It is very fun to watch our toddler finally showing signs of understanding the three languages spoken with her at home. It’s actually pretty rewarding to see her pointing at things in her books and actually remembering their names in Arabic and Spanish at least. But the more our little girl builds her vocabulary and is able to communicate with us, the more that I find myself trying to redirect her so she doesn’t mix languages.
The whole language salad is a complicated recipe since it’s usually easier to respond to the child in a form of melange like Spanglish. But if you have read my previous posts about the topic, you know how much I dislike the use of two (or three) languages in the same sentence. Sure, it’s great for your child to actually be able to decode messages that way, but really isn’t all that great when trying to be bilingual and bi-literate. The advice from the experts it to “stick to your guns” and respond to your child in the language that you initiated the conversation in.
Since my almost 2-year-old cannot really tell me whether she knows that while “cat” means “gato“, one can’t really mixed it with “mira el” (look at the), to make a Spanglish sentence that sounds: mira el cat; I try to correct her by making sure she says “mira el gato” or “look at the cat”. I know, it is even complicated to try to make sense of this concept in writing, but for me, it is very important that our three languages are spoken properly so that our children can feel “at home” and be successful in both the US and in our home countries.
The hardest part of avoiding the language melange is setting a good example. Last week, for instance, one of my girl’s little friends came over to play. Naturally when talking to her I did it in English but then the three of us sat down to read one of my daughter’s favorite books -one that I have always read for her in Spanish- and I noticed that when I began to read it in English, my little girl was not as interested and excited about it as she normally would be. So I had to do a “Dora The Explorer” and read every sentence in both languages, just like Dora would say: Let’s go, vámonos.
It probably would have been easier to grab another book or mix in a little Spanglish in my reading, but it is not what I want to show my kids, so I made the extra effort and it paid off. Surprisingly, my girl was as excited with the book as usual and she didn’t even mind the “new” sentences being added to the story. I also have to say that our little friend didn’t seem to be confused by this whole language dance at all either 🙂 So we were all happy with our little story time.
I know it sounds like too much work or even complicated to continue to be like Dora (I don’t even like that show), but it really works well with my daughter and I believe it makes her connect words in different languages to the same concept or item. I have even started doing it with some of her the new Baby Einstein DVD’s we recently got from a friend! You won’t believe how incredible hard is to find age-appropriate DVD’s that are actually educational for the children in Spanish or to even have the language selection option in their menu here in the US so one must compensate for this.
I do have some DVD’s that can be watched in both languages, but they were sent to us from Mexico and this isn’t a convenient (or easy) way to increase our library. I want to be able to constantly open my child’s horizon by introducing new topics all the time. Thus, when this friend offer her collection of Baby Einstein DVD’s just recently, I thought to give it a try and see how we could do a little language dance with the English-only “visual aids”.
So we got my friend’s collection and my daughter quickly noticed the new boxes in our drawer. She picked one and we started watching. As different words began to appear on the screen, she started to repeat some of them. That made me think like Dora again, so I didn’t waste the opportunity and began to say the word in Spanish right after the one in English was presented on the screen.
I honestly didn’t know if this was an effective way to take advantage of the English-only DVD collection until yesterday, when my daughter started saying some of the words in Spanish right after the ones in English as she was watching the same DVD! (Yay!!!).
So now that Dora’s tactic has been proven to work, I decided to be more like her on a daily basis as my toddler begins to use language more. Oh my! I never saw myself copying anything that Dora The Explorer does… Wish us luck!