TEACHING YOUR CHILD A SECOND LANGUAGE

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Sienna said her first Spanish word the other day. It is “agua” (water). That was also Brae’s first Spanish word (and maybe even his first word, period).

Since my kids were each 3.5 months old, they have been going to a Spanish immersion daycare/school down the street from my house. I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found this place. Not only is it incredibly close to our home, but it is reasonably priced. The headmaster has her Master’s degree in elementary education, and she tries to keep the prices affordable for teacher’s kids (of whom there are a lot at the school).

The school is set up like an actual school, not a daycare. This was also a big selling point for me. It’s not a fancy school with the latest gadgets or toys. It has a very neighborhood, organic, grassroots feel to it. I love it.

There has been only one staff member change in the 3.5 years that we’ve gone there. All of the instructors know Spanish as their first language. And it is 100% espanol, all day long. It is also the only school of its kind in the entire Portland, Oregon area. I’m completely amazed that Brae can go from Spanish and English in the same breath when he talks to me, and then when he turns to talk to his teachers.

And yet, I’m astonished that there are not lines out the door trying to get into this school.

A recent Parents magazine edition had a lengthy article about the importance of teaching your child a second language, and the earlier, the better. Not only does it give them a leg up in the job market, but it actually activates a part of their brain that is otherwise not activated when you don’t speak a second language. It’s called the executive function of the brain, which allows you to focus on a task while distraction surrounds you. Plus, the United States is an anomoly in that we don’t teach our children another language from the time they are born. You travel to any other industrialized nation, and the children speak at least one other language.

I’ve heard it said many times by parents who resist a bilingual education for their kids that they themselves don’t speak the second language. I understand that resistance and hesitancy. I do. But, with all due respect, that should not be the reason a child is deprived the opportunity to learn the second language. Plus, it is a fantastic opportunity for the parents to also learn the second language.

I started studying Spanish when I was in 7th grade. I ended up minoring in it in college, and did an exchange abroad to Puerto Rico. I’ve gone on several missions trips to Mexico. My sister is a high school Spanish teacher. My mom speaks Spanish and has used it on medical missions trips. And yet, my 3.5-year-old son is still teaching me new words.

So, I’m here to get on my little soapbox and encourage all of you parents who have been hesitant (for whatever reason), to reconsider a bilingual education for your child. It doesn’t have to be by going to an immersion school. It can be by watching a cartoon or movie in another language. It can be by getting a book in another language (most have the second language and English so you can compare). It can be by getting flashcards. It can be by listening to music in another language. Anything that exposes them to actually learning words in another language.

They just may thank you for it down the road.

Off soapbox. The juggling act is next.

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