She wanted her child to have the best of everything, including skills to compete on the global stage as an adult. She had no idea what else would happen along the way to raising a bilingual child.
Discovery No. 1: No More Fidgets
I began reading board books to my daughter, Lilly, when she was just months old. By the time she was two, she was so engaged that she picked the books herself, often opting for the same ones. Before long, I needed more books. I decided to read her some stories I’d heard as a child, which were in Spanish. When she was overtired, of course, she had no patience for reading and it seemed some nights she would get overstimulated and fidgety, so I limited our time to 20 minutes.
I quickly realized that she was fascinated by the Spanish stories. No more rolling around, no more interrupting, no more wriggling her way through storytime. Now she was listening to my words. Often before bedtime, she’d want to hear the story again, with me translating. At times, she finished the sentences with a word or two of Spanish. This should not have surprised me. I was able to find articles in parenting magazines online which cited studies that showed that children who learn a second language are more patient and more able to focus than those who speak just one language.
Discovery No. 2: More Smiles
At first, I wondered if she was simply entertained by the sounds of the new words. Then she began to mention the stories when we weren’t reading. Clearly, she was delighted by our new activity and happily was anticipating our reading sessions. One of our favorite stories was The Story of Ferdinand (El Cuento de Ferdinando). I had loved this story of a great animal who liked to peacefully sit and smell the flowers. Lilly loved to say, “torito!”
Lilly is now nine and has great facility with Spanish. But I could see the start of this wonderful journey was bilingual learning at two or three. It astounded me. It was as if she had discovered a secret language that delighted her endlessly. I was curious about what I was witnessing and when I spoke to the Spanish teacher at the elementary school, she confirmed that this was the case with her students and with her own children.
Discovery No. 3: We Love to Learn
I have to admit that when I first embarked on my plan to teach Lilly Spanish, I felt a little over-ambitious in my goals for her. The last thing on my mind was to ruin the experience of reading for her by making it more work than fun. Everything I’d learned about raising a bilingual child was so positive that it was an easy decision to take this on.
The surprise is that, far from being turned off by the “work,” Lilly was excited to learn. She showed me that reading and learning Spanish was more special information that fed her ready brain and she loved it. More science here: studies prove our kids are best equipped to learn in this way before the age of four.
Discovery No. 4: I Needed a New Hat
I developed a healthy respect for teachers during my experience. On one hand, Lilly took off when it came to learning Spanish. On the other, I quickly saw that I needed to wear a second hat. As her teacher, I had to step outside of my love for her and bring structure with realistic goals to the process, which was not always easy.
Finding help from my friend, the local elementary school Spanish teacher, plus online curricula, I realized that I was moving too fast. And that if I didn’t act more like a teacher, Lilly’s interest would wane and so would her language acquisition. As her mom (and her teacher), I could celebrate each learning victory and share in the excitement that stemmed from slowly becoming immersed in learning a second language. As her teacher (and her mom), I needed to detach and make sure she was acquiring language not simply checking off boxes on a “to do” list.
Discovery No. 5: Mom Learned, too.
I found myself returning to Spanish in a way I hadn’t expected. I hadn’t read much in Spanish for a long time, mostly because in my busy adult life, I did not have occasion to use it. Now that I had Lilly, I had a great motivation to refresh my own skills. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the rhythms, the economy, and the romance of the language.
I wanted to be able to anticipate Lilly’s progress so I started to research more options for stories in both languages. I looked everywhere but it was a challenge to find a variety of children’s books to read to her in Spanish. And, I learned that I wasn’t the only one looking. Again, my friend the Spanish teacher was a tremendous help. Together, we were able to keep Lilly entertained and happily learning with stories.
Note: Erica Sanders is a guest blogger for Blossom ebook library’s beta program. If you are interested in learning more about this wonderful program to provide scaffolded second language acquisition, please consider joining Blossom’s crowdfunding campaign. You can be an early patron and actively participate on the process that will bring this revolutionary technology to life. Our campaign will be launched in the beginning of 2018, with rewards for those who join. If you are interested in more information, subscribe to our newsletter.