5 Reasons Why Being Bicultural is Just as Important as Being Bilingual

Culture and heritage consist of the passing of traditions and mores from one generation to another. As parents, we often want to share with our children the best of our own lives and our traditions are a huge part of that. When raising children in a country different from the one in which you grew up, the challenge is that there are several competing cultures vying for their attention. But just like language, culture can shape the development of our children and families.

In this post, we want to share the importance of embracing your culture while living abroad, and a few tips on how to pass your heritage on to your children while embracing the majority culture in which you live and we’re going to give you a few reasons why raising bicultural kids is just as important as raising them to be bilingual.

It’s important, because tequeños and cheese sticks are not the same!

This may seem silly, but just follow me for a bit.  Ask any Venezuelan about tequeños and it will take them down memory lane and smile, thinking about all the good times they shared with loved ones.  Tequeños are delicious pieces of white cheese, wrapped in dough and deep fried.  However, they are not mozzarella sticks!!! Mozzarella sticks are delicious and they are a great treat whenever we go to a restaurant in the U.S.! However, as a bicultural family,  do we really want to miss out on one or the other? Tequeños are just a small example of this dichotomy. When we raise our children in a country different than our own we tend to cook meals we grew up with, as we probably learned how to make them at home with our parents and grandparents. Enjoying the smells and flavors of our childhood is a wonderful way to pass on our heritage, but exploring and enjoying the cuisine and tradition of the majority culture (along with other cultures!) but do we want our kids to miss out on the wonderful things this new country has to offer?  Maybe it’s time to make new traditions as a family and embrace the best of both worlds.

 

It’s Important, Because Children Need to Connect with Family and Friends on Both Sides of the Cultural Divide  

One of the issues I most often read about in parent boards about multilingualism, is the difficulty that comes about when children can’t connect with family members due to language and cultural barriers. If children can’t communicate with family members and don’t feel a connection to their culture, it can create uncomfortable situations and missed opportunities. On the other hand, if you completely ignore the traditions of the majority culture, you and your family might be missing out on wonderful new experiences. Moreover, not embracing the majority culture might even create a barrier between you and your children as they grow up, so it’s important to make new traditions as a family and embrace the best of both worlds.

It’s important, because bicultural children will be able to empathize with the world better

Children who have been exposed to different cultures can draw from them and experience the world through what they know from them.  Being able to speak a different language than the majority in the place they’re growing up in enhances those abilities. In the words of Charlemagne “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” According to several studies to speak another language and being exposed to another culture helps the children experience the world through a different mindset, like getting two different sets of lenses to see the world through, making it easier for them to empathize with others.

It’s important, because bicultural children will be more interested in both languages

Cultural connections are a great way to propel language learning.  Children may not be eager to use a heritage language and raising bilingual children is a lot of work! Studies suggest that the earlier children are exposed to another language, the better their ability to become native speakers. However, keeping up with their language development takes hard work, dedication, and a lot of creativity!  As a parent and language teacher, I know that one of the best ways of getting a child hooked on a language is to explore its cultural background, so food, music, and dance are just a few ways to get them interested!

It’s important, because it makes our children more creative and out of the box thinkers
Living in two different cultures often translates to being able to adapt to different social situations in very creative ways.  This creativity is not restricted to social situations; it spreads to every single aspect of their lives, making them out of the box thinkers. And this matters because when ideas come together, and even when they clash, we are more likely to see and solve problems. After all, isn’t that what we want for them?

Here are a few activities to complete when raising bicultural children

  • Cook with your kids. It does not only help them develop healthy eating habits, but it’s a bonding experience based in love and culture with the flavors and smells from your own childhood.
  • Make sure their screen time (tv, video games) is in the target language.  At Learn Safari we specialize in creating interactive language apps to help children learn and practice languages.  If your target language is Spanish, you can try our first app, Spanish Safari!  (You can download Spanish Safari for iOS here.)
  • Have your child join a Play Group with other children from the minority culture. This is a wonderful way to connect with other parents with whom you can share experiences and information.
  • Read cultural books. Reading is the best way to practice language and reading books that connect your children to your heritage culture can be a great bonding experience.
  • Go to restaurants that make your favorite meals to embrace your cuisine and customs, or the intended culture.
  • Attend festivals and such events where your culture is celebrated.
  • Listen and dance to the music of your culture.

What is your experience in raising bicultural children? Do you have any tips to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below! Together we can support each other in raising global citizens that honor their heritage and embrace their new culture by creating new traditions of their own.

About the authors:

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 5-9 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter

 

Keli Garcia-Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari, a Spanish Learning game for children 5-9 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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7 Tips for Finding the Best Children’s Apps

Have you ever downloaded apps just to find out that they’re not what you or your child expected?  There are so many apps out there and it’s hard to separate the good ones from the, well, let’s just say sub-par ones. As a parent and an educator, I worry that the content my kids are being exposed to is not beneficial. After all, it’s important that kids learn to use technology, but we want to make sure that they get the most out of their screen time! In this post, I’m going to share few tips on what to look for when downloading an educational app for kids.

