Welcome to the first episode of Cuéntamelo: Your Bilingual Story, a series by Entre Dos in which we speak to parents, small business owners, authors, and others about their bilingual life. These episodes may be shorter than our regular episodes and a bit more personal. Today’s inaugural episode is different than what you’re accustomed to because it’s entirely in Spanish.
Our first guest is Alicia Sevillano Barja, founder of Maleta Books, a bookshop in Ontario, Canada specialized in Spanish language books. We spoke with Alicia about her bilingual family, the origins of Maleta Books, and her current top three favorite children’s books.
Identity and place can sometimes be abstract notions. They define who we are while also remaining elusive. In the process of integrating two or more cultures we are coming to terms with the things we’re ok with, the things we’re not ok with, and the things that are inevitable. In Generation Zero, Sabreet takes us through her struggles while also keeping her own parent’s experience in perspective. It’s a fascinating dance that many of us can relate to.
Sabreet is a first-generation Indian American of Sikh descent. She’s a full-time social-science researcher and holds an MA in sociology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and BA in sociology from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is currently completing her doctorate at the University of Baltimore.
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In the past few weeks, the topic of the 2020-21 school year has reached a fever pitch, with good reason. As we pay close attention to the discussions surrounding PPE, social distancing, hybrid and virtual models, one thing that seems to be missing from most discussions is efforts to ensure continuity in the many dual-language programs across the nation. This is why we spoke with Rosa Campos, one of the organizers of Save Dual Language in Naperville, IL. The campaign is advocating for the dual language program to meet the language and cultural needs of its dual-language students, whether it be from a distance or in person.
A few days after we recorded our interview with Rosa, she sent us an update. The Naperville school district will offer specialized programs, like dual language, for all students. Congratulations to the organizers and most of all to the Naperville student body!
The Save Dual Language in Naperville campaign website will remain live to serve as a resource for other school communities that are experiencing changes in their dual-language program. You can also follow them on Twitter here.
Advocating for our children is an inherent part of parenting. We do it every single day in both big and small ways. We know bilingualism is good and we want it for our children. So how can we advocate to make languages more accessible in our communities? In this episode, we begin exploring how you can go from knowing to doing with our guest, Amanda Seewald, the president-elect of the Joint National Committee for Languages. Think of it as a call to action.
Amanda is the owner of Maracas Language Programs, has raised a bilingual daughter and son, and is an experienced language teacher. She spends much of her time advocating for language programs and policy.
Mentioned in this Episode
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If you listen to this podcast, you probably have a language vision or goal for your family. Our guest, Madalena Xanthopoulou, founded We Live Languages to help multilingual families reach those goals by translating research into actionable steps. Madalena is trilingual and raising trilingual kids. She shared some very useful ideas for families to increase exposure and form communities of support through which they can foster language.
The We Live Languages website has tons of resources for multilingual families; you can take a quiz to determine the language profile of your home and read stories of families that are similar to yours.
Sisters Janike and Alexis Ruginis started their own small book press when they realized there was a lack of Spanish-language books for young children in the U.S. Veoleo published its first book, ¿Dónde está el coquí? in 2018 and it’s currently working on two new books aimed at bilingual little ones.
In this episode, we talked to Alexis about their business and their current efforts to bring enjoyable activities to kids and families who are staying home due to COVID-19.
Distance learning: it’s the new thing. Most of us with school-age and even preschool-age kids have started some form of it. What it looks like seems to vary from district to district, school to school, and even teacher to teacher. It’s no surprise because this is a massive change for everyone, not only us as parents and our kids as students, but also for teachers completely new to this way of teaching, so it’s natural that there will be bumps in the road and some trial and error. We wanted to share our experiences so far and would love to hear about yours.
We started distance learning about two weeks ago. Emilia’s teacher sends us a weekly schedule with tasks and assignments to complete each day of the week. She also broke up the class into four groups, and each group meets via Microsoft Teams three times a week for 45 minutes.
They use these virtual meetings mostly to review what they’re learning at home, but I’ve found there’s so much value to them because even if they don’t get a ton accomplished, it’s good for the kids’ wellbeing to have some connection with their teacher and classmates. It’s also amazing how much they’ve learned about the features of Microsoft Teams – and Zoom – in just a couple of weeks.
From my end, it’s been good having a curriculum because it gives us structure, but some days are easier than others in terms of getting her engaged. It’s almost as if her interest wanes as more time passes. For me to fit in some work, I break up her schoolwork work into two blocks – some to do in the morning and some to do in the afternoon – and it’s worked so far, but there are days when she’s just not that into it or when I simply can’t sit with her for extended periods of time because I have to get other stuff done. I realize that working only part-time, I have it easier than other families, but striking the right balance isn’t always easy.
