Interview for Mommy Maestra

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.

15 opinion(s):

Jeri@readinghorizons.com said...

I want to recommend the Reading Horizons at Home phonics instruction ESL version that can help teach reading (English) with a Spanish narration option. Getting a solid foundation in English reading skills can be done this way very successfully.

wonderinthewoods said...

Ah, something clicked while reading this in regards to our discussions about reading readiness. I do believe your girls will take longer to be ready to read because they are learning two languages. It is a lot to learn. Yet, I think any delay however long or short it may be is worth it to be fluent in both. I plan to read to H using books that are in both English and Spanish. Simple books. I am working with a bilingual friend to learn the correct pronunciation. I am also considering Spanish audio books probably the audio picture books instead of jumping to chapter books. This is my plan. I feel I can learn to read Spanish aloud but to have a conversation, well, that would take a long while. Have a good summer! Your friend, Cori

Jeanne said...

Absolutely fascinating post. Just to comment on Cori's thoughts about learning to read later, my friends who speak Chinese and English at home saw this with their two children. In fact both kids were late talkers as well, but when they did begin to speak and read, they were fluent in both of their two languages and were not behind their peers in any way.

Don't give up blogging girl!!

Silvia said...

Cori: starting like you plan is a wonderful beginning, don't worry about conversation. Reading books you are comfortable with, even if you make 'mistakes' in pronunciation or anything, is a great example for children, and you teach them that you don't have to be perfect, just learn and have the heart to learn more and improve. Many of my friends were ashamed to speak because they made mistakes all the time, but the more ashamed, the less you practice, the more mistakes you make...speaking of which...this post had LOTS OF MISTAKES...I never revised it, but now I did...it will still have mistakes, but I guess a few less!

Thanks Jeanne, I won't give up blogging (I've been reading your reasons for blogging and I have many of the same. I'm just readjusting)... And BTW, you made my week.

I'm so 'jealous' of your restaurant experience. Take care and enjoy.

Shona said...

I'm so glad to have stumbled across your blog. We are home-edding bilingually in France and I've searched high and low for other families doing the same.

We are going to be inspected, so our French work-load will perhaps be quite heavy. We will know exactly later this year after the inspector has been.

Our situation is slightly different to yours - my husband and I are both English-speakers. French is our second language, though I'm a French and German teacher, so I'm not too daunted (ask me again after the first inspection!)

Still having a look around your blog, but just appreciating finding you :)
Cheers,
Shona

ps I've signed with my blog url... I'm still at the beginning, but hoping to blog more with time

Raggedy Princess said...

Silvia,
It was so nice and encouraging to read this post. My husband & I have been missionaries in Peru for 5 years. We are about to move back to the States with our 4yo and 2yo, both born here. I will start homeschooling officially in the next year or so, but DEFINITELY want to keep up with Spanish practice for the kids' (and my!) sake. FYI, both kids have had a decent amount of exposure to Spanish, each morning having "preschool" with a local gal (who also happens to speak English). So the only downfall here is that the kids aren't forced to speak Spanish, and sometimes this girl feels the need to speak English to them. Anyway... all this to say that my kids don't really speak Spanish much at all, but I know they have a good basis for it and understand a small amount (sometimes I'm surprised!). Now to my wondering: how would you suggest I (we) continue teaching our kids Spanish once back in Texas? I don't know if one of us should "switch" to being the Spanish-speaker at home all the time? Or if we just use Spanish with them at certain times? I'm trying to figure this out! Up until now, we just speak mainly English to them at home, so I don't want to shock them either. Thanks for any ideas/suggestions you may have.

Silvia said...

Raggedy Princess...so you are coming to TEXAS! Great. This is a wonderful state to homeschool with a large Spanish speaking population.

