What’s Your End Goal?

We left our Spanish immersion school last spring. And we soon entered a world of online school that we have since combined with homeschool group activities and Spanish tutoring. And while we love most of this new routine and what it has offered our family, there is no formal Spanish component.

Tutoring is expensive. But continuing this journey of learning a second language (after four years!) is a must. And because our son is not using his second language on a daily basis (the absolute lack of any quality online instruction is a topic for another post!), I am watching his skills slip away. I am plagued with feelings of desperation and helplessness with the absolute lack of options out there. And while I can have our son read books and watch movies in Spanish, I can’t grade papers, help with grammar, or speak with him in Spanish. And at $45 per hour, the tutoring is limited to an hour a week. And we can’t do everything in an hour, so I was presented with two options when asked recently by his tutor, “What’s your end goal?”:

  1. Focus on conversation, conversation, and more conversation, or
  2. Focus on grammar, reading, and writing (like a language arts course).

So – What is our end goal?

Do I want him to be a proficient conversationalist in Spanish? Yes! Do I want him to use correct grammar, write well, and be ready for a (someday) Spanish literature or AP Spanish class? Yes!

And this got me thinking about an even more important question: What is my end goal as a parent?

I think as parents we can fret over too many little details: What sports do we let them play? Should we put limits on extracurriculars? Do we let them try every activity they want to at the expense of family time, vacations, and household harmony? What about cub scouts, 4-H, swimming, chess club, football, track, cross country, martial arts, music lessons, band, or <gasp> free time… All these have amazing benefits for kids. And what about all those optional academic classes – Kumon, Saturday Academy.

As parents, what is our end goal?

With our changes in academic environment last spring came some serious soul searching. But what was important to our family was never more clear:

We want a happy, caring, responsible, hard working, empathetic young man with an eye and heart for others around the world.

And with all the stress and fretting we do over our kids and how they spend their time, I wonder how much of it really matters? In our collective goals of raising young men and women who are ready to tackle the world with their optimism, passion, and endless young energy, are we missing the beauty of their childhood (the forest) through our own internal struggles (the trees)?

Of course, as parents want our children to be the best, the fastest, the smartest, the strongest, the most popular,  but let’s also not lose sight of this: They are in the middle of the only childhood they will ever have. Let’s make sure they get to enjoy it.

And as for me, I am still figuring out what our second language goals are in the immediate term. But our long term goals have not changed. And as long as we don’t lose sight of those, I think we’ll be in good shape.

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.

Soy feliz

We get a lot of questions about when our son will be speaking Spanish. I think some expect “fluency” in a year or so, and that is just far from reality.  It’s a multi-year process, just as it is for our first language learning. There are a few resources out there that I have found quite helpful regarding second language acquisition, including HERE and HERE.

I will say that one of my favorite documents is one put together by the State of Oregon. They correlate cumulative hours of instruction with acquisition benchmarks. For those curious, here it is:  Oregon Revised Second Language Standards

So we have just a month left of school. I’m thinking a lot these days about our experience in language immersion. I think for the most part it was easier on us that I expected. We came in expecting a lot more stress and anxiety for our son than there was. In fact, the biggest challenge was the longer day and the exhaustion he experienced after a day spent in another language. This was mostly combated with a big, protein rich breakfast, and an earlier bedtime.

With all the reading I have done, I was also expecting a setback or at least a stall in his English language reading and writing skills. I can say we are thrilled that this is absolutely not the case. His spelling has improved greatly.  Reading skills on one language sure supplement the other. I do think that his confidence stemming from his ability to read in English makes him believe he can read anything he wants in Spanish!  We won’t know until the end of the year how well he’s reading in Spanish, but he does enjoy it and at this point, that’s all I ask for.

What I’ve noticed as of late, is his willingness to respond to questions in Spanish. Things like casual conversation questions from our teachers are met with a quiet response in Spanish.  He’s also got a fascination with “What language do they speak in ____ ?” He is certainly more aware that they speak different languages around the world. This weekend he told me that he’d like to also master German.

We have an exciting two weeks in Mexico planned this summer, and it’s our first trip south since his enrollment in immersion school. We follow up our trip with a month of Spanish immersion summer camp here locally.  I’m still wondering how we’ll keep up some Spanish learning in August – probably a trip or two to the local library, and maybe find some new music to add to our collection. I have found some online games, but have not given them a test run to see if they get a “¡muy bien!” from anyone. I can say there needs to be more iPad games for language learning. So for all you multilingual programmers out there, start coding!

Alas, I think we feel that in part that this school year has flown by, and in other ways it’s been a lot of work and last September is a distant memory. But as a family we are pleased and thankful to be making this journey. And we are certainly looking forward to what next year has to bring.

Momentum

We have twelve weeks left of school, not including spring break.  No, I’m not counting down. I am just getting used to having a first grader. It seems as though there is a lot of momentum, less stress, more fun, increasing maturity. It’s fun for us at home as we listen to the events of the day. He’s less tired, more focused, certainly more hungry. I know he’s growing in more ways than just clothing sizes these past few months.  A few come to mind:

Reading in Spanish. Tonight he read to me “Oso pardo, oso pardo ¿Qué Ves Ahí?” and he sounded like a natural. I was impressed. Maybe I am biased. But coming from not knowing the Spanish alphabet a mere 6 months ago to reading a children’s book unassisted, he is proud of himself too.

Singing in Spanish. He loves children’s music in Spanish and so that’s what is playing in the car most of the time we are in it together. But we’ll catch him singing to himself at home. Some songs he just makes up on his own. If he doesn’t know the Spanish word, no problem! He’ll make one up that sounds good.

Naming items in Spanish. This is a fairly recent development. He’ll randomly name things in Spanish when we are at the store.  But it only happens if I’m not asking. If I ask, he claims to not know. No party tricks for him. Though today in the car, I said, “I want spring!” and he said “Quiero primavera!”

Discussing Spanish lessons. Another new development, he’ll now occasionally talk about his lessons in school. I think just like any other student, the last think he wants to talk about at home is school. He also has flatly refused to discuss Spanish at home. I know it’s normal, and I’m happy to maybe see us past this mini hurdle. He’s been more open to freely explain to us continents, cardinal points, map reading, our body’s senses. He’ll rattle on with phrases I don’t understand (time for Spanish lessons for me I guess!).

Spring break preparations must mean another trip to the library for new books in Spanish. This might be another excuse for us to visit the new frozen yogurt shop next door.  ¡Muy bien!