The benefits of using bilingual books when you are raising bilingual kids
Raising bilingual kids? There are a number of ways to help your kids keep up their exposure to both languages. Erika Deery is a Mexican / Australian mother and children’s book author who is raising bilingual kids. She offers a great insight to the benefits of bilingual books, and a fantastic bilingual book giveaway at the end of the post!
Raising Bilingual Kids
When I was pregnant with my first child, I never really thought much about bilingualism. As a Mexican living in Australia, I always thought I would speak Spanish to my children and they would be bilingual. After all, Spanish is the language that my husband and I speak at home.
It wasn’t until one of our friends mentioned that a lot of bilingual families have each parent talk in their native language (using the OPOL language strategy) that things started getting real for me.
When my daughter was born, I spoke to her in Spanish and my husband spoke to her in English. Even though it was weird to even talk to a baby I could see that by six months old, she could understand everything I said.
When she was a tiny baby, I received some other very good advice from a friend who is also raising bilingual children. This advice was to read in Spanish A LOT!
She suggested that I could get picture books from the library and I could easily translate the books even if they were in English. When you read to a baby you can just point at the image and talk about the book rather than having to repeat the words.
Reading to my baby in Spanish
Reading to kids is important. I didn’t think that I would enjoy reading to my baby.
When I was reading all those picture books, I realised that reading aloud to a child didn’t only mean spitting out the text with different voices. It means to ask questions, to point at images and to let your kid get acquainted with books and how they work, even if they chew them!
The more I read, the more I remembered how much I enjoyed drawing and making up characters and stories.
It wasn’t until I was on a plane going to Mexico with my then six month old baby that I started writing the first book in the Millie series, “Millie va al espacio/Millie goes to space”.
The very first version of my book, which I made only for my daughter, was in Spanish. One of my friends, who is also raising a bilingual child, asked me if my book was bilingual.
This question opened a lot of possibilities and I started exploring more about bilingual books.
It turns out that bilingual books provide many advantages.
Benefits of Bilingual Books
- Bilingual books help foster biliteracy in kids that are growing up with two languages;
- The same book can be read by different people in different languages;
- Bilingual books create inclusivity, especially in migrant communities who may not speak the minority languages in their new home; and
- Bilingual books foster multiculturalism through storytelling, expressions and illustrations.
On top of that, what I love most about bilingual books is that they bring multilingual families together. Not all members of one family speak the same language. It´s lovely to see a grandparent or an auntie being able to read to their grandchild in their native language even if they can´t fluently speak the language of the community.
Raising a bilingual child
As our daughter grew and talked more, English started being the strongest language with a few words in Spanish here and there.
On one hand, I had gone back to work full time and she spent more time in childcare listening to English than Spanish only with me.
I think sleep deprivation made me less strict and even though my daughter would say a few words in English I would still respond in Spanish or pass around the object she was after.
At one point I thought that I was failing but after going to playgroups with other Spanish speaking parents or even with other bilingual families, I also saw that those children spoke English because that’s the majority language.
Kids are smart, what is going to help them survive more? The majority language of course.
The importance of the Spanish language
Spanish is still very important for me, so in an attempt to increase how much Spanish my daughter speaks we tried different things at home to close the gap between English and Spanish.
At one point, we attempted to change to Minority Language at Home (MLAH) but she told her dad to “stop talking weird” when he spoke Spanish to her.
A small change that started working for me was to repeat what my daughter just said in English, in Spanish, and then ask her to repeat it. Most times she is happy to do it, except when she is tired.
I make sure that if there’s any screen time in our house that the show is in Spanish. I’m always looking for books in Spanish and I make a big effort to play in Spanish, even though it’s hard as it stops the flow of whatever we are doing, especially if it’s a role play game.
When I had my second daughter and I went on maternity leave I started spending more time with her and my new baby, she started to speak Spanish a bit more every time. I think we needed to simply spend more time together, and go to more Spanish playdates and keep reading more books.
It hasn’t been easy and while she is having more complex conversations in English, her Spanish is also advancing even if it’s not at the same level, but I’m confident it will get there.
My husband learned Spanish in university and he gets complemented on how well he speaks. He attributes a lot of his success to all the music he heard when he was on an exchange in Mexico.
Now he has a trick under his sleeve. Every time we are at home, he plays music in Spanish in the back ground.
Just the other day, our daughter started to sing the words of a Belanova song. My husband and I looked at each other with pride.
My one year old is starting to say a few words like “mamá”, “papá” and “agua”. It’s exciting to see those new words appear and it’s also a good reminder to make sure I stick to Spanish and I ask for replies in Spanish.
Being bilingual is “part” of our child’s identity
Sometimes, when we are having a day with not much Spanish, I have to remind myself that being bilingual is part of our child’s identity, but it’s not their entire identity.
As parents, we also have to ensure that our children grow up with values, that they can be self-confident, that they eat healthy food and that they can socialize. There is a lot in our plates!
If I could ever give advice to new parents starting this journey it would be this:
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
You will have about 18 years to educate your child. While it’s important to start the bilingual journey as young as possible, it’s also never too late.
Play to your strengths
Show your kids what you love, maybe if you are good at crafts or at playing soccer, do the activities that you love in the target language and your child will absorb the language through play.
Recommended: 25 Ways to Boost the Minority Language
Use your child’s interests
If your child does puzzles, do puzzles and talk a lot about them, about the colours and the shapes you are looking for. Go exploring and go on adventures, the idea is to have that interest and do it in the target language.
Recommended: Raising a bilingual child in the Montessori Way
Use music to your advantage
Pop music has simple lyrics with enough repetition that is easy to understand.
Recommended: Using music to help improve a language
Read, and read a lot
What kind of author would I be if I didn’t say that?
Even if I didn’t write books, reading is exercise for your brain and what better way to introduce bilingualism than through different types of stories.
Reading will expose your child to a range of vocabulary and expressions that you will not find in everyday situations.
And my last bit of advice, if you are a parent who is raising a bilingual child, please take a deep breath, be kind to yourself and remember that you are doing great!
Bilingual Books Giveaway!
**This giveaway is now closed**
Erika Deery is giving away 2 sets of bilingual books in English and Spanish. There are 4 books in each set!
Finish the sentence below in the comments:
– Reading to children in both/all of their languages on a daily basis is important because…
Entries will close 4th November 2018 11.59pm CET