The chatter about dialects!

I recently read this article from the Washington Post, and it got me thinking (again) about dialects. Over these past few years, I have been forced to engage is less than entertaining dialogue with other parents about the “right” Spanish. Or, more accurately, that some people speak it “wrong” or “lazy” because the only “real Spanish” is Castilian.

Let’s step back a bit and have a history and geography refresher about the settlement of the Americas.

Christopher Columbus, an Italian but sailing under contract with the Spanish government, purportedly ‘discovered’ America with his ships loaded with Spaniards. Who were these Spaniards? Many if not all were from Andalusia (southern Spain). They worked the ports and were experienced seamen. Most had nothing to lose and a lot of maravadis (their currency at the time) to gain, so they joined Columbus and his crew on their adventures to find a new route to the West Indies.

Why does this matter?

Because Andalusian Spanish is different than Castilian Spanish. Southern Spain pronunciation of words omits the ending “r,” “d,” and “s” sounds, and may even drop the final consonant altogether. Of course, this Spanish is most similar to Caribbean Spanish, because it reflects the language of the original explorers from Europe who elected not to return. Go figure! And let’s not even go into the social and class stereotypes – port workers were lower class and generally less educated than those in Madrid with all the money making decisions. That’s another post entirely.

Are we to tell our fellow Americans in Boston that they are lazy because they drop the “r” sound and pronounce “car” as “cah”? What about our friends who drop “ing” (goin’ fishin’)? A small flowing stream of water is a “creek” in some areas, and pronounced “crick” in others, depending on where you live. Is one more correct than the other?

Fact is, even with different pronunciations, our English variations still have the same spelling and the same written language rules. So yes, dear friends, our Bostonian friends still spell car as c-a-r, not c-a-h! In Montana, you pronounce creek as crick, but you spell it c-r-e-e-k. And yes, children learn that the “ee” is pronounced with a long e sound, not a short i sound. Yet, somehow they know that the stream from which their horses and cattle drink is pronounced “crick” and spelled c-r-e-e-k. Some of our Spanish speaking friends may drop the final “s” sound from “inglés” but it does not make them lazy. Children learn to spell it the same way.

In the end, the story of how words are pronounced across the globe has a full and complicated tale. Our ears can tell us a lot about other people and where they are from. Our spoken language is a tribute to our own personal history. It’s a wonderful blend of culture, geography, and history. Embrace it, dear friends, don’t judge it.

What this mama is learning

I’m having loads of fun watching this second language develop with our son. And I’ll admit, I’m having just as much fun watching his friends and classmates do their thing too. Things are different this year – homework has been met without argument but other things have become more of a chore. Lessons for mom, I guess. These kids keep us on our toes. Here are random thoughts from me, in no particular order:

  • Listening to my son and his friends sing songs in Spanish brings me to tears. Feliz Navidad is a guarantee. I’m a little surprised at myself over this.
  • Listening to my son and his friends speak Spanish to their teacher makes me smile big. Think Cheshire Cat smiles here, folks.
  • Reading in Spanish at home is met with resistance.
  • Watching ANYTHING on TV in Spanish is met with even more resistance.
  • Listening to Spanish music is always met with a smile. I’ll take it.
  • I figure, reading Spanish at home will come with time. Maybe it’s like eating vegetables, one of these days he’s going to love it.
  • I need to find Spanish poetry books for kids.
  • If I ask him about a book he just read in Spanish, the answer is often, “I don’t know” if I ask, “what was this page about?” If I ask him to give me a summary of the entire story, he will happily oblige. He starts off in English but oddly enough, he switches to Spanish after a sentence or two. Maybe this isn’t odd. I smile and nod, because I would never let on that I don’t really know what he just said. If I give him a list of questions in Spanish about his Spanish story, he’ll answer them. If I give him a list of questions in English about his Spanish story, he gets frustrated. Why would I do this? I’m not trying to be mean, but I am intrigued. ;)
  • Immediately after school, I’m greeted by “hola” and all kinds of Spanish goodness. Of course, it ends when I speak to him, because I’m asking him something in English. It’s like there is a Spanish/English switch. Now I’m willing to bet that if I actually spoke Spanish, he’d keep with his Spanish conversation.
  • Someone asked him the other day, “Tell me something in Spanish!”  I thought to myself, there is no way he will be up for this sort of party trick. But, sure enough, he rattled off a few sentences about going to a different classroom for math, but learning Spanish, science, and social studies with his Maestra Rosa.
  • Small praises and acknowledgements of his efforts in trying to speak more Spanish in the classroom go a long way.
  • Oral presentations in elementary school? Yes. Oral presentations in Spanish? Yes. I wish I started doing public speaking at the age of 7!

