5 Reasons to Set Up a Language Learning Corner for your Bilingual Child

In my former life, I was a preschool teacher and teacher trainer for a publishing company.  That was quite a few years ago before I married, began having children, and started my work as Community Manager for Learn Safari. As it turns out, however, you can take a girl out of teaching, but you can never take the teacher out of the girl! I never stopped loving being a teacher, and now that I’m a mom raising a bilingual child, I see myself thinking back to those days and using some of those same skills in my home.  As it turns out, my classroom was also something that I could not completely give up! I ended up creating a Language-Learning Corner for my child based on the following 5 reasons, and after hearing me out, you might be inspired to do the same!

I Wanted to Create a Space Where Bilingualism is Encouraged

Raising a bilingual child is very important to me. I was raised bilingually and I must say I will be forever thankful to my parents for sticking to it, even when it was hard and I was set on not speaking English!  (“no habla Inglés mami!”) I was able to advance in my career, had access to more information, and was able to communicate with relatives and make new friends because I was able to speak English. These are all things I want my little girl to have.

Of course, as parents raising bilingual children, we all know that it’s a lot of work! Sometimes it feels like it’s much easier said than done and there are many ways to go about it and many philosophies to guide parents. The one thing I knew, however, is that I needed a space where we would be encouraged and inspired to use our second language.

Last Summer we were visiting relatives in Florida and we made a Target run. Low and behold, I found that much talked about  dollar spot!  Two Frappuccinos later, we had a cartful of teaching aids and all kinds of cool stuff to stock a mini classroom, and that’s how I got my learning corner started.

Photo by Becky Garcia-Muir.

I Wanted to Give Her a Work Space She Could Call Her Own

A sense of independence, responsibility and ownership helps children build self-confidence, and the sooner we started, the better.  My little girl likes things that are “hers” and setting this space works for both of us, as she can color, draw, sing and read in one spot.  She can store and find everything she needs! The space is her own, which also helps to motivate her to clean up with very little help (yes, that one’s for me)

I Wanted to Ease Her Into The Habit of Studying Every Day

Living in Venezuela means that school is mandatory from a very early age and tons of homework is expected every day.  We’re talking 4 year-olds getting homework every day! So, to stay ahead of the curve, I decided that it was in our best interest to start this habit early. I figured that if we started in a fun, enjoyable way, we could make this a good habit and set her on the path of lifelong learning.  I know this all sounds way too serious, but if you’ve had to stay late with a cranky child finishing a last minute assignment, you know this makes sense.

Photo by Becky Garcia-Muir

A Space to Keep Our Daily Routine in Check

We could talk about the importance of a daily routine for hours, but most of us will probably agree that even if it’s hard, in the long run, a routine is better for both child and parent.  Small children rely on this to feel safe and in control.  Parents rely on routine for the same reasons.

Our routine is loosely as follows:  After school we talk about our day, change clothes, eat lunch and take a nap. After that we have our little “English Immersion Program” where we set the date on the calendar and sing, talk about what we’re going to do, read a book, do seat work which includes coloring, sorting and/or matching. It takes us about 45 minutes, depending on her mood and stamina. Afterwards, she enjoys her screen time and free play.

A Space to Spend Time Together and Check on Her Daily Progress

This is my favorite reason! My baby girl is smart, funny and willful; a powerful combination that drives me both to laughter and tears (both of frustration and pride).  To see how she grows and how her mind works is a privilege and I’m lucky to spend so much time with her. This corner of our house is a special place where we get to learn, grow, and bond together! And it’s even a place where she can invite other special people to participate with her in the learning and fun.

Reading with Grandma. Photo by Becky Garcia-Muir

What Should You Put in the Language Learning Corner?

