Mandarin, Spanish, French – whatever new languages are introduced into your home, the experience will prove rewarding.
Once, when my daughter was still a toddler, we went into a local store to grab a few things. While waiting in line, a lady overheard us chatting. I’d always made a point to speak to my little girl about our surroundings, what colors she saw, things she liked.
Our conversation was in English.
It felt easier, despite it not being the language I spoke with my own parents.
“You should talk to her in Spanish,” offered the stranger, “She’ll learn English at school, but Spanish she’ll get it better with you.”
I remember immediately thinking, “What is this lady talking about?”
But if I could find her now, I would thank her and acknowledge her message.
And it seems that research is supporting much of what she was advising me to do. Teaching children more than one language increases overall test scores and learning.
And the New York City’s Board of Education seems to be catching on to this fact and is pushing the dual-language curriculum a little more in schools throughout the city.
Ana Flores, co-author of the newly released book, “Bilingual is Better,” based on her award-winning blog, SpanglishBaby.com, agrees that this is a step in the right direction.
“Many dual-immersion schools are even outperforming [others] at the state level,” she said. “As more of these success stories appear, the more parents and educators will be able to vouch for making it available in their districts.”
This is a phenomenon that has gone global, with countries like Canada, England, New Zealand, and Hong Kong implementing dual immersion early on. According to Flores, Canada has been extremely successful with their dual immersion programs for over 35 years.
But, fear not, our northern neighbors don’t have us beat yet.
While New York City is catching on, parents can implement a few things at home to encourage their children to learn another language.
“Spanglish” is a term that’s been used in the language discussion for many years. It’s mostly for those native speakers that are perfectly bilingual, and according to Flores, “capable of effortlessly switching between one language and the other.” It’s also often used derisively to describe a kind of hybrid dialect that mixes terms from both English and Spanish.
Flores adds, “The ‘Spanglish’ that for many is considered an act of laziness and a barbaric evolution of languages is when a word is taken from one language and adapted to use in the other language.”
But don’t let the seeming randomness of it fool you. ‘Spanglish’ or any such manipulation of more than one language at once requires a strong level of linguistic competence and really only works when you have a fluent grasp of the two languages.
And yes, there are ways of chopping it up, but the creative wordplay and invention of new terms also point to an understanding of languages that should be encouraged.
These are the "roofo” and “mapos” of our interchanged language. Flores argues that this is part of the natural evolution of languages in general.
“So much better to embrace it,” she says.
Embracing the Change
Although ‘Spanglish’ is not what is taught in dual-language programs in most schools, communities, and publications, it does demonstrate the abilities fluent speakers can develop by learning several languages.
It’s this switching and language flip-flopping that engenders better cognitive skills among kids (among other things).
And parenting involvement is crucial. Whether your child is learning Spanish and you’re naturally fluent; or if they want to learn Mandarin or French, and you’ve never even seen some of the accents or characters your child is now practicing, it is how you enjoy and engage in the experience with them that will speak volumes.
My daughter was enrolled in a Chinese Learning Program at Columbia University, and was able to pick up similarities in English. It also helped her understand the culture better.
Even I learned a thing or two from watching learning videos with her.
Like so many other experiences, it’s about going with them on this journey.
“It doesn't have to be Spanish,” Flores added, “but definitely a language that gives any child more potential to be able to develop [that language] as an essential 21st century skill.”
Not Yet Convinced?
Starting early is best, as that stranger in the store long ago pointed up. Infants and toddlers are naturally appreciative of all language and are at a heightened stage of development.
I know that I’ve gotten discouraged on occasion after starting a little later.
Despite being exposed to Spanish, my daughter didn’t always feel comfortable communicating with other people. It might have been a little dispiriting, but it was not a reason to stop.
After all, multilingualism, or the art of learning several languages, has proven to help kids with reading and writing. It has also improved how they analyze work and socialize than their monolingual peers.
What’s better yet, when it comes to being in different environments and settings, these kids are better at adapting and relating to other cultures.
And there’s no doubt that greater professional and academic opportunities abound for those with fluency in more than one language.
It also helps build confidence and self-assuredness.
It happened that shortly after my daughter’s first semester learning Chinese, I visited Shanghai, China for work.
“Here, take this,” she said, handing me over her class workbook for class. “You’re gonna need it.”
Spoken like a true, language mini-expert.
Do you think it’s important to teach your kids another language? Join the conversation on youngurbanmoms.com or e-mail
for a chance to win a copy of “Bilingual Is Better” by Ana Flores and Roxana A. Soto.
Ana Flores, SpanglishBaby.com
New York City Dual Language Programs, http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/C20B6F38-66A0-4578-87B8-3CD215F8A5C6/0/DLPrograms0611.pdf