Frankly, I’m a happy camper. It is so rewarding to witness his growth and budding confidence. The appreciation I have for those who teach him every day is grand. He loves them too. What a gift. Blessed we are.

Merry Christmas!

Interview with Multilingual Mania

Part of the reason I started this blog is because I really couldn’t find much information online for parents doing what we are doing – monolingual parents looking to raise a bilingual child. I searched high and low for blogs, websites, support groups, etc. and just didn’t find much out there with the details I wanted. So I started this blog to document our highs and lows so others could read and learn from our experiences. I think in the end I learned that it’s way more stressful on the parents than it is on our kids!

One site that I found that was so helpful was Multilingual Mania. What a wealth of information! I browsed the old articles on successful dual immersion programs, looked at pictures of classrooms, and I even got brave enough to ask some questions. And yet again the online community did not disappoint! From the time I discovered it, I have been a loyal reader of this blog and am so thankful for all that I have learned.

So a year+ into my blogging and I’ve been given the opportunity to contribute to Multilingual Mania – this time in an interview as a parent. The series is called Parent-to-Parent – a weekly interview series of parents who are raising bilingual children. Every Monday, the Parent to Parent interview series will feature one parent each week who will share their personal experiences, tips, and resources for raising bilingual children.

So here it is, my interview on Multilingual Mania! Got more questions? Ask me!

Back in the swing of things

Our first week of second grade went by in a flash. We have the same issues as last year (after school hunger, some whining, and today even on the edge of tears), but I think I’m heading off the mid-morning crash by shoveling lots of food at him for breakfast. And for snack, he’s had something he calls ‘nut squares’ thanks to his Papa. He thinks it’s a crunchy, sweet snack. I know it is mid-morning protein. We all win.

Thursday he came home with his entire lunch – except for the milk and cookies – uneaten. So today, no dessert, and lunch was eaten in entirety. I agreed we could try for dessert again on Monday.

As for the second language, he’s already singing new songs, along with a familiar one from last year. He says he doesn’t understand everything that is being said, but knows that it’s OK, and he’s not bothered. Also he claims that he’s answering his maestra in Spanish more and more. These things happen with time. I am patient. And he does like her (a lot), and I know that alone will grow his confidence.

Again, we are thrilled to be here, walking down this road of unknown (to us). There are many families with us though, and we’re holding hands as we travel together. The kids will have some amazing things to share along the way. And I know I’m making some amazing friends too.

It’s like growing a tree

“Mom, I had so much energy last night, I just couldn’t go to sleep!”

Me too! So today begins our second year in immersion school. My anxiety over immersion is gone. My fears of “what if he freaks out” are just a memory. I am beyond excited for what this year has to bring. The first few weeks will be all about routine, making new friends, learning rules, and reacquainting with the language. And math. And maybe even some (gasp) homework!

School was bustling with energy this morning. Lots of smiles, dozens of high-fives, and a few tears too (parents and students of course) were shared amongst friends. Nervous students were welcomed with open arms and encouraging smiles. As I stood and watched our youngest students have morning circle, it was enough to bring a lump to my throat. Such little people, so brave, learning so much in just a few minutes. Amazing.

My boy last night told me he was ready to be a mentor and translator for those who are nervous and need some extra help. I wish I were there to see him doing it, putting aside his own bits of nervousness and embracing someone to show them the way.