The possibilities are endless! You want it to be a print-rich environment, but you also want it to be interesting and adapted to their needs and age. But here are some basic suggestions to get you started:

  • Books
  • Signs, posters, etc. in target language
  • labels in target language
  • Paper
  • Writing Utensils
  • Art Supplies: paper, crayons, markers, scissors, glue sticks, paint (if you dare!)
  • A Maker kit: loose pieces, nuts, bolts, pliers, hammer, nails
  • A world map, atlas, or globe
  • Images of the places and cultures that speak the target language
  • Puzzles
  • Games and manipulatives
  • Calendar and weather info (especially for younger kids)

This learning corner is a work in progress, but so far my Twinkle Toes is enjoying her work time. Sometimes we spend a good amount of time in our learning space, sometimes it’s just a few minutes, but the important thing is that she’s using the target language and starting to look forward to it.  But remember, do not limit the second language exposure to just a corner of your house, you can take a bilingual break anytime, anywhere!

I’d love to read your comments! Do you have a language corner?  How do you keep the target language at home? What’s your child’s favorite activity? Please share your experience with our community below.

For more ideas on how to create a Language Corner, and what it should include please read Maria’s article “A language corner for teaching a foreign language in the home” at Trilingual Mama.  I hope all of these ideas inspire you, and help you build a language corner perfect for your family.

 

Becky Garcia-Muir is a Southern belle from way South, a Bilingual teacher and mom, and community manager for Learn Safari a Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Guardar

Guardar

Guardar

Guardar

How To Optimize Playtime For Bilingual Children

Photo by: Katrise Armour Kalugin

Photo by: Katrise Armour Kalugin

Kid’s have one job to do: Play. It’s the most important thing they do in order to learn and develop.  Many of us adults underestimate the value of it. When kid’s play they learn  to foster relationships,  get along with each other,  settle disputes, self-regulate, problem solve, use their imaginations, and of course, they are learning language.

You can sit a child with flash-cards and work-sheets and review vocabulary over and over again, but that child will not learn as fast as they would with toy blocks and a friend or parent. In such an instance, he or she would be getting the opportunity to practice math, physics and engineering, and all the while they would be stretching the muscles of their imagination. They would be solving problems, thinking out loud, listening to vocabulary and practicing their communication skills. And guess what? They would be having fun!

So, how can we harness the power of play in order to optimize for language development in bilingual and multilingual children? Here’s what I recommend:

Play Groups

Play groups are a great way to get together with other families whose children speak your  target language. Not only is it a great way for kids to practice their language skills in a fun environment, but it’s also a great way to spend time with parents who might be going through the same struggles you are.

You may have to intervene at times, especially if all kids are using the same majority language instead of the target language. You will have to give them instruction and incentives to speak and probably use some forms of structured play in the beginning. You can start by introducing them in the target language and setting up some activities for them to do together.  They will start associating the language with each other, and before you know it, speaking it with each other will be the default.

Structured Play

Structured play, or goal-oriented play, comes with a set of rules and an objective in mind. Structured play is often facilitated by adults who lead and guide children as they play. Card games and board games, sports, games like Simon Says and Green Light Red Light are all examples of structured play.

With structured play you can really take the reigns and do something fun that will help your child learn and practice language. Some simple games like Memory, Number or Word Bingo, and the above mentioned Simon Says can really help you explore your target language. In future blogs I will describe some structured play ideas that I have found to be quite effective in the classroom, but the ones I mentioned above are classics that kids love.

Unstructured Play

Unstructured play, or open-ended play, is child-led. Children have the freedom to choose what they want to play with and how they want to play with it. It is open to the imagination and it can last for hours! Now, we often think that kid’s just aren’t learning during moments of unstructured play and we also think that as adults, there is no room for us in this type of play.

Nothing could be further from the truth! Kids ARE learning and you ARE invited. Get down on the floor with your child and meet them exactly where they are. Babies and younger kids might be exploring the toys and trying to figure out what it is they do. They might be banging them together or simply putting them in their mouth! I know, cringe worthy moments! But I promise, it will be okay. Older kids might be playing house, veterinarians, building with blocks or Legos, making forts, or playing superheroes. Join in on the fun!

This is a great time to use the target language in a natural and free way. Describe what your child is doing (parallel talk), talk about what you are doing, point out shapes, colors, feelings, ask questions (especially open-ended questions), answer questions and listen to what your child has to say.

