Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hispanic Heritage Month

Established in 1988, Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15-October 15.  My first question was why these particular dates?  Why didn't it start on the first of the month?  

The answer is actually quite simple:  September 15 is the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico declared its independence on September 16, and Chile on September 18. 

My other question was:  is my family considered "Hispanic"?  I have had this debate about my Spanish husband for years--people generally seem to think that you must be of Latin American origin to be considered "Hispanic".  

My thoughts were that any advantages given to Hispanics (just as with African Americans) should be to counteract the stereotypes--in our case, Spanish as a first language and a latino name front and center on the resume.  Simply enough, aren't all Latinos "Spanish" in origin?

Turns out I'm correct (hurrah!)

The term Hispanic, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, refers to Spanish-speaking people in the United States of any race. On the 2000 Census form, people of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin could identify themselves as Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or "other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino." Click here to find Hispanic countries of origin.

Here are some events around the nation to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Unfortunately, it looks like Pittsburgh is lacking (to be fair, Atlanta--where we lived before was a "hot spot" of latinos and had a ton of events for adults and kiddies alike) but I could find this.  And, although it's not quite related to Hispanic Heritage month, there is a Spanish storytime this weekend at the main library that may work to get you into the spirit!

Here's a fun quiz by Brain Quest to see how much you know about Hispanic culture!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Will my babies stutter??

I just read an interesting article in the Washington Post that made me a bit nervous.  It spoke of kids who were taught more than one language before they started school (at 4 or 5) being more likely to stutter than kids that learned a second language after the age of 5.  

Interestingly enough, it seems that the stuttering tended to begin between ages 4 and 5, and several of the children only stuttered in one of the languages.  This often occurred when the children had problems with one language, or perhaps "refused" to speak one of the languages.

The good news is that children "outgrow" stuttering, and it seems that more children who speak one language exclusively at home "recovered" from stuttering than did children who (I can only imagine) had a family that used the OPOL method.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What's in a name?

The birthday of our new arrival is quickly approaching and friends and relatives are beginning to ask if we've picked out a name.  A simple "no" is not acceptable--the minimum response is a short-list of possibilities.

Our dilemma is the following:  we want a name that is easily pronounceable in both English and Spanish (this may sound silly, but my in laws still spell "Jennifer" with a Y!), not too common (I don't wish being identified in school as "Jennifer #3" on anyone), and does not end in an "o" (pet peeve as our last name ends with an o).

You'd think we were trying for the impossible!

And even when we figure this out (as with our little Victor), we have the problem of the middle and last names.  

In Spain, there are no middle names.  You will find nombres compuestos such as "Maria Teresa" or "Jose Luis", but then this is their name, and seldom do they go by Maria or Jose.  

However, in most of the world, there are traditional reasons for giving a child a middle name, and they are not just used to emphasize that you are in trouble or to fill out paperwork.  You can find a good, detailed explanation here.

The other issue is the last name.  I took Oscar's last name when we were married, but that is not traditional practice in Spain.  In Spain, you have 2 last names:  your first last name is your father's, and your second last name is your mother's.  The interesting thing is that you typically go by your first name and your father's last name, effectively "dropping" your second last name (except when filling out documentation).  This was fun for me when I lived there as people were constantly thinking my middle name was my last name, and dropping my real last name.

With Victor, our decision has been to give him his father's last name as we do here in the States, and hope we can fill out his Spanish documentation with my maiden name.  

So where are we now?

I'm happy to report that after going back to the drawing board several times over the past few months, I think we have a good candidate for the little guy....  

But, sorry folks, I'm not going to jynx myself by posting it until we're sure!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

No me llames LENTEJAS!

One of the first "real" solid foods that Victor ate (after the rice cereal, veggie and fruit purees, etc) were lentils.  It was inevitable--my husband LOVES lentils (one of the comfort foods of Spain), and my son cries when he sees someone eating something he is not.  