My daughters didn't speak much Spanish two years ago (and they are now six and almost four). I was devastated because when we went to Spain last time my oldest, four at the time, didn't have much Spanish, the little one had some words in Spanish and a great vocabulary at two. But now they seem to be flourishing in Spanish, though English is more dominant (services at church, most of our friends in the hs group). However HOMESCHOOLING WAS THE BEST thing I could have done, I speak to them in Spanish almost all day long, I switch to English when my husband comes home. I also read a lot to them, and much in English, but they are getting Spanish since I also read in Spanish, talk in Spanish and we have some friends with whom I and them speak Spanish too.

My humble advice is that you take advantage of having them home to speak to them in Spanish. We also don´t watch much TV or computer, but when we do, I many times choose a movie that is modest in Spanish, or storyplace in Spanish. But mainly we always check books from the library and read in Spanish as much as we can, and converse and reason in Spanish. The older they grow the more they get it.

I sometimes talk in Spanish and they answer in English. That´s fine. They play in English. That´s fine too. But they are as I told you starting to take off in Spanish.

Congratulations on your decision to homeschool and welcome to Texas!

hugs,
s

Silvia said...

One more thing. I understand you were speaking English since you were in a Spanish speaking country. You can simply do vice versa, since I´m guessing you´ll have more English speakers than Spanish speakers around.
About shocking them...I think they are smart and can take it, specially if a)they understand Spanish, and b) if you are fine with them answering in the language of their choice, even a bit of a mix.
I believe time will make them more consistent and balanced in both languages. I also know by experience that they are gaining the language not only conversational but they are becoming literate in both languages. I plan to always practice both in reading and writing so that they know their proper use. I'll keep updating as I see my girls and I hope you will do the same. All in all I believe this to be very beneficial for them and the family.

Raggedy Princess said...

Silvia, thanks so much for your response. It is an encouragement to me! I think I will start to speak more Spanish at home to get them used to hearing me use the language with them. I did a little bit yesterday with them, using Mr. Potato Head and asking where his certain body parts were and to hand them to me... I think if I purposefully incorporate these interactive times, including everyday activities & reading, it will help me AND them. I think the hardest part is actually diving in and DOING it! I'm a perfectionist, which is my downfall to an extent when it comes to Spanish, because I want it all to come out perfect, and I get frustrated when I don't remember a word or how to say something.
Anyway... thanks again for your input & I look forward to reading more of your experiences in your blog.
P.S. I've just been working on my own a little. I'm just getting started, so there aren't many posts yet, but there are a few thoughts there at any rate. :-)

amy in peru said...

Hey Silvia! I don't know how I missed this post... or maybe it was when my mom was visiting... anyway, it is GREAT! and I'm thinking I'll need to refer people back to it when they send questions my way! EXCELLENT!

thank you!

amy in peru

PS. Posting about narration in Spanish today...
Narration in Spanish or French... hard?!

Silvia said...

One more thing. I understand you were speaking English since you were in a Spanish speaking country. You can simply do vice versa, since I´m guessing you´ll have more English speakers than Spanish speakers around.
About shocking them...I think they are smart and can take it, specially if a)they understand Spanish, and b) if you are fine with them answering in the language of their choice, even a bit of a mix.
I believe time will make them more consistent and balanced in both languages. I also know by experience that they are gaining the language not only conversational but they are becoming literate in both languages. I plan to always practice both in reading and writing so that they know their proper use. I'll keep updating as I see my girls and I hope you will do the same. All in all I believe this to be very beneficial for them and the family.

Raggedy Princess said...