Enjoy this time with your kids and remember that this is when the majority of their learning and development is taking place. Join in when you can but remember that playing alone is also good for them. As parents we need to remember that we don’t have to be their personal entertainment 24/7. Learning and discovery is always occurring.

Gamification

Have you ever sat and played Candy Crush for hours on end? I personally never became a Candy Crusher, but I did spend a period of time embarrassingly addicted to a Smurfs Game on my phone. You had to build a village and farm crops and make money and expand your territory. It was ridiculous. It eventually got too big for my phone, made it crash and forced me to erase the whole thing, which was probably my saving grace and the only reason I have a job with Learn Safari today! (Joking… sort of. I was seriously addicted.)

Why are these games so addictive? Well, it’s because the elements of the game (competition, point scores, rules of play, etc.) motivate us at a deep level. Even as adults we love games! Now, becoming addicted to a game is not good, especially for our children. We do not want them to spend hours and hours upon end in front of screens doing nothing else. That’s not healthy!

However, we can use the same game mechanics to encourage children to learn and give them exposure to language and technology that will be invaluable.  At Learn Safari we incorporate the positive feelings and motivation that games provide into an interactive and intuitive learning environment.  We do this specifically for language learning (starting with Spanish, and multiple languages in the future).

You, as parents and teachers, can incorporate these same techniques at home or in the classroom. Bring on the game mechanics! Start with some of the classics you grew up with, but make sure you conduct the entire game in the target language. You can add rules, goals and point systems to some of the tasks you would like to accomplish and make sure you verbalize as much as you can! Talk, talk, talk… until you drop!

I would love to hear from you! What does play look like in your home or classroom?

Besos,

Keli
Lead Spanish Teacher
[email protected]

3 Reasons Why I Chose to Raise My Children Bilingual

Little girl

I have two beautiful daughters and like every parent, I want the very best for them. I love them wholeheartedly and my dreams for them are big. However, with so many options available to parents at the tip of our fingers, all the “good things” that I MUST do for them are sometimes overwhelming! But the reality is that each one of us has to pick and choose our battles and know that even though we as parents won´t be perfect, our children will be just fine.

One battle I did choose is to raise my two girls to be bilingual. Below is a summary of some of my thoughts and research which went into my decision.

1. Children’s Amazing Brains (They CAN Be Bilingual!)

We know that children have wonderful, beautiful, spectacularly amazing brains! Have you ever watched your child and been astonished at all of the new things they are constantly learning? It seems like every day they point out something new and I am left wondering where they learned it.

It’s because babies are born ready to learn and one of the things they are wired to learn is language. We don’t actually have to teach our children to speak. They learn how to do so from observing and mimicking the world around them. While they are young, they have the capability to distinguish between and learn several languages using the exact same techniques.

Introducing a new language early increases the likelihood of children speaking like a native. However, it is never too late to begin learning a second language and the benefits are enormous.

2. Ongoing Brain Development

Learning more than one language can increase the size of the brain and it can also improve how the brain functions. In fact, research shows that people who speak multiple languages are better at standardized tests, planning and decision making, switching between tasks, understanding others and listening. They have better memories, impulse control, they are more creative and are better able to focus.

There was a time when people worried that teaching children more than one language would cause language delays and confusion. The science, however, has shown that this could not be farther from the truth. Learning a second (or third) language can actually give your brain a really good workout! In fact, studies even show that speaking multiple languages can stave off Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in later life. The benefits of “working out your brain” with a second language are effective whether you started young or you are learning it as an adult.

3. Cultural Awareness

As I mentioned above, there was a time when teaching children a second language was thought to confuse them. Parents were discouraged from doing so and unfortunately many cultural ties were broken as a result of this misconception.

I was born in Venezuela and moved to the United States when I was eleven. I was raised in a bilingual environment, with my father speaking to me and my siblings in Spanish, and my mother in English. I want to ensure my daughters have a connection to their roots and I am re-creating the environment in which I grew up. I want them to learn Spanish, not just because of the cognitive benefits and the opportunities that it will open for them, but also so they can experience the rich cultural histories shared by Spanish speakers all over the world.