Seriously, lentils are a fantastic food for babies:
  • super easy and fairly quick to make
  • you can make a huge batch and it freezes well
  • very inexpensive
  • rich in fiber, iron, protein
  • lend themselves to adding other veggies (carrots, garlic, leeks, etc) as well as yogurt
  • no need to puree as the lentils cook down to be very soft
  • pretty portable (OK, I'll admit that maybe this is an anomaly as my son likes cold lentils)
I've been pretty surprised as to the amount of questions I have received about making and feeding our babies and toddlers lentils.  Since I have received a number of requests for a recipe, I thought I would share our "base" recipe here:

1 package dried lentils
1 onion or leek (optional)
several cloves of garlic
3 or 4 chopped carrots
1 cube of chicken broth
any other veggies you want to add
any meat you want to add (we sometimes add chorizo, ham, bacon, or even chopped hot dogs)

In a big pot, bring about 6 cups of water to a boil.  Add chicken brothe and lentils.
At the same time, sautee your onion/leek and garlic.  Add meat (chopped) into pan until lightly cooked.  Add to lentil pot.
Let mixture simmer for a couple of hours (or if you have a pressure cooker like we do, 15 min) until lentils are soft.
Let cool a bit and puree (optional) to desired texture.

Que aproveche!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What to do about BOOKS?

We've hit a milestone!  Victor loves to be read to.  I have been waiting anxiously for this day, and it's finally arrived!  He will now hand me a book, sit with a smile on his face while I read it, (sometimes) clap at the end, and hand it back to me for another read.  Very cute.  Or, at least until I've read the same book 8 times, but that's another post.

There is something strange going on, though.  Naturally, we have books in both English and Spanish in our house.  Victor will sit patiently while I read an English book in English, or a Spanish book in Spanish.  He also loves hearing my husband read a Spanish book in Spanish.  However, if my husband (who has a great command of the English language) tries to read him an English book--either in English as written or translated into Spanish--game over!  Victor moves on and starts playing with another toy.  What's the deal?

I've tried to experiment and translate some of the more simple English books ("see the puppy run and jump") into Spanish and the same thing happens.  Does he know???

Which brought us to our most recent dilemma--since "in the house" is Spanish time, should we even be reading English books to Victor here?

For now, I will continue to read the books as written, and I've asked hubby to read books in Spanish unless they are dependent on being read in English (rhyming, alphabet books, etc). Once Victor gets old enough to ask/answer questions about the book, we'll do that in Spanish. 

A ver que pasa!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Learning Spanish through music

I first started learning Spanish through music. A girlfriend of mine loved Salsa dancing, but could not find anyone to go to the bars with her. She finally convinced me to come along and the combination of the music, dancing, and cute guys with accents got me hooked!

It wasn't too long before I was curious as to what exactly I was dancing to. I remember that I asked a friend of mine to translate Victor Manuelle's "Que Habria Sido de Mi", one of my favorite songs. There I was, with a huge grin on my gringa face, while Sr. Manuelle sings of how his heart was broken and smashed on the floor. It was then that I knew I either had to give up salsa dancing or learn a little Spanish.

Music and song is such a powerful thing that I couldn't wait to introduce it to my children. Little Victor is finally at the point where he will pay attention and sometimes imitate hand motions when you say a rhyme or sing a song. But I was completely lost when it came to Spanish kiddie songs.

With the help of my husband, we've been searching YouTube for some of his childhood memories. We've found "Enrique y Ana", a duo from the 70s (much like my "Donny and Marie"), "Los Payasos de la Tele", and my favorite: Rosa Leon.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I think I'm in LOVE!

I was fiddling around with YouTube a few months ago and happened upon a cute little cartoon called Pocoyo ("little me"). Sooooo adorable!!!

Pocoyo can be found on YouTube in many different languages including Spanish, English, French, and Italian. My big disappointment is that it seems impossible to purchase the Spanish version on DVD.

If you love it as I do, check out http://www.pocoyo.com/ or http://www.pocoyo.blogs.com/ for more information

Sunday, August 31, 2008

So far, so good!

It's been just over 2 weeks since little Victor's first birthday (and my personal deadline to figure out our approach to bilingualism). We're doing well!

These last 2 weeks have been very eventful, what with moving back from Philadelphia (where we were living for the summer), Victor's first birthday, Oscar back in grad school, and some nerve-wracking midwife appointments (everything turned out well and the little guy should stay put for another month or so!) so I'm surprised that we've (okay, I've) been sticking to the plan.

I have run into a couple of (surprising challenges:

Go figure, I'm actually having a tough time speaking to Victor in English for long periods of time. I can sing a song or rhyme or say a few sentences, but normally I revert right back to Spanish. This hasn't posed a problem, but I do feel a little bad if we are with friends.

