I don't call myself a perfectionist, I prefer idealist. When Chiquita was born I thought I would only speak Spanish (not my native language) with her and she would be fully bilingual from the time she started talking... Ha!
The last three years haven't gone quite like that, if you read my blog, you may have notice Chiquita has developed some resistance to Spanish language this past year. We've learned a lot along the way, and are still learning. Here are some of our best strategies for minority-language learning:
- Media - Using our DVR, I've recorded Dora, Diego, Pocoyo, and Backyardigans in Spanish. If I was more dedicated we'd only watch TV in Spanish. As it is, having minority-language media is a good compromise for when she just wants to watch a show and I want her to be learning. The same thing goes for books. We have lots of books in English and I try to have just as many in Spanish. When we sit down for story time I grab 2-4 books, about half in Spanish and let her pick. We usually end up reading them all, but she picks the order so I'm not forcing language on her.
- Minority-language child care - I am a working stay-at-home mom, meaning I stay at home but still need some uninterrupted work time each week. After many sporadic and sometimes difficult child-care set-ups, we recently found a great solution. Once a week a wonderful woman we know comes to my home and watches Chiquita for 6 to 8 hours. She understands English mostly but really doesn't speak it, so Chiquita is forced to at least work on her comprehension skills and sometimes speaking as well. I found that other people who spoke Spanish and English fluently just reverted to English with Chiquita (like me!) so having someone who either doesn't speak the majority language or is willing to be tough made the difference. I still have girls from my neighborhood provide sporadic child-care, but this consistent exposure seems to be making a big difference.
- Crafts - Chiquita loves doing crafts. We compromise by doing some crafts in English and some in Spanish. If I tell her we can only talk about this craft in Spanish or start asking her questions about how to say things, she's usually cooperative.
- Teach the minority-language to friends - I started a very informal pre-school aged group in my neighborhood once a week for an hour to learn Spanish. I'm taking a break right now (in my third trimester of pregnancy, I needed a break), but this has been another great tool to get consistent Spanish-language time. I will read stories, sing songs and do crafts exclusively in Spanish if someone other than myself is expecting me to. When I'm the only one I'm accountable to it can be hard. It's like an exercise buddy, right? Also I'm hoping that seeing the kids she plays with trying to learn Spanish will enforce the idea that it's a neat and positive thing to do.
- Minority-language community events - Most weeks we attend a story time in Spanish. It's almost an hour away, but it's worth it for me because it's very engaging and like above, she sees other kids wanting to speak Spanish.
- Visits with Minority-language family - This has had less of an impact because we aren't able to do it often, but I think it will matter more in the long-term. Chiquita loved seeing her primas (cousins) this summer and put more effort into speaking Spanish with them (somewhat mitigated by their English language learning). She isn't very enthusiastic about phone conversations so it's hard to have consistent interaction.