We’ve also been having dance classes via Zoom. Pre-COVID-19, she attended a modern dance class every Saturday morning and I hadn’t anticipated for them to continue, but the dance studio she goes to has been doing a great job offering the kids their classes via Zoom. It’s not the same as going to class in person and she sometimes dreads connecting to Zoom, but it’s an activity she enjoys doing so I’m glad we have it. It helps that her dance teacher really pays attention to what the kids are doing during class and gives them feedback.
One thing I’ve noticed is that getting feedback or knowing that the teacher “sees” them is key to keeping the kids engaged and enjoying a virtual class, whether it be dance, art or music.
When I stop to think about all of this, it’s amazing how life for us and our kids changed in a matter of weeks, but I’m thankful for how schools, dance studios, and others have adapted, even if it’s not always perfect. When she got her first schedule from school, Emilia told me: “I’m so happy to have work. I don’t know why, but I am.” The following week, she said: “I know I love being on the iPad at home but I miss school.”
Our experience with distance learning has ranged from frustrating to fulfilling. Zoe is in Kindergarten, so schoolwork is not very intense. Her teacher just started sending us a weekly schedule organized by day with very clear expectations of “must do’s” and “may do’s”. This is helpful because we can prioritize the “must do’s” for those days when we can only manage the bare minimum. We have about two hours a day of work, an hour of which is entirely online. This is a very big change for her because we had opted her out of these online courses only to now see them being transformed into grading tools that are required. Zoe does the things she enjoys fast (reading, math) and the ones she doesn’t (writing) with as much friction as possible. Last week she decided that wearing her uniform made it easier to do schoolwork from home and to that I say, go for it! I am grateful that her teacher is taking it easy on the children, putting their well-being first before anything. Working full-time while also managing family life creates real frenetic energy, and it truly feels like I am getting nothing done. At the end of the day, I remind myself that within these four walls, we have accomplished two full days of work, a full day’s worth of school work, and stayed sane (mostly) and fed through it all.
It was vital for us to keep as much continuity as possible with Zoe’s interests, so we have kept up with her art, theater, and music classes. All of these have been delivered live via digital software service, and they’ve had varying degrees of success but getting better as time goes on. My main takeaway for online classes is that they need a proctor on the kid’s end, no matter how good the instructor is on the other. You also need a certain amount of warm-up and preparation. For young children, these activities serve as transitions, and they should be treated as such. You need to prepare them and yourself for the activity so that it goes smoothly. This can mean making sure you have all of the materials needed for the activity, creating a space in the house that is quiet so that focus is possible, and giving your child notice that the activity will be taking place soon. Piano class is in the morning, so preparing means finishing breakfast and getting dressed. Our piano routine is very similar to our pre-COVID days, so it brings a certain amount of comfort.
Zoe’s beloved Imago Art and Theater classes have transformed more drastically. This was an activity she used to do after school and was a much needed artistic relief. Imago is a space that she has been going to for three years now, and it’s like a second home. It has been harder to adapt to not seeing her friends and teachers in person, but we have made it work. Zoe is very chatty and asks lots of questions, so she struggles with the new interaction dynamics where she is not able to communicate with everyone freely. When she begins to get frustrated, I jump in to answer any questions and get her re-engaged. This is happening less and less as she becomes more comfortable with this type of interaction. Like Paula, I am so grateful that our village has swiftly transformed into our online support team keeping our kid engaged and connected to what she loves.
This situation is as strange as it gets, and we are using our entire toolbox of coping mechanisms to get through it. There really is no right way to go about it. I think about people close to me that have lost their jobs, are worried about getting themselves or their loved ones sick. People that were already living in very stressful situations only to be made worse by this one. There’s this nagging sense that the future, always unknown yet familiar, is now untethered.
The other day I noticed a new note on our fridge. Zoe put the affirmation there quietly as if she wanted to make it subliminal. Now my purpose is to embody these qualities by making it my main priority to be kind to my loved ones, myself, and everyone I encounter. Leading with empathy fills me with a sense of purpose and serenity.
Having a community of support is such an essential part of raising bilingual children. Depending on the area you live in, finding that community can be hard – but it is possible to create your own.
Johanna Arteaga is the founder of Moco y Baba, a community of Spanish-speaking families in London. She also recently launched Cuéntamelo Books, an online bookstore that carries a curated selection of books from Latin America. Johanna talked to us about how she started Moco y Baba and gave us some tips and advice about how to start a language community in your area.
