Biculturalism

Let Your Light Shine! Celebrating Multicultural Holidays

 Photo by Keli Garcia Allen

Photo by Keli Garcia Allen

I grew up celebrating Christmas and Navidad. Sure, you may think that they are the same thing, and in general we are celebrating the same thing, but the way two different cultures celebrate the same holiday can vary and can be very different. But, I grew up welcoming El Espiritu de La Navidad and writing letters to El Niño Jesus who would deliver our presents along with Santa on Christmas morning.

We spent the season eating hallacas and pan de jamón , putting on plays about Santa Clause, and looking for reindeer in the sky. We sang “El Niño Criollo” and  “Mi Burrito Sabanero” along with “Rudolf the Red Nosed Rainder” and “Silent Night.” We would have all of our family together celebrating the 24th until the wee hours of the morning and my poor parents would then be woken up by us early on the 25th to open the presents sent from y grandmother and the ones brought by Santa Claus and El Niño Jesus.

Somehow, it just worked. And we sure enjoyed it! Now that we live in the U.S., our celebrations have expanded even more. In my house, we celebrate Christmas, Navidad and Hanukkah. It is both for spiritual reasons and discovering our heritage that we do, in fact, celebrate all of the Christian and Jewish feasts and holidays.

I started thinking about this topic a little when I read a wonderful article in the Guardian that talked about a Muslim couple who opened up their hearts and home to 3 Christian children right before Christmas in England. The evening the children came, these two people bought a Christmas tree and stayed up all night to wrap up the presents and decorate for these children who needed all the love they could get. The family grew together to experience each other’s cultures and ways in a truly moving story. (Read it Here)  

And as unusual as that may seem, I look around and find that in so many of our homes the marrying of cultures and faiths is done in beautiful and fulfilling fashion. Living WITH each other is happening all around us.

 Photo by  Pratham Gupta  on  Unsplash

Photo by Pratham Gupta on Unsplash

One of my favorite examples comes from my friends Sunny and Kayla who have great mish-mash of holiday traditions. Sunny’s family celebrates Diwali, which is the Hindu festival of lights. It is celebrated in the month of Kartika, which falls around October or December every year.  They put up the lights in celebration and leave them up into the Christmas season!

Now, they live in London and according to Kayla, have adapted some holiday traditions from the English, which she thinks are pretty fun. “Mince pies, mulled wine, Christmas crackers (traditionally served at the Christmas meal, it's popped open to reveal a crown, toy and joke inside) and their love of ugly Christmas jumpers. We give the Christmas pudding a miss though, bad stuff. We also get a bonus holiday for Boxing Day!”

 Photo Curtesy of Megan Wallace Widrich

Photo Curtesy of Megan Wallace Widrich

Another great example of the coming together of two cultures is that of my friend Megan and her new husband Jason. They have come together and celebrate “Chrismaka” in a lovely way with the whole family. The marrying of two traditions (and the marriage of them) is beautifully celebrated in their holiday décor!

 Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/lunch-table-salad-5876/

Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/lunch-table-salad-5876/

It has become a yearly ritual for my friend Sofija to host her Christmahanukwanza party. And just like it sounds, it’s a party to celebrate all three of those holidays. But it is so much more than that! Sofija already grew up celebrating Catholic Christmas (on December 25th) and Orthodox Christmas (on January 7th), but has always had friends from many different backgrounds and that is something she wanted to celebrate!

At her party, people from all kinds of different backgrounds and views come together to celebrate, share and enjoy each other’s company. It's a really fun time and let me say, the spread is amazing! Cevapi and rolls made by her family sit alongside lumpias made by her mother in law, along with curries, arepas (yup, that’s the Venezuelan in me), quail eggs, roasts, hams, vegetarian dishes, and so much more. There is a little piece of each one of us there to share with all of our friends who have become more like family.

So, as you look around this holiday season, just think to let your light shine. You can hold on and be true to your beliefs and ways of life, while still reaching across to those who are different and enjoying beautiful celebrations of life and love.

And to paraphrase my friend Cyrus; Happy Diwali, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Feliz Navidad, Happy Three Kings Day, Happy New Year, Happy Omisoka…if you’re into any of that! 

What about you? Do you have any stories of multicultural holidays to share with us? We would love to read them!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 3.28.11 PM.png

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on English SafariSpanish Safari and Reading Safari  a game for children 4-10 years old who speak Spanish and want to learn English. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. 

5 Reasons Why Being Bicultural is Just as Important as Being Bilingual

Culture and heritage consist of the passing of traditions and mores from one generation to another. As parents, we often want to share with our children the best of our own lives and our traditions are a huge part of that. When raising children in a country different from the one in which you grew up, the challenge is that there are several competing cultures vying for their attention. But just like language, culture can shape the development of our children and families.

