31 December, 2012

Spanglish and others

The last Spanglish incidents during Christmash holidays have been really fun, and I just didn´t want to miss the oportunity to post them, as these are the kind of things that go with the wind when the kids start growing up so quickly.
- CARPETA: "Mami, estoy jugando con los coches en la CARPETA". Carpet in Spanish is "alfombra", but he didn´t find the word and came up with this, which by the way is a typical false friend among Spanish learners of English!
- COOKANDO?: He comes in the kitchen and stares at me while I prepare lunch. "Papi, qué estás cookando?". Most of his transfers are Spanish sentences with some English adaptation.
- SMALLAR: He couldn´t make a toy fit in another toy... "Papi! it doesn´t fit! SMALLATE! Papi lo quiero SMALLAR!" It took us some time to get this one. He meant "make yourself smaller!" but using the imperative form in Spanish.
Things like these are starting to blossom from time to time and we can´t stop laughing secretly when he doesn´t see us.
Do you have any funny transfers from one language into the other along your kid´s development?

20 December, 2012

The singing boy, bilingual school and return on investment

I´ve many times wondered myself (here, for instance) what impact the bilingual school would have on my boy. Well, yesterday afternoon we had the first clear outcome when he taught us the song he had learnt from his native English teacher. As I mentioned before in some older posts, this year he spends only one session of 2 hours a week with her on Mondays, then some reinforcement session (games, songs and routines) with a non-bilingual teacher on Wednesdays. Yet the exposure is limited, thanks to the OPOL approach that we follow at home, for him it´s just like some other Spanish song, and I think here is where the main difference lies compared to monolingual families.

After observing my nieces and other kids, I know that at this age, kids from monolingual homes attending bilingual schools/day care are facing English words for the very first time at 2-3 years old, so they repeat the sounds they hear, as accurate as they can, but most of the times not realizing the meaning. A popular song like “This is the way we brush our teeth…” sounds like “di iz wea way be bo bo biiii”, and it´s all fine cause the objective at this point is getting them familiarized only with the sounds, tone of voice and melody of the language. In our case the bilingual environment that we have created since the boy was born has made possible that he actually recognizes in the song that they are talking about what we do every night, when we all brush our teeth. He is also showing signs of understanding the whole story in series and movies we watch like Peppa Pig or simple Disney movies, everyday more and more.

So he enjoyed this so much that after singing the new song at home a couple of times, our punk started making his own lines using the structure of the song. We were playing with the cars before bedtime and we accidentally bumped our heads, and I said “Hey man, watch out! You just bumped your head into mine!” and there he went… “Papi! This is the way we bump our heads, we bump our heads…” We were absolutely puzzled. And every day more he is coming up with this kind of things, like “XXX doesn´t like this, NEITHER DOES YYY”. And I´m like “neither does yyy???” I find this structure difficult most of the times because it´s very different from Spanish, and he just got it damn right from scratch. He doesn´t even have to think about it!!! This is also applicable to the order of words when he switches back and forth. He is starting to place everything correctly in each language. I´d say his understanding skills are pretty much at the same level in both languages, and regarding speech, English is walking uphill almost parallel to Spanish, maybe just one little step below.

Going a little bit deeper into the bilingual schools issue, some years ago the chances were scarce, private and therefore extremely expensive. Now that we are starting to count on public and semi-granted ones, with different qualities but improving I believe, bilingualism and opportunities have been popularized. Although this is absolutely fabulous for our new generations, I think many families in Spain deposit all the responsibility of the “bilingual plus” only in the school. I think that if you want to make the most of the system, you have to look at it as a reinforcement to your bilingual approach in your family. Of course this will depend always on the language skills of the parents, but even if they are not competent users it´s also possible to create a positive environment towards the minority language through videos, songs... And if you start from scratch it´s a great opportunity to learn side by side with your children. Kids with no minority language reference outside the school tend to take the second language like an extra subject (sometimes an annoying one if I may say it). Creating an environment where speaking another language is fun and useful makes bilingual things much more enjoyable and likely to happen. With some effort, support and consistency they can achieve great things all by themselves.

So as a summary of this post and a milestone along the way, I can gladly say, with evidence in my ears that bilingualism definitely pays off, the effort is absolutely worth it, and one can see/hear the huge benefits of it as early as 2,5 years. It´s definitely the best investment I´ll ever make in my whole life.

I´d be glad to hear about others´ experiences. Do you have any bilingual options in your school system? What´s your opinion about them? Do they complete your family bilingual strategy? Have you made this “stop and think” exercise about what your families´ return on investment is?