I love New Year's. Nothing beats the wonder and anticipation of breaking open a fresh, clean journal and writing down your hopes and dreams for the year. (Well, okay, jet skiing might beat that feeling, but I think you catch my drift.)
When you're raising bilingual kids, it is a goal akin to losing weight. It takes long-term consistency, some lifestyle changes, and requires checking in and recommitting. And for me at least, it's turned out to be just as much of struggle.
My husband Billy (a native Spanish speaker) and I (a more or less monolingual English speaker) started our bilingual baby journey with idealistic visions. He would only speak Spanish, and I'd handle the English. I mean, our kids would never even know he knew English, we'd be so sly.
But alas, our kids are now 5 and 2, and we find ourselves celebrating even the tiniest milestones. One Sunday morning, my daughter (5) woke up and just started talking in Spanish. It was a marvel. She was speaking poorly, but she was communicating nevertheless. Billy looked at me after she left the room and said, "I just had a whole conversation with my daughter in Spanish!"
He admitted her grammar didn't totally make sense - she was translating directly from English. But he could follow along and engage her, and that's what mattered. He intuitively knew not to correct her and risk discouraging her limited efforts.
We also recently celebrated our son's first Spanish sentence. He's a big eater, and I guess we weren't responding to his insatiable needs to his liking. So he decided to try in Spanish. Pointing at a tub of cheese puffs, he's saying, "Yo quiero!" I was stunned and thrilled! My enthusiasm diminished only a little when I realized he now has the bilingual prowess of a 1990's chihuahua. But I'll take it!
So as we gear up for another year of raising bilingual-ish kids, here's some ideas for ways our family (and yours) can start out the New Year with enthusiasm and resolve!
#1 - We resolve to watch more TV in the minority language.
All good resolutions start with "watch more TV." But if the kids already have screen time, why not leverage it for good? My son is still young enough I can just switch it, but my daughter barters. I have to get trickier. (You can find my list of 101 Spanish shows on Netflix here.)
#2 - We commit to up our reading in the minority language.
We've been working on this one. Billy has found that bilingual books work better for him than solely Spanish ones because our daughter is more interested if he can also translate for her.
#3 - This is the year for language tutoring.
You might sign up for Skype lessons or find local language classes or tutoring. These resources are available for adults and children.
#4 - I promise not to correct my kids' bilingual efforts.
My daughter recently had a birthday. And she walked around our Spanish-language church telling anyone who would listen, "Yo soy cinco!" That's a direct translation from the English "I am five!" but it doesn't work. This article, though, reminded me not to discourage her.
Choosing a specific time and place where only the second language is allowed can be a very effective strategy for raising bilingual kids. This one is anxiety producing for someone like me who is monolingual and panicked about being left out. But I need to practice, too!
#6 - We resolve to make language learning fun!
Discovering a second (or seventh) language together as a family can be an enjoyable, bonding experience. You can play games (we like Simon Says), memorize verses or poems together, sing songs, or listen to minority language podcasts or stories.
#7 - We commit to creating our own immersion experiences.
You may decide to join a minority language church or local kids' programming this year. I recently discovered a Spanish immersion summer camp I'm hoping to try out! Of course, travel is another great way to help kids learn language.
#8 - I promise not to holler "Speak Spanish!" to anyone in my family.
This is the resolution for the monolingual mom. As much as I value my kids' bilingual development, pushing them (or my husband) to practice more never really seems to be effective.
#9 - I resolve to educate myself about parenting bilingual kids.
Sometimes this journey can feel lonely (or hopeless), but there are so many resources available. You might enjoy the Bilingual Avenue podcast or this book, Bringing Up A Bilingual Child. (I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list!)
#10 - I promise not to compare my kids' language development to anyone else's.
This is like the all-time parenting resolution. Whether we mean to or not, we often look to other kids to see how our own children are doing regarding walking, talking, potty training, reading, etc. etc. But kids are on their own clock, and it doesn't do any good.
#11 - I commit to staying the course.
Just like losing weight, bilingualism is not an overnight accomplishment. I will admit that I thought the process would be much simpler and more straight-forward. But as a New Year dawns, I'm reminded that I must continue to commit and not give up.
How are your bilingual kids? What goals and resolutions do you have for language learning this year?