In this post, we want to share the importance of embracing your culture while living abroad, and a few tips on how to pass your heritage on to your children while embracing the majority culture in which you live and we’re going to give you a few reasons why raising bicultural kids is just as important as raising them to be bilingual.

It's important, because tequeños and cheese sticks are not the same!

This may seem silly, but just follow me for a bit.  Ask any Venezuelan about tequeños and it will take them down memory lane and smile, thinking about all the good times they shared with loved ones.  Tequeños are delicious pieces of white cheese, wrapped in dough and deep fried.  However, they are not mozzarella sticks!!! Mozzarella sticks are delicious and they are a great treat whenever we go to a restaurant in the U.S.! However, as a bicultural family,  do we really want to miss out on one or the other? Tequeños are just a small example of this dichotomy. When we raise our children in a country different than our own we tend to cook meals we grew up with, as we probably learned how to make them at home with our parents and grandparents. Enjoying the smells and flavors of our childhood is a wonderful way to pass on our heritage, but exploring and enjoying the cuisine and tradition of the majority culture (along with other cultures!) but do we want our kids to miss out on the wonderful things this new country has to offer?  Maybe it’s time to make new traditions as a family and embrace the best of both worlds.

It's Important, Because Children Need to Connect with Family and Friends on Both Sides of the Cultural Divide  

One of the issues I most often read about in parent boards about multilingualism, is the difficulty that comes about when children can't connect with family members due to language and cultural barriers. If children can't communicate with family members and don't feel a connection to their culture, it can create uncomfortable situations and missed opportunities. On the other hand, if you completely ignore the traditions of the majority culture, you and your family might be missing out on wonderful new experiences. Moreover, not embracing the majority culture might even create a barrier between you and your children as they grow up, so it's important to make new traditions as a family and embrace the best of both worlds.

It's important, because bicultural children will be able to empathize with the world better

Children who have been exposed to different cultures can draw from them and experience the world through what they know from them.  Being able to speak a different language than the majority in the place they’re growing up in enhances those abilities. In the words of Charlemagne “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” According to several studies to speak another language and being exposed to another culture helps the children experience the world through a different mindset, like getting two different sets of lenses to see the world through, making it easier for them to empathize with others.

It's important, because bicultural children will be more interested in both languages

Cultural connections are a great way to propel language learning.  Children may not be eager to use a heritage language and raising bilingual children is a lot of work! Studies suggest that the earlier children are exposed to another language, the better their ability to become native speakers. However, keeping up with their language development takes hard work, dedication, and a lot of creativity!  As a parent and language teacher, I know that one of the best ways of getting a child hooked on a language is to explore its cultural background, so food, music, and dance are just a few ways to get them interested!

It's important, because it makes our children more creative and out of the box thinkers Living in two different cultures often translates to being able to adapt to different social situations in very creative ways.  This creativity is not restricted to social situations; it spreads to every single aspect of their lives, making them out of the box thinkers. And this matters because when ideas come together, and even when they clash, we are more likely to see and solve problems. After all, isn’t that what we want for them?

Here are a few activities to complete when raising bicultural children

  • Cook with your kids. It does not only help them develop healthy eating habits, but it’s a bonding experience based in love and culture with the flavors and smells from your own childhood.
  • Make sure their screen time (tv, video games) is in the target language.  At Learn Safari we specialize in creating interactive language apps to help children learn and practice languages.  If your target language is Spanish, you can try our first app, Spanish Safari!  (You can download Spanish Safari for iOS here.)
  • Have your child join a Play Group with other children from the minority culture. This is a wonderful way to connect with other parents with whom you can share experiences and information.
  • Read cultural books. Reading is the best way to practice language and reading books that connect your children to your heritage culture can be a great bonding experience.
  • Go to restaurants that make your favorite meals to embrace your cuisine and customs, or the intended culture.
  • Attend festivals and such events where your culture is celebrated.
  • Listen and dance to the music of your culture.

What is your experience in raising bicultural children? Do you have any tips to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below! Together we can support each other in raising global citizens that honor their heritage and embrace their new culture by creating new traditions of their own.

About the authors:

Becky Garcia-Muir is a Southern belle from way South, a Bilingual teacher and mom, and community manager for Learn Safari a Spanish Learning game for children 5-9 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter

Keli Garcia-Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari, a Spanish Learning game for children 5-9 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

 

Thanksgiving in Venezuela: A story of Biculturalism, Food, and Love.