We talked to Johanna before COVID-19 completely changed the way we interact with each other and, although the group had to forgo in-person meetings temporarily, the community remains steadfast.
Things are beginning to settle in. The reality of intentional isolation is the new normal and we need to figure out how to get through this as best we can. We love to share ideas on how to make sure the kids feel engaged and keep a sense of continuity but today, we want to check in with you.
With all the free resources, online classes, schedules, and more making their rounds, it can feel overwhelming to keep up. It’s probably a good idea to let go a little and focus on the basics: keeping our kids safe, comforted and healthy while we go through this situation. We like this advice for moms from Vanessa at PsicoKids: “This quarantine is not a time to take advantage of or to get ahead, it’s to live (while caring for our mental and physical health).”
Things are hard, especially for those who don’t have help with childcare and are expected to keep up with their jobs, whether from home or physically at work. Give yourself grace, relax your expectations, spend time with your kids and do what you can.
We’ll leave you with some articles we’ve found useful:
Hello Entre Dos Community! How are you and yours holding up? We hope you are safe and with your loved ones. We hope that your local community is coming together in solidarity to get through flattening the curve of this outbreak.
Most of you are likely triaging your home right now for what might be weeks of homeschooling. We are, and it’s both exciting and daunting. It’s important to keep a sense of normalcy and structure while being flexible to what these rapidly changing times may bring. Make sure you create an open and safe space for everyone to talk about how they’re feeling, this is an unprecedented circumstance that some of us have only imagined. We are comforted, in a way, by the fact that we are all together in this. We will be in all of our usual spaces – Instagram and Facebook – if you want to vent, give/get advice or just want to talk to other parents going through the same thing.
This situation is a work-in-progress, we will be blogging and recording episodes more frequently in the next few weeks but, for now, here are a few initial thoughts on how we plan to get through this.
We’ve seen a flurry of useful and ambitious daily routine schedules in social media, but we won’t share them here (yet). Instead, we offer a modest proposal. While structure and predictability are essential maybe also use this newfound time to rest and reconnect with your family. Everyday life is exhausting, take some time to get back to basics and then slowly build your routine around what feels right for your family.
Can’t stop, won’t stop. This is a great opportunity for immersion! If you live in a heritage language-speaking home, use this time to infuse your child’s learning with it. We will be sharing lesson plans and activities for all sorts of subject matters.
Technology is on our side here. Check-in with loved ones regularly. Make sure your neighbors are well. Make time to catch up with friends.
Tough times call for extreme goofiness. Let loose!
In one of our earliest episodes, Spanish is like a warm croqueta, we spoke about what we had done in our homes up to that point to foster our daughter’s burgeoning Spanish. Recently, we listened to it again and it struck us how different things feel now, so we decide to record an update on where we think we are on this bilingual path.
This is the kind of episode we wish we could record with all of you in the room! In lieu of this, please join our Facebook Group to share your own descarga with us.
We’re two months into our elementary school experience, and I underestimated how much work it would be. Kindergarten is nothing like I remember.
Homework has been the biggest shock to our system, but we’re getting in a groove. All of Zoé’s homework is in English so, she does some in her aftercare program and the rest with her dad. Part of her weekly homework includes a book report, and we’re doing all Spanish language books because reading comprehension works in any language. I feel comfortable doing this because at the beginning of the school year, I met with Z’s homeroom teacher to talk about our bilingual home project, and she was very supportive about doing some of the curricula in Spanish at home.
Part of our weekly routine involves going to the public library to pick out information books about areas of interest and subjects covered in class. It has been a great way to supplement her conceptual vocabulary and spark discussions that go beyond the textbook.
Z’s school requires families to keep a reading log of all books read at home. Guess what our reading log looks like? Yep, all in Spanish. Right now, we’re going full out with the Spanish exposure at home. All media is in Spanish, and as a family, we are speaking more Spanish at home, even making Z her dad’s Spanish language tutor. They read books together, she regularly corrects his pronunciation “a la mamí” and encourages him to use his Español outside of the house.
The Spanish tutoring classes did not work out as planned. I noticed that after being in school all day, Z wasn’t happy going to another heavily didactic environment so I took her out. It was a tough decision because she had made tremendous strides over the summer in terms of literacy, but the structure of the class was just too restrictive.
Next year, I will look for a school or tutor with a different approach, one that’s more developmentally appropriate, because there’s only so much sitting a young child can take. On the other hand, she’s enjoying her Spanish language art and theater classes. We are very fortunate to have that resource available to us. It has been lovely to see her use the language with peers in a more immersive environment that’s genuinely fun.