And, riddle me this!--yesterday we were doing a little shopping and mama sat down as she was huffing and puffing (I blame the heat and the extra 40 lbs, not the lack of exercise!!). A father and son sat down next to us and were playing with the little boy's new toy. For some reason, I felt strange speaking to Victor in Spanish (even though I had no idea who these people were and was not in the mood to be drawn into a conversation!)

Not bad for the first 2 weeks!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Book Review! Rojo and Amarillo

These are two other awesome books I found at Philadelphia's Free Library this summer:

Amarillo and Rojo, published by Santillana (known for children's books in Spain--my husband even remembers several of his books from his youth!) and illustrated by Teresa Novoa.

These are both board books that tell a simple story with yellow and red objects.

Rojo is my favorite as it is such a vibrant color and speaks of fruits "la sandia, mmmmm! que fresquita" and kisses "los besos que nos damos"...

Amarillo tells the story of a little boy in the countryside whose hat flies away, befriends a baby chick that asks: "Pio! Pio! Puedo quedarme contigo?", and otherwise enjoys running around in the sunshine.

There is another book in the series: Azul. While blue is my favorite color, I found the book pretty lame (to the point where I didn't want to continue reading the huge 10 page story to my son!). I don't recommend it.

I found a number of books illustrated by Teresa Novoa and am including the link below:


Happy Reading!!

Book Review! Todos Los Besos

I am in LOVE with this book!!!

I found "Todos Los Besos" by Alex Sanders and Pierrick Bisinski at Philadelphia's "Free Library"'s kiddie foreign language section.

It's a cute board book that is extremely simple in nature. The little blue fairy on the cover runs around giving and receiving besitos to and from mama, el perrito, un osito, etc. etc.

The clever part is that each of these besitos are named:

Papa's kiss is the "beso que pica" (he's in need of a shave)

The fishie's kiss is the "beso glu glu"

and there are even dramatic tears when the fairy is "sin beso".

The pictures are supercute, with bright colors that kept my little man amused time and time again. The best part was that the pages were indented so that he could easily turn the pages himself with his clumsy little deditos.

Here is some additional information on the book and the author / illustrator:


and you can purchase it (used, at least) here:


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

We're down to the wire!!!

As Victor's birthday quickly approaches (I can't believe he'll be one TOMORROW!!!), I think we've decided on an approach. Nothing like waiting until the last minute, right??

Here we go! Our "base" is MLAH, with some "tweaking".

Basically, Oscar and I agree that our family will inevitably change over the years, and we want to use a dynamic method that will still encourage our family to become bilingual.

Sooooo... while the kiddos are young (really, as long as we practically can, but probably until they are in school), we will primarily speak to them in Spanish. I say "primarily" because if we are with friends/family who do not speak Spanish, we will defer to English. Also, there will be activities (songs, rhymes, books, etc) that will we will do in English. Finally, I am realistic that there are limits to my speaking in Spanish (the aforementioned "language headaches"), so there may be times that I revert back to English.

As they grow, have friends that do not speak Spanish and go to school, we will have to re-evaluate. Perhaps we will follow a strict MLAH at that point, not sure yet. At that time, our hope is that we can find some activities where they will need to speak in Spanish and they can interact more with their primos and abuelos in Spain.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Other Methods

Here's a quick list of other methods I have run across:

1. Use certain languages on certain days and/or time of day.

2. Use minority language on vacation, during summer break, etc.

3. Depend on people other than parents (i.e. a nanny, grandparents, school immersion program) to consistently use minority language.

4. Anything else that works for you as long as it gives your little one adequate exposure and interaction with the language!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Variations on Minority Language at Home

The purist will say that MLAH means that when the child is with one (or both) parents, the minority language will be spoken. Surely that's an option, but can we be more flexible? I'll be honest--speaking in Spanish all day, every day gives me a headache!

Brainstorming with Oscar, we thought of a few different ways we could implement MLAH:

1. The above mentioned "strict" approach--anytime we speak with our kids, it will be in Spanish.

2. Like my mom's family, we could take to heart the "at home" part--speaking Spanish inside the house--but once we step outside that door, we are in English.