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xo1l7g8j

Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays, because it was one just for us. The story of our thanksgiving goes back over half a century and it’s a story that has had a great influence on who I am today.

My grandparents came to Venezuela back in 1948 with 2 little girls, a few bucks to their name and hearts full of hope.  They had arrived to a very prosperous country that welcomed them, and all immigrants, with open arms.  It was a time when a lot of Americans arrived to Venezuela’s western coast to settle into oil camps.

cox-family
cox-family

My Grandparents lived happily with their family and friends in their close knit community, where everyone was  from the U.S. or “Americanized.” This meant that there was very little need to speak Spanish fluently, with store clerks that spoke English and "American" schools for their children. As the years passed, 2 new little girls (including my mother) were born in this new country. To them, growing up in Venezuela and often visiting family in Texas offered the best of both worlds, from which they created a dual-culture all of their own. One of the greatest examples of this dual culture was our very own Venezuelan Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, although a popular U.S. Holiday, is not celebrated in Venezuela and back in the 1950s it was difficult to find some of the wonderful holiday staples that are traditional to the meal. Through frequent trips to the U.S. and the advent of canned goods and boxed mixes, however, my grandparents made it a mission to celebrate this beloved holiday.

As the years passed, and their children and grandchildren grew up, this Venezuelan thanksgiving became a tradition that evolved to reflect us as a family and it is one of my fondest childhood (and adulthood) memories.

Thanksgiving dinner was always celebrated at my grandmother’s home in La Concepción, a small town in the outskirts of Maracaibo. My grandmother was the Queen of Thanksgiving, a holiday that was hers to do with as she pleased. There were no other events, no juggling of dates or family members, and everyone was welcomed with open arms. However, you always had to make sure you had enough room for that pecan pie!

The Queen of Thanksgiving herself, Grandma Cleo
The Queen of Thanksgiving herself, Grandma Cleo

As many of you know, hosting a holiday tradition in a different place has to come with some adjustments, but maybe that is what made our Venezuelan Thanksgiving even more special.  As you can imagine, celebrating a holiday on a Thursday was next to impossible, with their married daughters, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren all on Venezuelan calendars. Celebrating on the Saturday after Thanksgiving was the first compromise.

The Menu The food was another place where new traditions would evolve. Apples were not that popular in Venezuela until recently, so apple pie was never that prominent, but the pecan pie and pumpkin pies were ever-present. With the addition of new family members, new Venezuelan recipes came to accompany the traditional fare and my grandmother picked up a few tricks from Venezuelan cuisine along the way.

It wouldn’t be turkey day without the bird, and thanks to some enterprising businessmen, turkeys were available in select stores in town.  The dressing was cornbread, of course, made with Funche La Lucha, (the closest thing to coarse yellow corn meal) baked with vegetables and turkey stock and served with giblet gravy. We later switched to Cachapa mix (corn pancake mix – deliciousness) to make the dressing, but it was still amazing.  Cranberries were canned and jellied, the corn was fresh and fried, and the string bean casserole made with real Campbell’s cream of mushrooms. We also had mashed potatoes, baked beans, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, carrot cake, mincemeat bars, lemon pie, quesillo (condensed milk and caramel flan, and yes it is as good as it sounds) and fruit salad, all made from scratch with the exception of some imported ingredients, and it was all eaten with gusto. Large pitchers of iced tea and café guayoyito (a filtered and less concentrated cup, but it’s still made with some of the best coffee in the world!)  finished off the meal.

After we served our plates buffet style and we sat down to say grace in several tables across living room and dining room, (we were 20 and counting) and looked down at all this delicious food made with love by grandma and my aunts you could just see her smile, all of her chicks were back in the nest, all that effort paid off.

Some of the children and grandchildren of Grandma Cleo.
Some of the children and grandchildren of Grandma Cleo.

Some compromises were made, but Thanksgiving Sunday Supper was a must, and it was Grandma’s pride and joy.  Later on daughters and granddaughters (even me!) started to bring dishes of their own to these gatherings, right until grandma moved back to Texas. Now, we all celebrate thanksgiving in our own homes, celebrating our heritage with our new families, and we stick to tradition, our own tradition of incorporating our loved one’s favorite dishes to this holiday.  After all, this is a day for being thankful and counting one’s blessings, and family is the most special blessing of all.

About the author

Becky
Becky

Becky Garcia-Muir is a Southern belle from way South, a Bilingual teacher and mom, and community manager for Learn Safari.

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Growing Up in Spanglish

autn-carol-becky-and-chris
autn-carol-becky-and-chris

Learn Safari is very excited this guest post from Carol Cox. Carol is an accomplished English teacher from Venezuela and her bilingual story is very inspirational. We hope you enjoy! 