I was expecting a Spanish dropoff by now, but it hasn’t happened. I want to think that my awareness of this potential issue has counteracted the effects of monolingual instruction. Although it’s challenging to be in an environment where Z’s Spanish skills are not valued, I have found opportunities to inject the language into her school life. It has been a big change of pace since we have to be even more proactive with the language and I keep thinking about how our efforts will have to evolve with an ever more demanding school curriculum.
On a recent volunteer experience at the school, I went in to read to a small group of kids during lunchtime. I read several books to Zoe and five of her classmates while they ate lunch outside. I carefully picked two Spanish language books knowing that the odds of getting a bilingual group were high in Miami, and as soon as I pulled them out, the kids lit up. They all rushed to tell me that they spoke two languages and showed off their Spanish skills. I could see that this was a point of pride for them and me recognizing that was a moment for them to shine. It was a revelation. Children deserve a chance to use their entire knowledge spectrum in their educational environment.
Back-to-school season has been deemed as one of the most
stressful times for parents. I would say it’s on par with the summer months where we have to quilt a mix of summer camps, vacations, and “quality time” at home with our brood. This summer was emotional for us as we left behind Zoé’s amazing preschool and embarked on our journey through the US public school system. Beyond the real concerns one might have about the state of our current K-12 system, this posed a real existential crisis for our family because the preschool we left behind was bilingual (English/Spanish) and her Kindergarten classroom would now be English-only.
Three months ago, I was nervously awaiting the lottery results for our local dual-language programs and I am glad that luck is not something I’ve ever counted on because Z didn’t get into any of them. Even though I knew the odds were against us, I still felt devastated and angry. It felt like everything we had worked so hard on was now under threat because in my district and really, the whole country, second-language learning has been devalued. I live in an area that’s 69% Latinx, most of which speak Spanish. We also have large numbers of Hatian Creole and Portuguese speakers. How is it that we have such scant options for dual-language programs? This is not a rhetorical question; we will be exploring US dual-language education in an upcoming series.
There is still a chance she can test into the program in 1st grade but, for now, I will have to maintain her Spanish as an extracurricular. Right now, Z is a very balanced bilingual so my plan is to maintain what she already knows and slowly introduce more skills that run parallel to what’s she’s learning in school.
I’ve determined thatI need to monitor her Spanish language exposure on a weekly basis, ideally I want about 25 hours of exposure a week. This means reading in Spanish every day, continuing to speak Spanish at home, and finding activities that incorporate the language. The latter is by far the hardest one to accomplish with our busy work schedule (hubby and I both work full time) and I am still not sure how we will do it but it’s the only way.
This summer I enrolled Z in a weekly Spanish class. It’s an hour a week where she will be learning literacy and grammar in a structured enviroment. I wanted to get the habit started prior to the begining of the school year to build it in to her week before the Kinder transition begins. So far it has been succesful, she’s reading and writing as well as developing an understanding that this is a part of her life. In the fall, we will enroll her in art and theater classes in Spanish. We are so lucky to live in an area where these things are easily accesible but limiting our extracurriculars to Spanish means that we have to give up soccer, which she enjoyed, because it just demands too much time (two nights a week plus Saturday games) and I don’t want to overschedule our family.
” …there will be a spike in English after a few months in the new monolingual curriculum… “
After speaking to some parents that have gone through a similar transition with the minority language, I learned that there will be a spike in English after a few months in the new monolingual curriculum. I am trying to get prepared for this by talking with her homeroom teacher about what we’re doing at home in the hopes that she can share her curriculum so I can model it in Spanish. One of my main concerns is that Z will not be developing her academic language in Spanish so subjects like science and social studies will have to be addressed in español at home. I will also try to get a Spanish club going in the school, but that’s the subject of a future post, so stay tuned.
“The plan” is still very much in the theoretical phase and some parts may blow up in our face. I wonder how the Kinder transition will impact Z’s interest in Spanish and how much time we’ll really have to focus on the language. I will continue to share our progress in the blog and you know we are working on a podcast about this. 😉
If you are going through a similar situation or have suggestions on how to navigate language learning as an extracurricular please head over to our Facebook Group. You can also get in touch with us via Instagram and Twitter or by leaving a comment here.
Is being bilingual/multilingual an advantage for cognitive development? The answer is not straightforward. You’ve likely heard about the bilingual advantage, this idea that people who have two or more languages develop cognitive advantages, particularly within the realm of executive function which is responsible for things like attention and task-switching. Research to date has yielded conflicting findings and, according to some researchers, the debate over whether there’s a bilingual advantage or not has reached a stalemate.