3. We could base the language on the environment and company we keep. For example, generally when we are together--Spanish. However, if we are with American friends (even in our home)--English. If we are visiting Spain--Spanish. At my parents house--English. At school--English. etc.

4. We could also vary our approach based on age. While they are still babies, we will primarily speak to them in Spanish. However, as they get older, we could speak to them more in English, still depending on where we are, who we are with, etc. At this point, we would also need to "immerse" them in Spanish for periods of time (i.e. visiting their abuelos, Spanish school/extracurriculars, etc.) to make sure they maintain the Spanish.

Right now, our favorite option so far is a combo of #3 and #4.

In preparation for my deadline of Victor's first birthday (9 days and counting!), I have been trying to speak to him primarily in Spanish, especially while we are in the house. I slip a bit, mostly in the late afternoon/evening when I'm tired, but I'm hoping it will become more automatic and natural. Keep your fingers crossed!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Family Language / Community Language Method

A second, highly recommended way to encourage your family to become bilingual uses what are called the "Family Language" and "Community Language". This method also goes by other names such as "Minority Language at Home" (ML@H or MLaH), Foreign Home Pattern, etc.

Basically, when the parents are alone with the kid(s), they use the "family language" and when others are around, the "community language" is used. There are several variations on this (for example, using the family language only inside the house and the community language while out and about, etc)

Again with the "Pros" and "Concerns":

1. This method, like OPOL, is extremely common and encourages an active use of both languages.

2. It will allow the entire family to speak in both languages, using the environment as the driver. It is said to be one of the most consistent of the methods as the child hears and interacts with both parents in both languages from birth.

3. Again, I know that this works--from my very own family!:

My mother is from Latvia, but left when she was a small child. Her parents used this method with her and her sister and they still speak Latvian to this day (this is especially encouraging as Latvian is not the most common language and they were not able to visit their home country for over 40 years!)

4. This method relieves one of my concerns with OPOL in that we will not be alienating friends and family by speaking to our children in a language they cannot understand. It will also be easy to be consistent speaking with my husband as we will not need to "pick" a language (as in OPOL).


1. I am already seeing that the vocabulary varies depending on if we are at home or if we are in the park, at a restaurant, with friends, etc. I can only imagine that once the little guys start school their English vocabulary will have a different focus (notebooks, pop quiz, etc) than what they use with us and vice versa. How can we even this out? (note to self: once I learn that, I'll need to apply that to my life. There are still words/stories that are more automatic for me in one language or another!)

2. According to my reading, if you follow this method strictly, your child will lag behind during the first 6 months of school until the other language "kicks in". Will this give our children a disadvantage?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What a coincidence! OPOL in practice.

Just after writing the OPOL blog, Victor and I were strolling through Rittenhouse Square and ran into a mama named Susana and her daughter. We had a nice conversation and parted ways.

The very next day, we ran into Susana and T. on the street corner and started chatting again. I mentioned how our family was trying to figure out how to help our kids become bilingual.

Susana, previously a teacher, but now a SAHM, is from Guatemala and her husband is from the US. Her English is perfect with only a slight hint of an accent (and only if you know what you're listening for); her husband does not speak Spanish.

I noticed how little T. reacted to Spanish in a different way than to English--even at 9 months! Amazing.

Susana's family uses the OPOL method and she is very enthusiastic about it.

While we only chatted for a few minutes, I did express to her my concern about how to speak to my husband--English or Spanish?--especially in front of the children. Obviously, she does not have this problem as English is their only option at this point, and she did not have any advice on that issue.

I will keep looking for answers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The OPOL method

One of the the most recommended methods for teaching your child to be bilingual is called "One Parent One Language", or OPOL for short. This method is exactly what it sounds to be: one parent interacts with their child solely in one language, and the other parent interacts in another. Consistency is key (uh-oh!).

Let's talk Pros and Cons:

1. It is one of the most common methods for intentionally teaching your child a second language from birth. It encourages an active knowledge of both languages.

2. It will allow my husband and I to interact with our son in our native tongues, which is "automatic" and comfortable for us both.

3. From personal experience, I know this works, at least to some extent, as we are all creatures of habit.

Case in point:
When I moved to Madrid, I spoke very little Spanish. (Adding insult to injury, my friends there joked that all I did know was Mexican Spanish: carro for car (which is a horse and buggy in Spain), pluma for pen (which can be a feather or a flamboyant gay man), etc.)

