Our kids have been lucky to enjoy a Spanish immersion program through our local public schools so we had lots of support from family and teachers. The support was desperately needed because neither my husband nor I actually speak Spanish. We wish were bilingual but we’re not. Bilingualism was a gift we wanted to give our children, but not something that came easily.
The first reason to explore the world is motivation. Our first challenge in helping our kids to become bilingual was building enthusiasm for the challenge of learning Spanish and this was fun. We traveled a lot when they were young, very young. Some might ask whether it is “worth it” to travel with kids so young because they won’t remember it. What a crazy question? They don’t need to remember seeing the Eiffel Tower, they need to develop a global mind. By the time we visited the 1st grade program all in Spanish, my daughter was not intimidated or confused, she was motivated. She already understood that the world was full of people who didn’t speak English and she wanted to find a way to speak with them. By 2nd grade, when people asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, she would say ‘I want to learn every language in the world.”
Next we found that exploring the world helped our kids “chat” in Spanish. It’s one thing to go to school in Spanish and to learn to raise your hand and ask a carefully-planned question. It’s another thing altogether to converse with strangers, talk about what you did last weekend, and answer unexpected questions. Since we don’t speak Spanish at home, travel – locally and globally – was one of our best options.
Exploring the world doesn’t have to include expensive plane tickets. We found local restaurants to explore from a variety of Spanish-speaking countries, festivals celebrating Dia de los Muertos, spanish-language foreign films (which are different from American movies translated into Spanish), and local Spanish-speaking communities. We also hosted Spanish-speaking interns both formally and informally.
As kids grow up, exploring the world remains amazingly valuable for maintaining motivation and for real practice. As teenagers, they are less enthusiastic about hanging out with mom and dad but, offer them a plane ticket and suddenly family time is exciting. Speaking Spanish gives them a lot of autonomy and responsibility when we visit Spanish-speaking countries and a quick facility for and willingness to pick up other languages when we travel to other lands.
Bilingualism is about cherishing communication with a wide variety of people and not getting locked into only one way of thinking. Exploring the world can be a foundational part of helping your kids acheive this goal.