Learning about the world and developing empathy for other cultures is one of the biggest benefits of learning a second language. It’s the gateway to communicate with others and enables us to gain a deeper understanding of the world we share together. However, even if you do not speak a second language; I strongly encourage families to learn a new language together. Adults and children will definitely benefit from the experience.

Helping children to learn another language is not an easy task. It takes commitment, effort, and resources. That is why I am part of the Learn Safari Team. We are dedicated to helping children learn Spanish in a fun and interactive way. You can check out our unique application at www.learnsafari.com.

If you want to read up on some of the research on children and bilingualism, check the following links out: http://www.cal.org/earlylang/benefits/research_notes.html http://www.bbc.com/news/health-24446292 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121008082953.htm http://bebrainfit.com/brain-benefits-learning-second-language/)memory http://bebrainfit.com/brain-benefits-learning-second-language/

Besos,
Keli
Lead Spanish
Teacher [email protected]

Eliana: Learn Safari’s Most Cheerful Leader!

Arturo in the Savanna

As you probably already know, this is Arturo. He is the main character in Spanish Safari. He is the user’s guide, a great leader, and a hero.

This blog post, however, is not about him. This post is about Arturo’s biggest fan; his little sister, Eliana. At first glance, Eliana seems like the typical nosy, and slightly annoying, little sister. She wants to be everywhere Arturo is and even tries to take over his projects at times, but the reality is that she loves her big brother and wants to be just like him!

Arturo is her hero, and she learns a lot from him. Along the way, however, Arturo learns a lot from Eliana as well. Eliana is very positive and she’s a super enthusiastic ball of energy. She is a curious little girl whose appetite for learning knows no bounds and who is not easily deterred.

eli monoLike our other characters, Eliana underwent a few changes, although not as many as some of the others. Eliana started off looking like a little baby. Once our 3D modeler, Vincent, got a hold of her, however, he gave her proportions that would better indicate her age (she’s around 6 in the app). She also got a different wardrobe, but her zest for life has always clearly shone through.

Eliana’s character is near and dear to my heart. She is named and based off of my own little monkey, Eliana Lee. It has been very special watching her come to life! I hope that you guys enjoy Eliana as much as we do. She will bring an extra dose of excitement to the savanna and help encourage your children on their journey to learning Spanish!

Besos,

Keli
Lead Spanish Teacher
[email protected]

Eliana                  Eliana 2

 

 

Oscar el León: Learn Safari’s Most Fearsome Hero

The lion is known as the King of the Jungle…err, savanna. Frankly, I’ve never understood why they lions are called the king of the jungle, since they do not live under a tree canopy, but in the open grasslands of the savanna. The better term for them is the King of Beasts. Whatever we call them, lions are ferocious animals, and you just don’t mess with them. Even our Learn Safari friends are a bit scared when they first meet  Oscar el León, until they get to know him that is. (well, in reality, some of them are always scared of Oscar!)

As you might have guessed, Oscar pops in to help teach the letter O. This time, coming up with a name was very easy. No relation to the famous sonero,* although he does enjoy his tocayo’s** music.  It’s actually a family name. My grandfather, uncle, and a cousin’s son are all named Oscar. They are strong, intelligent men who inspire confidence, respect, and even a healthy dose of fear (just stay on their good side).

Like our other characters, Oscar went through a series of transformations. Oscar started off looking super cute and cuddly. Nothing like the brave and ferocious lion users will encounter in their quest.  Check him out below.

image

Once our 3D modeler, Vince, got a hold of Oscar, he made a few changes. He made his face less round, which gave him a much more grown-up look. He also changed his body to more closely resemble a real lion. He’s much more sleek and looks like he can chase down a herd of gazelles!

image

Even though Oscar is a bit more fierce, he is still a very caring friend. He goes to great lengths to protect the savanna and he is very close to his family. In fact, he is often seen hanging out with his twin sister Melissa, who is an adorable female version of himself. In spite of the fact that she is super cute, don’t be fooled. She is one tough cookie!

Learn Safari’s Oscar and Melissa

What do you guys think of Oscar? Let us know in the comments!