When I began working, even though English was the company's "official language", I took advantage of the opportunity to practice and perfect my Spanish Spanish. Anyone who has immersed themselves in a foreign language knows that it can be exhausting. There were days when I arrived at work thinking "This is crazy! I am just going to speak in English today. After all, others are doing so and I'm just not up for another day in Spanish." Then, wouldn't you know it, I stepped off the elevator, ran into a coworker with whom I always spoke Spanish and (I'm serious!) the Spanish just rolled off my tongue. Even before coffee!!

4. This is the method that most of my friends are using with their children, and they seem to be happy with it. (added bonus: I can ask for help/advice!!!)

CONS: Okay, I don't really have any "CONS"; let's call them "Concerns":

1. As a SAHM, I am the primary care-giver. I am also native in the "Majority Language". Will Victor have enough exposure to Spanish to become fully bilingual and (perhaps more importantly) recognize it's importance to our family?

2. The research that I have done on OPOL seems to focus on generalities or on very small children. Since my friends and I are "late breeders" I don't even have any anecdotal evidence that OPOL works after the kids start school. Or how easy is it to keep it up (for both the parents and the kids)?

3. How do I converse with my husband in front of my kids? Do I speak in English and he in Spanish? Do we pick a language (perhaps Spanish as it is the "minority language")? I'm also not a big fan of excluding friends and family (my speaking in English with Victor when we are in Spain or Oscar speaking in Spanish around our friends here).

4. I would miss speaking in Spanish with my little Victorcin!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Do I have the discipline???

There are about four more weeks until Victor's first birthday. As we are beginning to plan the celebration, thoughts of how quickly he is growing up flood my mind. Through my reading, I have found that he can understand much of what we say already! Exciting and scary at the same time.

Which brings me to this week's topic: what is the best home environment to encourage your child to become bilingual?

For parents in our situation (2 distinct native languages, but fluidity in each other's language), there seem to be two main schools of thought:

1. One parent, one language and
2. Family language, community language.

Before my husband and I started dating, we primarily conversed in English (even though we were living in Madrid). When we started dating, Spanish reigned. After moving to the States and getting married, we developed a strange mix of language: we argue and curse in Spanish, difficult conversations are a mix of English and Spanish (each of us using our native tongue), and day-to-day conversation can move from English to Spanish and back within a single sentence.

Suffice it to say, we both enjoy speaking in both languages, get bored sticking to one, and, at times, simply just lack the discipline to do so.

So what do we do with Victor?

Until now, Oscar has been great primarily speaking to Victor in Spanish. At times he throws in an English word or song, but that's it.

I, on the other hand, am a mess. I go back and forth with the languages (at times even throwing in a bit of high school French!), with no rhyme or reason other then my mood at the time. I did give myself a deadline of his first birthday to figure it all out.

The next posts will explore the different methodologies (including the 2 above), give pros and cons, and (hopefully!) hubby and I will make a final decision as to how our family will move forward!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Welcome to BilingualPath!

I have been contemplating writing a blog for the past several months, and, in fact, set up this site about a week ago. Yet I've been paralyzed by the "first post". Since both the little guy and my husband are down for a nap, I figured I'd jump right in.

A little about me:
I am a 33 year old mother of Victor, wife to Oscar. We have another little boy on the way, due in November.

I had always thought of myself as a "typical American"...that is, until I decided to up and move to Spain. I'll get more into that later. Long story short, that trip changed my life. I now have a very international family--a now-bilingual Spanish husband, English speaking parents in Florida, and Spanish speaking in laws in Spain.

Upon returning to the US, I decided to open a Spanish Academy for adults and share my passion for the language. Heck, if I, an engineer, could become fluent after beginning studies at 25, I figured anyone could! It was a great experience, and it only further convinced me that we, as Americans, are missing out by being monolingual.

Becoming bilingual is a challenge: how do you maintain both languages (I started "losing" my English in Madrid, and the same is happening to my husband's native Spanish here in the US)? how do we effectively teach our children to embrace two languages? how can we encourage my father in law who now wants to learn English? and the list goes on....

In this blog, I would like explore answers to these and other challenges we face, to share our experiences, and provide a forum for others to share as well. If we come across any products, methods, or activities that do/do not work, I will post them as well.

Welcome to BilingualPath!