In this episode, we talked to Dr. Anthony Dick, an associate professor of developmental science and cognitive neuroscience at Florida International University. He published a study that found no evidence of advantages in executive function in 9- and 10-year-old bilingual children.
How do you get your kids to engage with you in the target language? We don’t mean utilitarian exchanges about snacks or watching five more minutes of cartoons but actual conversations about interesting topics, concepts or just life, really.
It’s not as easy as it sounds, with our day-to-day lives we find ourselves not interacting as deeply with our loved ones, which is a problem in general, but poses particular issues for parents raising bilingual children. In this What we love/Lo que más nos gusta episode, we share how we get those conversations going.
Here at Entre Dos, we’re always thinking of new ways to get our kids to speak the target language. Lately, we’ve been looking for resources that can be categorized as “conversation starters” or materials that can help us go beyond the quotidian exchanges of everyday life and even get a little creative with storytelling. Go to our latest episode to hear about what we use to get this done and, if you want a more detailed list of resources, take a look:
Wonder Ponder Books
This book series invites children to think. Ellen Duthie builds an exciting world where anything is possible and there are no right or wrong answers. The illustrations and conversation starting questions are a great way to encourage critical thinking.
In Part Two of our conversation with Fabrice Jaumont – a French educator, researcher and the author of the book The Bilingual Revolution – we talk about what drives parents to undertake the efforts needed to establish dual language education programs and what you can do to get started. We also discuss common misconceptions about dual language programs and the importance of having a long-term vision when establishing these initiatives.
If you haven’t listened to Part I, this is a good time to do so!
In this episode, we talk about our holiday traditions and look back at the most important lessons we’ve learned so far while making the show.
We are so lucky to have you as our listeners and are working hard on our 2019 episode lineup. You can stay connected with us during the holiday break on social media. You can find us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @entredospodcast. And don’t forget to join our Facebook Group to tell us about your bilingual experience, suggest episode ideas, ask burning questions and more!
This week on Entre Dos, we talk to Aileen Passariello-McAleer, of Mama-Lingua. She talks to us about her app, which is aimed at teaching both parents and kids Spanish, as well as her new book Simon Goes To School,which tackles the joys and challenges of attending a dual language school.
You’ll hear Aileen give advice about starting a target language playgroup and her thoughts on dual-language education in the U.S. Hint: she’s very passionate about his subject!
We talked to poet and children’s book author, Jorge Tetl Argueta, about why he writes for children and his passion for promoting literacy. Argueta’s poems give us a glimpse of communities that are often misrepresented, erased, and dehumanized in U.S. American literature. His books, which center mostly around his homeland of El Salvador, offer a beautiful counter-narrative meant to build a positive self-image and empathy for our growing immigrant communities.
Tens of thousands of children and families make the arduous, dangerous journey to the southern border into the United States to seek asylum from conflicts or disasters with the hope of finding a better, safer life. In the past few months, children have been separated from their families at the border, to be detained in separate facilities and it really seems like this humanitarian crisis has no end in sight.
Want to help?
REFORMA Children in Crisis and KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) are delivering books to youths in detention centers right now and they need your help. Books and reading save lives and give traumatized children a chance to become whole, contributing citizens as they grow up. It also lets them know we care.
REFORMA , the national association to promote library and information services to latinos and the Spanish speaking, delivers books in Spanish to children and youth in detention centers, shelters, law offices and group homes around the country where immigrant youth are sent after being processed. Donations through their website are preferred so they can avoid the cost of shipping the books to the places they serve. They purchase new books in Spanish, bilingual and indigenous languages and skillfully match the content to the language and social/emotional needs of the reader.
KIND , a pro bono law firm that represents unaccompanied children who enter the US immigration system alone, gives books to these children as they enter court proceedings for deportation. These kids and teens read Spanish, bilingual, and indigenous languages but books in English are welcome too. You can send new books to two locations that serve immigrant children and youth in those areas.
Alejandra Tovar, Paralegal and/or American Hernandez, Social Services Coordinator
KIND (Kids in Need of Defense)
UC Merced Fresno Center
550 E. Shaw Avenue, Suite 240, Room 10
Fresno, CA 93710
Katie Annand and/or Alejandra Tovar
KIND (Kids in Need of Defense)
200 Pine Street, 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104.
We care about these children as if they were our own. Let them know you care too.
In this episode, we talk about the joys and challenges of raising our bilingual and bi-cultural daughters. We discuss what has worked, what worries us and how dreaming in Spanish can be a cause for celebration.