in the Internet and her own books you can read about how she advised us to proceed with this. Actually that's the way I'd like to introduce an additional language to my girls because Spanish is not a foreign language we are learning, is more of a second 'mother tongue'. For those families who don't have a person who can bring a different language to their children, I believe there are great resources to learn languages, therefore there is no reason to despair or believe we are at disadvantage. For more advantageous than languages can be, I do not agree that one needs to give formal lessons to young children, I don't think they'll remember. It was my case. My parents signed me in an academy when I was in first grade, after school, to learn English, and I only remember disliking the fact of having so much homework, of being called to speak up and being embarrassed when the answer was wrong (which happened all the time), and that one day one of the girls in class came with her mouth and teeth stained with blue ink, because she had had some procedure at the dentist...I remember by contrast when we were filling the blanks in a Police song in high school, how the motivation to learn and be able to sing the song we liked properly kept us working on the grammar and vocabulary.
When a language is learned from birth, it is processed differently than as a grown up. My daughters have been learning two languages, but the process for those is the same, and that's good, that means they won't have an accent in either language. However their literacy development in those languages is not necessarily going to be very impressive unless they keep reading and writing in both languages in their future. If you ask ME, I rather have an accent but can read and write as I do in English and Spanish, that have no accent but nothing interesting to say in either. And literacy and proficiency in a different language can be acquired at any age.
For all monolingual families who homeschool (monolingual sounds horrible but I don't know of a different way to call it), if your children have love for learning and you too, it's very likely they will want to learn another language. So many moms are teaching them German, French, or children learn with a tutor when they have the interest to learn a different language. If they live in other countries they will learn the language spoken there while being homeschooled less traumatically than they will do in other settings. There is no need to panic if they don't speak three languages, practice five sports, or play ten instruments. Having awareness of other cultures and people sets the basis for learning a language when life requires it. And in your homeschooling days, incorporating other languages through songs, other people around you, programs, classes, tutors, etc. will keep that door to learning other languages always opened. Sometimes the best way of learning a second or third language is to know your first language very well. The degree of literacy you posses in your mother tongue will transfer. You'll always push yourself to be as good in the language you are learning as you are in the language you know. I'm a reader and an aspiring writer in Spanish, once I learned English it was just as a natural transition to want to become that reader and writer in English. Thirteen years after I came to the States, I can proudly say I'm reading Great Expectations in the original version, but I couldn't do so the first year.
Knowing advanced calculus might be impressive and important if your interests are on a career or field that requires it. Knowing many languages can help you in life, specially if you live in a country different than where you were born, or even in your own if there is a lot of people who speak other languages, but yet, if that's your case you'll end up learning it. And trust me, if you fall in love with someone you need to know other language to understand, you will learn that language in a speedy time. If you are a missionary in other place you'll learn too. My friend David Raif went to Guatemala not knowing the Spanish now he can read, write, understand and speak like a pro.
Whether you know much or little, practice, learn more, use what you know, pick an easy book in a different language, or with some words in another language, read it to your children, make friends with someone who speaks a different language, ask her if she doesn't mind to speak some phrases, words, or even books in her language to your children at play dates. And if you are in a co op with a mom who is native in a different language plan informal activities for the young or more formal and fun classes for the older. Reading books about other places, cultures, and books that are wholesome, will ignite children curiosity and most likely they'll want to learn more about that culture, language included. My daughters have had an on an off fascination with Asian cultures, specially China, and they have learned some words they've seen in books and some watching Kaylan on the computer. Cartoons not in excess are good motivators for children, but remember that no matter how good the CD, program, tape, book, etc. nothing is as good as a parent. If we are the curriculum in our homeschool, when it comes to a second language spoken by the parent that's even more true.
Thank you Monica for asking me to do this interview. I've been entertaining the idea of writing a book for some time now, and it may be something I'll eventually do since I see there is an audience for these topics of bilingualism in the homeschooling home. So please, feel free to leave your comments and suggestions, I appreciate them very much.