I wish I could shout from the rooftops to all the new parents – Immersion programs require a leap of faith. Find parents who have done this before and lean on them. Learning through a new language is hard work for our kids and it takes time. It’s like growing a tree – you can’t rush it along, and a lot of what is happening is beneath the surface, growing roots, creating the strength to stand tall and grow strong. This is new and exciting and may be scary too (for parents and our kids). They may be tired, emotional, hungry, irritable, clingy, needy, or quiet. Or all of these. Or none. Hug them and love them and tell them they are wonderful and you are proud. Years from now they will thank you for this gift of language you are providing for them.

 

The drawback of summer vacation

This is exactly why I’d like to have year round school – this long, 10 week summer break. Now really, I love summer break. I loved summer break as a kid. Fact is, I also love spring break and winter break. I’d like a fall break too. Our kids are learning and working so hard, their little brains need breaks. But not 10 weeks. Here’s why -

Speech emergence! Our son is just really now (in the last few weeks) getting comfortable in trying to speak Spanish, without being asked to. In fact, he’s starting to go out of his way to talk with a few of our Spanish speaking parents. He’s rattling off sentences as I drive, and then I have to ask him to say it again in English. If you say something to him in Spanish, he’ll do his best to answer you in that language. It’s fun, and exciting, and really a great milestone in language development.

Ah, summer break. Why do you come right at this critical time?

So we head to Mexico soon to visit family. He can’t wait to get there and practice his Spanish. We have Spanish summer camp in July for a few hours of language fun every day. August will be up to me. I’ll need to think of something! Reading? Movies in Spanish? Or maybe I’ll not worry, and we can relax and enjoy our last few weeks of summer. I like that idea.

Confidence

It’s been hard to pinpoint, but something has changed with our little man recently. I know part of it is maturity and experience in a school environment.  Then it occurred to me what I’ve seen lately – confidence.

The school year is almost over, and finally he’s comfortable enough to share a little of this language outside the classroom.

His reading is outstanding. He is reading Spanish at a first grade level, which to me is amazing given back in September he didn’t know the Spanish alphabet. More reading practice will build vocabulary and we see him taking off. He’s a good reader in English already, so these two go hand in hand. We are thrilled.

He proclaimed (very matter of fact) in the car the other day that he’s “bilingual” and he is working on “mastering Spanish.” Someday he’ll be an expert, he says.

I heard from one of his teachers that something was bothering him last week. He was upset and another student was sitting with him, consoling. These kids can be so loving to each other, it makes your heart ache. In this instance, their conversation was in Spanish. I wish I were a fly on the wall for that.

We had a substitute teacher about 2 weeks ago. She doesn’t speak English to the kids (though she speaks it perfectly), so they don’t relate to her in that language. She made a point to tell me that he made a big effort to communicate with her in Spanish that day.

Yesterday we were talking while out for a walk. I explained that summer camp and next school year, there will be students that don’t know any Spanish, just like him when he started first grade. We talked that it was an important job for him to help them learn, just like other students did for him.  And then we played a game called “¿cómo se dice ___ en Espanol?” (How do you say ___ in Spanish?) I asked him all kinds of basic situations, and he happily answered them for me. He was the teacher, I was the student. Fun!

The first few months of the school year, he flatly refused to tell me any words in Spanish. He refused to play Spanish games on the computer or iPad. I had to sneak in Spanish music in the car. But then I started catching him doing things like counting backwards while jumping, singing songs in Spanish while playing by himself, counting to 100. By Christmas, he would reluctantly read a book outloud to me.

Now he’ll gladly read a book aloud or to himself in Spanish. But the biggest change is definitely the speaking part. He’ll voluntarily tell us things in Spanish that he learned that day. He ASKS for Spanish music, he has favorite songs (de colores, de bonita bandera), and will sing them with our without the music playing. He will rattle off phrases in Spanish and not realize he’s doing it. I think that’s my favorite part. He’s switching and not realizing it. And we love that, and his new found, budding confidence. I know he’s thinking ahead about being a second grader, and we’re certainly excited for what that will bring for him.