September  2005 Homeschool Views Logo

Must-Know Secrets for Raising Bilingual Homeschoolers!

Nowadays you can hear parents talking about it everywhere from the doctor's offices to the playground. I read about it online or in all of my favorite parenting magazines - Let's face it - Everyone is talking about it!

"The best time to teach your child a second language is when they're young."

Youíve heard it too and because itís true it means the pressure is on, or at least that is how I feel...

"So...How do you raise a bilingual child?"

Whenever Iím asked this question...I just keep quiet. My husband and I are from Puerto Rico. As you can imagine we grew up speaking Spanish as our first language. The only exposure to English we got was at school and that was just 50 minutes of English a day. It was never a priority of mine to become fluent. Of course that changed once we were living in the United States, but that wasnít until my husband and I were adults.

You hear people say - and YES! itís true Ė it is much easier to learn a second language if youíre exposed to it as a child. Having struggled to learn English as adults, my husband and I were not going to make the same mistake with our kids. Thatís why we decided to raise our children in a bilingual home. Our daughter has been learning both English and Spanish at the same time. Sometimes we even speak Spanglish, a combination of both. This is a fun and different trick that works for my family. Be original and try new things to see what will work for your family. Nothing is out of bounds. According to the ďexperts,Ē you need to plan how to integrate a second language. They make it seem like a chore when, in our experience, you just need to have fun with it. The best way to introduce a second language is to expose yourself and your family in a natural and fun way. Here are somethings that work for us.

Talk to your neighbors!
Now, not all parents are bilingual but that doesnít mean their children canít be. There are many resources available to you and in my opinion the best one is friends and families in your area who are bilingual. At first, it may seem hard to find people from other cultures that are willing to speak to you and your children in their native tongue. Stick with it - put the word out at church, with friends, co-workers, and if necessary in the newspaper! Remember this is a very diverse country!

When you do find a family that speaks the language you want to teach your child, sit down and talk to them. Chances are that English is their second language and, in the end, you would both be learning from each other! Exposing your child to a different culture and heritage will really help them to get a better grasp on the world. Look for fun things both of your families can do together. Start out with a fun and simple picnic at the park - before long your children will be great friends and itíll be easy after that.

Speak without Fear
The biggest problem most people face in learning a new language is their own fear. They worry that they wonít say things correctly or that theyíll look silly so instead of facing their fears, they donít talk at all. Donít get caught in this trap! The fastest way to learn anything is to do it Ė repeatedly - until you get it right. Like anything worth doing, learning a second language requires practice. Donít let a little fear stop you from getting what you want. Remember: your children are watching you and, like it or not, you are an example to them.

Keep Your Ears open!
Listen to native speakers as much as possible - One of the reasons this is so important and helpful is that native speakers have a natural flow to their speech that you and your children should try to imitate. The better you get this rhythm or flow, the more comfortable youíll become. For my family, the easiest way is with music. Often I start singing songs from my childhood to my daughter. I keep it up and ask her to just start repeating what Iím saying. I always take the time to ask if she understands what weíre saying and I explain to her when I need to. Music is often used as a way of improving comprehension. The best way to learn though is to get the lyrics (words) to the songs you are listening to and try to read them as the artist sings.

Speaking on the phone or listening to radio broadcasts, audio books, or CDs is different than watching the television or films because you canít see the person that is speaking to you. Many learners say that speaking on the phone is one of the most difficult things that they do and the only way to improve is to practice.

Take turns recording yourselves
Nobody likes to hear their own voice on tape, but, like tests, it is good to compare your tapes from time to time. You may be so impressed with the progress youíre all making that you may not mind the sound of your voice as much.

Embrace Technology
There are many ways to spice up the way your children are learning new concepts and they can also take some of the pressure off of you at the same time.
  • Computer Learning Software:
    There are many wonderful new educational based software games for every age group. Invest in a couple of these and next thing you know your child will be begging you to be able to play them... and as a bonus you'll know that the games are cleverly teaching your children their second language!

  • Educational Tools:
    Adding some new toys designed to teach your homeschoolers their second language to your daily lesson plans can really help to get them excited.

  • T.V. doesn't have to be the Enemy!
    Thereís a very large range of educational videos available to teach homeschoolers whatever language you're interested in. Look at the special features on your DVDs and you'll be surprised on how many you can switch the language on. My family had the greatest time watching "The Nutty Professor" in french! Give it a's hilarious!

Be Creative & Surround Yourself
Using as many different resources, methods, and tools as possible will allow you to learn faster. There are many different ways you can improve your second language, so donít limit yourself to just one. Take notes, look for books, listen to the language radio broadcasts, watch the news, and movies. This is not only a fun way to learn, itís also very effective. By watching films (especially those with subtitles), you can expand your vocabulary and hear the flow of speech from the actors. If you listen to the news, you can also hear different accents. When I was trying to learn English, I used to buy newspapers, magazines, books, and of course a couple of dictionaries. Whatever I could get my hands on helped me. Just use your imagination and have fun doing it. Iíve heard that in some households each parent speaks a different language to their child. Do what works for you. To succeed you just need the desire to learn and enjoy it!

Straight from bilingual homeschoolers to you...

"I raise my children the same way I was raised. I make sure they are given both sets of values. I am very proud to say all my kids speak and write both languages correctly; even my toddler can do his abc's in English and Spanish! Start at an early age and teach the second language as an equal subject that must be learnedÖ like math or science." Jessie Lozada- homeschool mom of four, M.A.

"We speak to our child in our language (Hindi national language) and try to teach him words in English as well. This is important because when he goes out with the other kids they will be talking in English and itís important that he understand them, too. I guess you have to teach them both languages simultaneously... itís been proven that kids below ten absorb the maximum words of any age. So, make it a point to talk to them in both languages as much as possible." Vikas Raj,- homeschool father of 1, originally from India now located in Canada.

Get Wild & Have Fun
Have fun and make some memories. Try turn on some cultural music and have a dance contest. There are even fun Karaoke tapes and videos that come in multiple languages. Whatever it is that makes your family smile - do it!

Happy Homeschooling,

Millie Godreau

A Warm thanks to Millie for contributing this article for all of us to enjoy and learn from. Millie is the successful homeschooling Mother of two beautiful children and president of Godvela's Gift Shop.

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