My Own Bilingual Journey

Growing up in Venezuela, you would think that I had grown up speaking Spanish, right? Think again! My parents are originally from Luffkin, Texas. They moved to Venezuela in 1948, during the oil boom. Daddy sold industrial laundry equipment and while making a sale to Creole, he took over their laundry concession and the rest, as they say, is history. Mom and Dad never learned to speak Spanish correctly nor fluently, too many of their friends wanted to practice their English with a native speaker, and Mother did her best to conserve her lifestyle; American foods, English-speaking church, trips home in the summer. My sister and I were born in Venezuela, but attended an International School where we received 2 hours of Spanish a week. Exposure to Spanish was limited to shop people and the housekeeper.

This all changed in high-school. My dad decided that he wasn’t going to send us away to college in the US, so we would study in the excellent universities of Venezuela. To do that, we needed to speak Spanish. Thus he enrolled us in an all-girl Catholic school. Talk about culture shock! We had been attending an English-speaking school with small classrooms, no more than 10 students per class. And suddenly we were thrust into classrooms of 45 girls who spoke no English. Believe me, we picked up Spanish very quickly, and made some life-long friends along the way. We were teased because of our accent, but corrected when we made grammatical mistakes. I was put back 2 years due to differences in the curricula. But we learned to speak, read and write in Spanish to the point where we are both completely fluent in both languages.

aunt-carol-and-abuela-cleo
aunt-carol-and-abuela-cleo

My First Born- a Late Talker

I never made it to college. I met and married my husband right out of high-school, and two years later we welcomed our son into this world. He was a happy baby, with a deep belly laugh that was highly contagious. Loved and spoiled by both sets of grandparents. They were saddened to see us move to the US while my husband studied in the university, and I traveled back and forth with the baby. He would chatter away but he didn’t actually say anything. By the time he was 3, I took him to several doctors to check his hearing, but the results came back fine, he just didn’t want to speak. The pediatrician suggested I enroll him in a pre-school, and so I did. He started talking clearly 3 months later. Back then we had never heard of OPOL, we just did it.  I constantly exposed him to English, speaking and singing to him, putting him in an English-language day care. My sister would send me Betamax tapes with Saturday cartoons for when we were in Venezuela and I bought story books, lots of books. My husband’s family spoke to him in Spanish. And he eventually attended Venezuelan schools. We would spend summers in Texas, as my parents had retired there by then, and my sister had moved there with them. He loved Texas! And his English has a strong hint of a Texas accent.  He is grown up now and still bilingual. He reads and writes it well, even though he never formally studied English. Exposure to the target language seemed to have worked with him. He still lives and works in Venezuela and now has 3 sons of his own. He and I have worked hard to make them bilingual as well. It is working so far.

My husband graduated with a degree in Broadcast Management, in English!!! Before we left for him to study in the US, he had attended a newly opened binational language center to learn English and take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). His teachers there were native speakers: Canadians, Trinidadians, Grenadians, a few British ex-pats. Remember English is the primary language in many countries and islands of the Caribbean. He learned very proper English and had a big problem understanding anyone in Texas! But after a few months of total immersion, he picked up the “lingo” fairly quickly.

Carol's Son Christian.
Carol's Son Christian.

My Daughter - a Refusal to Speak English

Four years after our son was born, back in Venezuela, settled in and both of us working, we decided to try for a second child. Our daughter arrived kicking and screaming right on schedule. We tried to follow what we had done with our son, exposing her to English and Spanish through the OPOL method, VHS tapes, books and songs. She spoke earlier, by age 2, but preferred Spanish. We continued going to Texas during summers to stay with my parents and she attended Venezuelan day-care. However, by the time she was 5 or 6 years old, she told me firmly – “no English, mommy. No quiero English”.  I continued to speak to her in English as did my parents, and she would answer back in Spanish, so I knew it was being assimilated. She studied in Venezuelan schools, where she was taught 2 hours of English a week in high-school.

When she turned 14, she suddenly decided she needed to speak English. So we enrolled her in the same bi-national center her father had studied in years prior. She took a placement test and was placed fairly well. Being a good student, she learned quickly and well, graduating with top grades. She went on to study in a Venezuelan university majoring in Graphic Design with a minor in Education. She worked for 10 years in an English language Day-care, and with a major publishing company in their teacher training program, before marrying her long-time boyfriend and presenting us with a granddaughter.  She is now working virtually from home (as Community Manager for none other than Learn Safari!)  and is dedicated to teaching her child to be bi-lingual. She has cable TV with English-language options, laptops and tablets, and many books, which are all wonderful tools for language learning. Our son in law speaks to our grand-daughter in Spanish and exposes her to heavy metal and car-tuning shows. It seems to be working well, so far.