Besos!

Keli
[email protected]

*If you did not know, the sonero I mentioned above is Oscar D’León, a famous Venezuelan salsa singer.
**A tocayo is someone who shares the same name as another.

Umi: The Coolest Girl in the Savanna

Everyone has that one friend; you know, the one with the coolest hair, most fun personality, and care-free attitude. Hey, maybe that person is you! If it is, then you will definitely find a kindred spirit in Umi.

Umi is a Zebra and the lack of water in the savanna is affecting her entire herd. She teams up with Arturo and the rest of the gang to solve the problem. Just like Esteban el Elefante, Umi represents a letter in the alphabet. When I say that it was hard to find a name that started with U, I’m not joking. I resorted to looking through name lists on the internet. I found the name Umi, which is a unisex game and has various meanings, including life and energy.

That is exactly what Umi brings to the table! She is vivacious, energetic, and a lot of fun. As with  our other characters, Umi has undergone a few transformations.

The first version of Umi from Learn Safari

The first version of Umi from Learn Safari

Usaid, one of our 3D modelers and consultants, designed this first version of Umi. I absolutely love her! She is just so cute. However, she looks very much like a baby. Umi needed to look more grown up. She also needed to be a little more realistic, so she could match the style of our other characters. When Vincent, our Head 3D modeler optimized Umi, he made some changes to make her look more like a real zebra.

Um from Learn Safari compared to a zebra.

Umi from Learn Safari compared to a zebra.

Comparison of the two versions of Umi from Learn Safari

Comparison of the two versions of Umi from Learn Safari

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the model was complete, it was Angie, one of our graphic designers, who had to make all of the textures for the model. If you remember from a previous blog, a texture gives a model its color and detailed feature. Angie had a bit of a tough time making the Zebra pattern fit precisely. That wasn’t the only difficulty with Umi. Thomas, our animator, then had to make sure Umi could walk and run (among other things). Being that she has 4 legs, she was a new kind of challenge for him. The hardwork, however, paid off in the end!

Final Version of Umi from Learn Safari - Side View

Final Version of Umi from Learn Safari – Side View

Final Version of Umi from Learn Safari - Front View

Final Version of Umi from Learn Safari – Front View

What do you think of our girl? Let us know in the comments below!

Besos,

Keli
Lead Spanish Teacher
Learn Safari
[email protected]

The Spanish Safari Kitchen: Where Everyone Kisses the Cook!

The heart of a home is usually the kitchen. Not only is it the place where meals are made, but it is also the area were families gather to share their lives. Arturo’s home is no different, and much of the family life (and the learning!) take place in this environment.

As a team, we wanted to create a warm and fun setting for Arturo’s family. We wanted a space that would be inviting for the users and a space that would be conducive for learning. Angie, one of our very talented graphic designers, sketched out the initial idea.  Angie Based her design upon the description of the kitchen in the lessons. She also included items to represent the vocabulary that will be used in the Spanish Safari lessons and added a few ideas of her own.

The Initial Sketch for the Spanish Safari Kitchen

The Initial Sketch for the Spanish Safari Kitchen


 The initial design above is what Vincent, our 3D modeler, based his work off of. Vincent modeled each item inside of the kitchen, using a program called Autodesk 3Ds Max. Once the 3D items were ready, Andrea (Our Lead Graphic Designer) and Daniel (Our Lead Developer) set the environment in Unity.

The Learn Safari Kitchen. Models Without Textures.

Angie then created the textures for the items. The textures are what give items their color and detail. Before they are applied, they look something like this:

Textures for a flower vase in the Spanish Safari Kitchen

Textures for a flower vase in the Spanish Safari Kitchen

Once everything (3D models and textures) were set in Unity,  the team had to go through and “optimize” the space, meaning they had to make it functional, while not having a high poly count (the number of polygons that can be found in a 3D model) which can hinder performance. The goal was to make models that look fantastic, but that won’t slow down the speed at which a game loads.

Vincent was even able to make some of the cabinets and doors open and close, therefore creating a truly interactive environment!

