How can you make being raised bilingual fun and relevant for your child? Here are some ideas.
Playgroups with other bilingual families
Experts and parents agree that playgroups are one of the most important and enriching activities you can engage in when raising a bilingual child. They’re also free (because you can meet at a local park or at someone’s home) and fun for children and parents.
A playgroup exposes your child to other children, usually around the same age, who are also growing up bilingual. And while the kids are playing, you get a chance to meet and share ideas with other parents raising bilingual children.
“I wanted my children and our family to have bilingual friends, because the more people we could speak with in Spanish, the more important the language would be to them,” says Ana Gloria Rodriguez, who has two bilingual preschoolers. She founded the Bilingual Tots playgroup two years ago in Denver. “It’s wonderful how some of us have connected and gotten to know one another.”
It’s preferable to join a group that primarily speaks the minority language. Otherwise, your child won’t get as much exposure to that language.
Rodriguez is adamant about this point, and she tells moms up front that Spanish is the only language used among members of the playgroup, especially when speaking to the children. (Of course, there’s no reason why you can’t also join another playgroup that speaks mostly English.)
To see whether a playgroup of this type already exists in your area, search online. If you can’t find a local playgroup, you might want to start one, as Rodriguez did. “Basically, I was trying to form an extended family group for us,” she says about Bilingual Tots, which now boasts close to 100 members.
Story time in the second language
Reading aloud is another wonderful way to expose children to another language. Books open up a new world to kids and increase their vocabulary almost effortlessly – and they’re a great way to spend time with your child.
While you can read to your children anytime, anywhere, there’s something special about attending a structured story time at your local library or bookstore. You’d be surprised how many of them offer story time in other languages.
If none exist in your community, it might be a good idea to suggest one. You can even volunteer to do it yourself if there are no bilingual librarians. Libraries are always eager for volunteers, especially in this era of budget cuts.
Becoming bilingual, one song at a time
Music offers another proven way to enrich your child’s vocabulary in a second language. And like books, music can go with you almost anywhere, whether you’re listening to a CD in the car or just singing as you walk along.
Most children love music and find it easy to learn lyrics, especially because they can listen to the same song over and over again. Songs for kids tend to be catchy, and they’re likely to get your kids – and you – dancing.
There’s no lack of quality children’s music in languages other than English. All it takes is a quick search online or on the shelves of your local library for CDs. Another option is to search for videos online. You’ll be amazed by the number of music videos available in the language of your choice.
Games, games, and more games
It’s well known that kids learn through play. Getting them to use their second language can be tough sometimes, but games make it more fun.
Luckily, when it comes to Spanish, many toys and games are available, from board games to talking dolls.
If you have a child who likes, say, puzzles and maps, you can easily find Spanish-language products that combine the two. While your child is completing the puzzle, you can talk about the names of the countries and what their citizens are called, for example, expanding your child’s vocabulary and giving a geography lesson at the same time.
Puppets and puppet shows are another powerful tool for bilingual learning. Encourage children to make their own puppets and to give them names in the second language. Putting on a puppet show gives kids an opportunity to practice their vocabulary in a creative way through storytelling.
Bilingual freelance journalist Roxana A. Soto is the co-founder and co-editor of SpanglishBaby, a website for parents raising bilingual and bicultural children.