Rebecca and her grandfather.
Rebecca and her grandfather.

A Surprise – My Trilingual Child

Did I mention that when I turned 40, I had one last child? Our 2 older children were 18 and 14 respectively. My parents had returned to Venezuela as retirement bored them and 3 of their daughters lived here with their families. I was working for them so my children were very close to their grandparents and their aunts and cousins. Family is important in many ways, including language learning.  I began having random “female troubles”, so I went in for a medical check-up. I was recommended a hysterectomy. Imagine my surprise when I went for a pre-surgery sonogram and was told I was 10 weeks pregnant! Our last child, a daughter, was born without complications 2 weeks early. She has been a bright, happy child. I quit my job when she was born and was a stay at home mom. We spoke to her in English and Spanish pretty much as we had with her brother and sister.  I enrolled her in daycare and went back to work. This time at the bi-national center as an EFL/ESL teacher.  I could work fewer hours and be at home when the kids were home from school.

By this time my parents became very attached to my youngest child and would “kidnap” her for several days at a time. She spoke mostly English until she was 7, when she entered first grade in the Venezuelan school system.  She would spend her summers with me at the Center’s summer English program for children. So Spanish was a problem for her. She could speak and understand it, but English was her first language. You could see her visibly switching from one language to another. It wasn’t a fluid transition. What could I do about it? One solution was theater. There was a theater group at the bi-national center and she was active in it. She was always involved in the book-club at the library and a girl scout for a few years.  So, total immersion in Spanish helped her a lot.  Today she has graduated from the university in Spanish, is fully bilingual and does most of her work on line, in both languages. By the way, she also speaks Japanese. In her late teens, she found a private teacher who would accept her as a student. She has really enjoyed it. Being multi-lingual is a distinct advantage on her resume as she begins job hunting.

barbarita
barbarita

As it turns out, there are many ways to raise bilingual children. We did not have a formula, we did not follow a plan and specific rules. We trusted our instinct, we loved our children, and we made adjustments along the way to meet their individual needs. The important factor is to make sure they are exposed to the target languages and that you never give up on them, or yourself.

What language strategy do you use in your household? We’d love to hear your story in the comments!

About the Author

Carol Cox
Carol Cox

A long time English teacher in Venezuela, Carol Cox is an amazing baker and crafter. She is the mother of 3 and the grandmother of 4. You can get to know her more by following her on Pinterest.

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Feeling Resistance When Trying To Raise Your Child To Be Bilingual? Here Are 5 Tips To Get Skeptics On Board!

Photo credit: Jack Moreh
Photo credit: Jack Moreh

I always assumed I would raise my children to speak Spanish and English. I didn’t think about it much, because it is the way I was raised. With that assumption, however, came the ignorance of the many complications and difficulties I would face. Like I always say, raising children to speak multiple languages takes work! It also takes planning and support.

I come across stories of many parents who don’t have support when it comes to raising their children in more than one language. This is especially true when only one parent speaks the target language which they want their children to learn. Sometimes the spouse is not on board, or the grandparents aren´t supportive. At times it can feel like you are playing defense against family members who just don´t agree with how you´re raising your children! I’m not going to lie, I have amazing support and my husband WANTS my daughters to speak more than one language. He’s not only appreciative, but he’s enthusiastic about it! However, being that I am the only fluent Spanish speaker, and that my husband and inlaws don't speak Spanish fluently (if at all), I do have some insight on the hurdles that a Family can face when teaching their children a second language. Therefore, I'm going to share with you 5 tips for including non-target language speakers in your language-learning journey.

1. Share Articles, Studies & Blogs On The Benefits Of Multilingualism 

Sometimes, people don´t understand how beneficial learning a second (or even third and fourth) language is. The old-fashioned notion that children will become confused and not learn any language well is still believed by some. Even those who support bilingualism are often worried that their children´s speech will be delayed by learning more than one language. As advocates for bilingualism, it falls upon us to educate them! There are many articles and research reports that highlight the many cognitive, social, and professional benefits of bilingualism. Let your family in on this knowledge and they will become your allies in the language-learning journey you have chosen.

2. Teach Them Bits & Pieces Of The Language 

Include others in the process. Teach them some of the language or better yet, have your child(ren) teach them! Some family members may want to study the language intensely, while others will be satisfied with learning just a couple of words.