 

The Spanish Safari Kitchen with a model of Arturo in it.

The Spanish Safari Kitchen with a model of Arturo in it.

KitchenFinal2

The final version of the Spanish Safari Kitchen. A few more details with a pop of color were added.

Arturo and his family spend a great deal of time in the kitchen, therefore, the user will also spend a lot of time here. It is a great environment for learning vocabulary, and the user helps Arturo and his family make food, set the table, and even clean up. One thing that’s important to remember, whenever you walk in, you always have to kiss the cook! (Especially if it’s Mamá).

Besos,

Keli Garcia-Allen

Lead teacher and Cook

[email protected]

 

E is for Esteban: A Closer Look at Spanish Safari’s Favorite Elephant

Every kid needs a friend. If they are lucky like Arturo el Mono, they have a few great friends; and there is no better friend than Esteban el Elefante. Esteban is the adorable sidekick in our Spanish Safari game. He pops in just in time to help Arturo teach about the letter E and he becomes one of Arturo’s most loyal pals.

Esteban was one of the easiest characters to come up with. Wanting to teach the vowels, we were looking for a character whose name could start with the letter E. Esteban was the first name our Lead Teacher, Keli, came up with (it just so happens to be her father’s middle name). Even better, the Spanish word for elephant, elefante, also starts with an E. From that simple play on letters, Esteban el Elefante was born.

Esteban was one of the first characters that our 3D modeler and consultant, Usaid, came up with. We wanted a cute and lovable guy who would exude friendliness and trustworthiness.

First draft of Spanish Safari's Esteban el Elefante. #learnsafari #spanishsafari

First draft of Spanish Safari’s Esteban el Elefante. #learnsafari #spanishsfafari

This little guy is beyond adorable! (Some of our staff members certainly thought so). However, he seemed a little too young. This baby elephant might make a great little brother to Esteban, but he just looks far too young to be Arturo’s best pal.

We decided to make him appear a bit older. We gave him a larger body size and head, smaller ears and we even tweaked the eyes a little bit. At one point, we even tried glasses!

Spanish Safari's Esteban el elephant with black glasses.

Spanish Safari’s Esteban el elephant with black glasses.

Although Esteban’s proportions were a lot better, the glasses just made him appear much older than he was. Even though elephant’s are not known for their keen vision, their sense of hearing, smell, and touch (facilitated by their trunk) more than make-up for any need of glasses he may have. In fact, his ears prevented the glasses from even fitting correctly.

 

The biggest challenge, however, was getting his size right in relation to the other animals of the safari. Check out some of the photos bellow to see our “Esteban Evolution.” Trust us, you won’t find the photos “irrelephant.” (Oh I know, terrible, but just give me a break!)

In the picture below, you can see Esteban after the changes mentioned above were applied. Esteban looks older, but he is too small when compared to the other animals.

A line up of some of Spanish Safari's main characters. Esteban looks older, but he is too small when compared to the other animals.

A line up of some of Spanish Safari’s main characters.

Once we decided to make Esteban bigger, we overshot it a little. Esteban even had a hard time fitting in his classroom! So we decided to make him 15% smaller.

The whole gang is once again assembled. This time, Esteban is just too big. We decided to make him 15 % smaller.

The whole gang is once again assembled. This time, Esteban is just too big.

Esteban is having a hard time fitting into his Spanish Safari Classroom.

Esteban is having a hard time fitting into his Spanish Safari Classroom.

This is our final version of Esteban. You can see him hanging out with his other savanna friends. His body was made a little less round and some nice textures were added to make him look more realistic.

The whole Spanish Safari Vowel gang! Esteban has been finalized.

The whole Spanish Safari Vowel gang! Esteban has been finalized.

Esteban’s character is a wonderful addition to the Spanish Safari game world. He is a loyal and talented friend, who loves art and his family.  Although he is known for being a bit of a “scaredy cat,” he reminds his more impetuous friends of the need to be cautious when facing dangerous situations and he never leaves his friends behind. Hope you and your children will enjoy this lovable friend!

-The Learn Safari Team