Progress Reports for the month of January have been sent home and I was very nervous to receive them as I did not know what exactly to expect from my kindergartener who had been struggling in the area of English Language Arts.
As I have said before, all the books about bilingual and multilingual children that I have read, encourage parents not to give up when the children find it challenging to keep up with more than one language. But that is certainly easier said than done.
For starters, the planning one must do selecting media and books for the children can be overwhelming. It is also very hard to try diverting conversations from the main spoken language to the one that is only spoken by the parents at home. The lack of vocabulary in the home language is sometimes frustrating for young children who are just eager to share whatever exciting thing they learned about in school.
Lastly, like it was in my case of course, children often face difficulty grasping the phonetics of one language. Having more than one language to learn at the same time, can be very challenging -especially as children start learning how to read in the main language and continue to speak the secondary languages at home.
When my 5-year-old faced the problem of sounding out the correct phonetics in English as she started to learn sight words and how to read, she found it confusing to read our books in Spanish at home. After talking with her teacher, we decided to stop reading in Spanish to push the learning process in English.
I felt like I was loosing some kind of war at that time. I did not want my child to loose interest in speaking my native tongue -especially since she had acquired a larger vocabulary in the recent months. However, I knew that reading in the main language is an imperative need in order to succeed in school and elsewhere.
We have focused on reading only in English, the prominent language, for about three months now and this is what I have seen:
- A more confident child in the area of English Language Arts. She now allows herself to make mistakes as she tries to sound out words. Most of the time, she can read them on her own.
- An increase in vocabulary and in the number of sight words she knows.
- A better understanding of the text. She is able to explain what the text is about, even when I ask her to tell me in Spanish.
- A much better performance in her evaluations.
- An increased interest to learn how to read also in Spanish. This came as a pleasant surprise to me. I’m very excited that now that she has the theory of how to read in English down, she’s feeling confident and is curious to apply it to Spanish. I’m going to hold off on that until perhaps this summer of maybe in the Fall when she starts first grade. I want her to get one language down before we move on to the next challenge.
To summarize, books and advice from other people who have raised bilingual children is a great tool to have -even when it seems impossible to overcome the challenges of keeping both languages at equal levels of fluency. They are a good reminder that other people have been able to succeed at the task and they can also be good encouragement during the times when our children seem like they are ready to leave the second language behind.
There will be times when we will have to push one language over another, but the most important thing than one can do to promote bilingualism, is keep modeling it ourselves. Luckily for me, I have plenty of opportunities to speak in Spanish in my daily life and my profession as a translator always allows me to have an opportunity to talk to my children about the advantages of knowing more than one language fluently.
We are taking one step at a time but after the initial hiccup that kindergarten presented in my goals toward bilingualism for my children, I feel more confident that with a little patience and more planning, I can teach my children how to be bi-literate as well.