My husband, who as I said before is very enthusiastic about Spanish, knows and understands a lot (more than he lets on actually). But he often asks me how to say certain things so he can teach our girls something new. For a period of time we even had vocabulary words posted all over the house so that he could practice! It was really cute and a great topic of conversation when people would come to visit.

3. Include Them In Cultural Celebrations 

Another great way to have people become interested in a language is by teaching them about the culture. Any teacher knows that the key to getting students involved in class is teaching

them about the people, places, foods, music and customs of the places that use the target language. If you want your children to become not only bilingual, but also bicultural, it´s important to participate in these types of celebrations. Whether you are making a cultural meal, hosting a celebration, or attending one, including family members is a key way to making them more understanding and supportive of your goals and of who you are as a family.

4. Don’t Leave Them Out Of The Conversation 

This is often a point of contention. Some people think it´s rude to speak another language in front of people who do not understand and others are not willing to compromise on their language goals in order to accommodate others. Now, it is very important that your child(ren) often hear and participate in the target language, or they will never fully learn! However, it´s just as important to remember that the goal of language is to have people connect. It´s not fair to family members and friends to feel like they cannot connect with your child.

That being said, there are ways to make sure people feel like they are a part of the conversation when you are around. You can speak to children in the target language and then translate for others around or even have your child translate for them. Remember to be aware of your setting. It is one thing to have a one on one conversation with your child in the target language, even if others are around, and it´s a completely different thing to dominate the dinner table with a conversation that others do not understand. Be aware of people´s feelings and as long as you have plenty of time together in your target language, translating for others and encouraging your child to communicate with others will not hurt one bit! In fact, it will help others feel like they are a part of your journey.

5. Be Sure To Emphasize That Their Language Is Important & Valuable Too 

Often, one of the biggest determinants of whether family members will support your language choices is whether they feel like they are being left out or not. Parents and grandparents want to be important to children and if they feel like their contributions are being undervalued they will resist you. A father who feels like he can´t communicate with a child or a grandmother who feels like she is unappreciated and unwanted, will often lash out against the idea of a child being bilingual. It´s important to emphasize that their language, culture and traditions are just as important. Encourage communication and have them spend time together. Balance your child´s experiences and they will become well-rounded and be able to navigate in both of your worlds. I hope this piece was of encouragement to you. It´s important to have allies when you are raising your children to be bilingual. It´s hard work enough without having to constantly argue and defend your choices. Including family members, even if they do not speak the target language, will offer you much needed support and encouragement.

We want to hear from you! Have you come across resistance to your language goals for your children? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments below.

keli-blog
keli-blog

About the AuthorKeli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari,  Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

On a Trilingual Journey - Teaching my Children English, Italian, and Spanish

Photo by: Geoffrey Whiteway http://www.stockvault.net/photo/137079/gondola
Photo by: Geoffrey Whiteway http://www.stockvault.net/photo/137079/gondola

At Learn Safari we are proud to partner with  parents, teachers, homeschoolers, and language lovers in order to share tips, information, and stories. We believe that working together, we can better achieve success and help each other on our individual learning journeys. It is with great pleasure that we bring you this guest blog from a very enthusiastic, vocal, and insightful member of this wonderful community. ENJOY! 

Our Story

Having been brought up monolingual, I never thought about learning another language until I came to Italy. Living in an English speaking country my whole life, I never felt there was a need to speak another language, because everyone I knew spoke English. As I travelled and met new people, I realised that languages aren’t just about words. A new language is a new culture, a new way of looking at the world, and a new outlook on life.

When I married my Italian husband and had our two boys, now almost two and four years old, there was no doubt that we would bring them up to be bilingual; it felt natural to us to speak to them in our respective native languages, so that’s what we have done since birth.

Our boys were born here in Italy, and obviously, the common language is Italian. We are following the OPOL (One Parent One Language) approach, where my husband speaks in Italian  and I speak in English. Their exposure to Italian is quite extensive, but speaking with me and sometimes over Skype with my family is the extent of their English exposure.  My husband only spoke basic English before we met, but he is now quite fluent due to the amount of English that was spoken in our home. Now that his English is better, we are speaking more Italian so that I can practice the language.

It has been an exciting experience watching them learn two languages simultaneously. I have worked with many children in the past as an English Teacher and Governess and I have seen how easily children are able to learn a new language. Watching my own children though, is like experiencing it all for the first time.

Introducing a Third Language

About a year ago we decided to introduce a third language, Spanish, even though neither of us speak more than just the basics. We thought it would be a good opportunity for our children, since Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Knowing what it feels like to learn a language as an adult, we knew it would be best to start as early as possible.