Silvia,
It was so nice and encouraging to read this post. My husband & I have been missionaries in Peru for 5 years. We are about to move back to the States with our 4yo and 2yo, both born here. I will start homeschooling officially in the next year or so, but DEFINITELY want to keep up with Spanish practice for the kids' (and my!) sake. FYI, both kids have had a decent amount of exposure to Spanish, each morning having "preschool" with a local gal (who also happens to speak English). So the only downfall here is that the kids aren't forced to speak Spanish, and sometimes this girl feels the need to speak English to them. Anyway... all this to say that my kids don't really speak Spanish much at all, but I know they have a good basis for it and understand a small amount (sometimes I'm surprised!). Now to my wondering: how would you suggest I (we) continue teaching our kids Spanish once back in Texas? I don't know if one of us should "switch" to being the Spanish-speaker at home all the time? Or if we just use Spanish with them at certain times? I'm trying to figure this out! Up until now, we just speak mainly English to them at home, so I don't want to shock them either. Thanks for any ideas/suggestions you may have.

Jeri@readinghorizons.com said...

I want to recommend the Reading Horizons at Home phonics instruction ESL version that can help teach reading (English) with a Spanish narration option. Getting a solid foundation in English reading skills can be done this way very successfully.

Zarina (Arkansas USA) said...

Hi Silvia (and other readers)- Just wanted to join in the comments for raising bilingual children (Sp/Eng) in an English speaking environment. I live in the state of Arkansas (USA) and my husband only speaks English (but I am Mexican, bilingual) and we have 3 children. Our 9 yr old son refuses to use Spanish but I speak to him in both languages regardless (although, to ensure "compliance" and in a pinch I use English more than Spanish). We also have twin 4 yr old girls, and with them I have vowed to "teach them" to not only "understand" but "use" Spanish. I started looking at materials for teaching kids Spanish, but it was kind of "too easy" (as 2nd language), so I looked and looked for Christian materials in Spanish(Sunday school and Vacation Bible School) and somehow I came across homeschool materials in Spanish. So I am GOING for it: Homeschooling my girls in Spanish! There's just too much "interference" with English all around, and once in school, BOOM! it's English "YEAH!" and Spanish "YUK!" (as my son would summarize). He'll stay in school because he loves it (gifted program, etc), but the girls... I have been practicing "homeschool" now with preschool level stuff (free curriculum material through "HIPPY", which stands for "Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters". It'a a national level thing that most states have. Anyone with preschool level children who is interested needs to Google that for their state). Anyway. I am looking forward to Kindergarten in Spanish! (by the way, the curriculum I am choosing, not so expensive because it's not "ultra colorful and flashy", is by a company named "Rod and Staff" -a Menonite Ministry). It's all Bible based-- lots of Bible stories and character-building children's literature options, so I am prepping (and praying) for that. Can get individual subjects or whole packages per grade level. Now my husband and I have to be ready to defend our decision to homeschool in Spanish and to "interfere" with the push for mainstream "English-Only" public (or private) school education, but I have enjoyed our girls' vocabulary development in Spanish... totally unlike our son at any age. They are willing to go that route, so I must also be willing to continue (...and my husband needs to start trying to learn Spanish... beyond the "typical" Q & A stuff he knows. 13 years of marriage and still basically monolingual! OUCH!
OK. Hope you receive this and someone reads it. Great help and source of encouragement. God Bless!!!

Silvia said...

Zarina. Thanks for your comment. Isn't it great we can have so many options in this country? I'm glad you took that decision with your girls.
At home, homeschooling, we end up doing a mix of English and Spanish, but definitely there is a better chance of having more of the second language.
I've heard about Rod and Staff, and good things. I use the Charlotte Mason approach, and we do math in Spanish, some readings in Spanish, I talk to them in Spanish... still they use English among them or when we are with my husband, but they will have to now in our vacation in Madrid, get all the Spanish they have! :) My dh knows more than conversational because he knows Italian, but our tendency (or lazyness, ha ha ha) is to end up with English. However, as long as they love Spanish I know they'll continue learning it, and homeschooling is a great way of having them loving that second language.
I love what your son says about both languages, ha ha ha. It's true. But don't be hard or discouraged, he will always love Spanish, and he may very well choose to get proficient later in life, and will be able to in a shorter time.
In any case, good luck and congratulations for being so involved in the education of your children, whether it means going to school or staying home.

Saludos,
s

 

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