However, we didn’t want to give them “lessons” as such, because being so young they are not able to sit and concentrate for too long. Just as they had learned English and Italian from us, we wanted to introduce Spanish to them in the most natural way possible.

Our Secret Weapon

At first I answered advertisements and called up schools to see if they had any native Spanish speakers that could come “play” with my children, however I had no luck. They only offered language lessons and were more concerned about how much they would achieve in a certain amount of sessions. It was actually by coincidence that I met a local Argentinian girl and she agreed to come hang out with my boys and introduce them to the Spanish language.

At first it was a few hours per week, but as the boys got used to her, we set a schedule where she comes at 4-5 days per week for around 2hrs at a time. This gives them a good amount of exposure to the language every week.

From day one, Ana (nickname) has only spoken to our boys in Spanish, and even if they spoke back to her in Italian or English, which they did a lot at the beginning, she always answered back in Spanish. Her understanding of Italian helps as she can understand what my children say if they speak in Italian, but she just repeats what they have said in Spanish, and then answers them.

Materials

We brought some new Spanish books online and Ana and the boys usually read at least one or two stories together every time she is over. Reading stories have helped to reinforce the language and introduce them to new vocabulary. The boys love to read and talk about the pictures and they look forward to story time.

We also downloaded some Spanish songs and nursery rhymes, and they sing quite a lot together. Singing every day has helped my children learn different words and has helped a lot with their memory. Even before my son started speaking any Spanish, he could sing a couple of songs word for word.

Our Progress

Over the past year my 4 year old has become quite the chatterbox in Spanish and though our little one doesn’t speak much yet, he understands everything and will repeat anything she says. We are looking forward to watching them improve and I hope that one day they will be completely trilingual; fluent in English, Italian, and Spanish.

Bilingual Kidspot

I had many people asking me on a regular basis how we are bringing up our children with multiple languages, and what types of resources we used. These questions are what inspired me to create Bilingual Kidspot, a website which aims to help parents who are on a bilingual or multilingual journey with their children. With information on where to start, helpful hints, tips on bilingualism, and stories of my own parenting journey, I hope to inspire and help families in the same situation.

Soon to come I will be providing educational resources for children. I will be reviewing the books, games, and language apps that we use, and providing parents with language activities and print outs to help reinforce the language that they are learning.

You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram!

4 Things You Should Do When Raising Bilingual And Multilingual Kids

Wondering about the World
Wondering about the World

We have all heard how kids are brilliant at learning new languages. Their brains are wired to do just so and the earlier they learn a new language, the greater the likelihood they will achieve native status in it. But if it’s so easy for them to learn, then why don’t more children speak multiple languages? Why do so many second and third generation children of immigrants not speak the native language of their parents?

The short answer is that it’s hard work. It may be easy for a child to learn, but being a parent who facilitates the learning takes great effort and dedication! (If you want to know some of my reasons for why I have chosen to raise my children to be bilingual, click here).

Learning languages is a complex process and there’s no easy trick to make your kids magically learn. However, I have a list of 4 things you should do when raising your children to be bilingual or multilingual. If these conditions are met, your kids are bound to learn.

Talk To Them – A Lot

Seriously, ‘til your throat hurts. If you want to raise your child(ren) to be multilingual you have to provide exposure and opportunities to use the languages. Children learn language from observing the world around them and the first place they will learn is at home. Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers and we have a great influence on what and how they will learn. So, how can you best teach your young child? You have to speak a lot. You should be talking to your child about everything they do and see and everything that you do. This is how they learn vocabulary and sentence structure. I read a great blog in which the author talks about filling up her child’s language bucket, and I think that’s a fantastic metaphor! (Check out her blog post here) If by the time you have spent a few hours with your young child your throat isn’t sore, you probably haven’t been doing your job.

Read To Them

One of the best things you can do for your child is read to them. If you read 20 minutes a day to your child, they will be exposed to 1.8 million words a year! Reading will not only help your child with the development of several languages, but it will help you practice your language skills and it will stir up topics for continued conversation. It is also a great time to connect with your child. After all, connecting is what language is all about.

Community Engagement

One important indicator for multi-lingual success is the influence of the community on the language. If children live in a community that supports their bilingualism, they are much more likely to be successful. We need to make it necessary for children to speak with the target language, because simply using it at home with mom or dad won't be enough.

Family, friends and playgroups are all great support groups. Increasingly you can find pre-schools, language immersion programs, or weekend language schools in the target language. Other great sources for language learning are religious and cultural centers, as many Churches, Mosques, and Temples want to preserve heritage and languages too.

You can also combine activities and interests. Try to find classes and instructors for activities that your children enjoy that are taught in the target language. Maybe a dance teacher who will work with your child in Spanish, a music teacher who might speak Mandarin, or an art instructor who will work with your child in Romanian. Research the internet and social media, because you may find someone who can combine the skills that are important to you and your child.

Music, Videos & Apps

Technology is miraculous. Let’s take advantage of it! Never before have we had access to as much music in different languages as we do now. Children, teenagers, and adults absolutely love music, so lets use it.  There are also many videos and apps that are made specifically for children to learn and practice language. Some are better than others, so please do your homework. Take the time to read reviews, ask people, and even play the games. It’s also a great idea to play the games with your children or watch when they play in order to see how they are benefiting and how you can build upon what they are learning.

Technology is not a replacement for human interaction, but it can be a great support system for our language learning goals. If you are interested in learning about our Spanish Safari App, check us out!

Keep in mind, language learning is not a sprint, but a marathon. It takes a lifetime to learn, so encourage your children to be lifelong learners. You may have set-backs and perhaps you won’t be able to do all of the above, but don’t give up. The project is well worth the effort!

What conditions do you think need to be met in order for a child to learn multiple languages? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Besos,

Keli Lead Spanish Teacher keli@learnsafari.com

3 Reasons Why I Chose to Raise My Children Bilingual

Little girl
Little girl

I have two beautiful daughters and like every parent, I want the very best for them. I love them wholeheartedly and my dreams for them are big. However, with so many options available to parents at the tip of our fingers, all the "good things" that I MUST do for them are sometimes overwhelming! But the reality is that each one of us has to pick and choose our battles and know that even though we as parents won´t be perfect, our children will be just fine.

One battle I did choose is to raise my two girls to be bilingual. Below is a summary of some of my thoughts and research which went into my decision.

1. Children’s Amazing Brains (They CAN Be Bilingual!)

We know that children have wonderful, beautiful, spectacularly amazing brains! Have you ever watched your child and been astonished at all of the new things they are constantly learning? It seems like every day they point out something new and I am left wondering where they learned it.

It's because babies are born ready to learn and one of the things they are wired to learn is language. We don't actually have to teach our children to speak. They learn how to do so from observing and mimicking the world around them. While they are young, they have the capability to distinguish between and learn several languages using the exact same techniques.

Introducing a new language early increases the likelihood of children speaking like a native. However, it is never too late to begin learning a second language and the benefits are enormous.

2. Ongoing Brain Development

Learning more than one language can increase the size of the brain and it can also improve how the brain functions. In fact, research shows that people who speak multiple languages are better at standardized tests, planning and decision making, switching between tasks, understanding others and listening. They have better memories, impulse control, they are more creative and are better able to focus.

There was a time when people worried that teaching children more than one language would cause language delays and confusion. The science, however, has shown that this could not be farther from the truth. Learning a second (or third) language can actually give your brain a really good workout! In fact, studies even show that speaking multiple languages can stave off Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia in later life. The benefits of "working out your brain" with a second language are effective whether you started young or you are learning it as an adult.

3. Cultural Awareness

As I mentioned above, there was a time when teaching children a second language was thought to confuse them. Parents were discouraged from doing so and unfortunately many cultural ties were broken as a result of this misconception.

I was born in Venezuela and moved to the United States when I was eleven. I was raised in a bilingual environment, with my father speaking to me and my siblings in Spanish, and my mother in English. I want to ensure my daughters have a connection to their roots and I am re-creating the environment in which I grew up. I want them to learn Spanish, not just because of the cognitive benefits and the opportunities that it will open for them, but also so they can experience the rich cultural histories shared by Spanish speakers all over the world.

Learning about the world and developing empathy for other cultures is one of the biggest benefits of learning a second language. It’s the gateway to communicate with others and enables us to gain a deeper understanding of the world we share together. However, even if you do not speak a second language; I strongly encourage families to learn a new language together. Adults and children will definitely benefit from the experience.

Helping children to learn another language is not an easy task. It takes commitment, effort, and resources. That is why I am part of the Learn Safari Team. We are dedicated to helping children learn Spanish in a fun and interactive way. You can check out our unique application at www.learnsafari.com.

If you want to read up on some of the research on children and bilingualism, check the following links out: http://www.cal.org/earlylang/benefits/research_notes.html http://www.bbc.com/news/health-24446292 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121008082953.htm http://bebrainfit.com/brain-benefits-learning-second-language/)memory http://bebrainfit.com/brain-benefits-learning-second-language/

Besos, Keli Lead Spanish Teacher keli@learnsafari.com