Read the Description

This one is pretty obvious, but it does deserve a mention. Read the description of the app! The description should give you a good idea of what the app does, what age group its designed for, whether there are in app purchases, etc. This is all great info, but you also want to pay attention to the quality of the description. If the description is well thought out and nicely written, then you can have increased expectations that the app itself was well thought out. If it’s a shoddy description, then what can you really expect from the app? If the developers couldn’t bother with something so small, how many short cuts did they take on the app?

Read the Reviews

Star ratings are a good guide, but they’re not as useful as a written review. These are very helpful as you can read the experience of other parents with their children using the app, and you can decide whether the app is for you or not.   Remember, reviews will not be limited to just the app store! With a simple search, you can often find reviews and descriptions of the app on other sites and even on Youtube, especially if the app has any kind of track record. And remember, if you really liked the app after using it, please take the time to write your experience to help other parents.

Free Trial

After you’ve done the research, the only real way to know if the app is for you and your family or students is to try it out! There are some good quality free apps out there, but the reality is that they are few and far between. A great app requires some investment and if you are looking to invest into your child’s education and entertainment, you want to make sure you do so wisely. Many good apps will have a free trial and it’s a great way to test them out without losing out. Make sure that you take advantage of the free trial and spend time with your child playing and gauging their reaction to it before making a commitment.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to purchase an App

Is it Safe?

As a mom, I would say this is the most important.  We want our kids to be safe, always.  When children go online they can become vulnerable to cyberbullies, unsavory characters, and inappropriate information. We have to be alert at every age, always making sure we explain appropriate internet use and behavior and discuss what they can and cannot share online.  When it comes to young users, the best practice is to look for apps that don’t let children interact with other online players.  A well designed children’s app will provide an engaging environment without having to interact with strangers. It’s also important to make sure you play the game and talk to your child about the game often to make sure that they are being exposed to safe information. How many times have you not come across things that are meant for children, but just don’t conform to your standards of appropriateness? And unfortunately, there’s also plenty of things online that are masked as child-friendly, but simply aren’t! Thankfully, the App Store and the Google Play Store have high standards when it comes to the appropriateness of content, but this is something to be aware of across the board!  It’s important that, no matter your child’s age, you are always aware of what they’re doing online and always check on the videos and games they like to play, even if it makes you super “uncool.”

Is it Fun?

Obviously, the attraction of kids to anything depends on the level of fun!  But remember, what might be fun for you might not be fun for a 5 year-old, and vice-versa.  There have been plenty of times where I have picked something out for a child to play with just to find that they are not interested in the least! So, it’s important to gauge whether this is something that your child will pick up for 5 minutes or whether it will provide them with hours of fun (over the course of time obviously!) Although the definition of fun will be different for different children, gauging whether a game is age appropriate can be helpful. A game meant for a 2 year old will be extremely boring to a 6 or 7 year old, and a game meant for 10 year olds might be too difficult and therefore boring to a 5 year old.

What is Your Child Gaining From the App?

Remember that an app can be both fun and educational! We believe that to get the most out of technology, kids should be learning through their play. They can practice literacy skills, multiple languages, music, science, math, art…the possibilities are endless! It’s even better if the app can provide you with feedback and progress when it comes to what your child is learning.

Is it Interactive?

Nothing can replace human interaction, not even super awesome games, but awesome games are interactive. Kids are often on the receiving end of information, but we need to engage their brains as much as possible! Clicking, dragging, making choices, repeating, solving puzzles, etc. help keep a child active and engaged with an activity. To make the process even more interactive, take the time to play with your child, ask questions, etc. (For tips on how to make the most out of your child’s screen time, check out this post). Some apps will even let you create multiple profiles, keep score, and even provide feedback to parents on how the child is doing!

These are just a few things to think about before downloading an app. As an avid app downloader I can safely say these steps have saved me memory space, battery life, a few bucks and a few tears (I won’t tell if the tears were mine or my little one’s!).  As a mom and part of the Learn Safari team I can tell you that this is part of the criteria for developing Spanish Safari, our first project now available on the App Store

If you have any questions or tips of your own please write to me at [email protected] or in the comments below, I’d love to read them.

About the Author: 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 6-8 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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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.

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6 Ways to Establish a Bedtime Routine For Your Bilingual Child

 

As promised in my post 6 Ways in which a Bedtime Routine Can Boost Your Bilingual Child I’m here to share some ideas on how to establish a bedtime routine. If you do not have a routine, then you really are missing out on a great opportunity to teach not only discipline and regain your sanity at night, but you’re missing out on a great opportunity to expose your child(ren) to the target language.

If you are anything like me, you often feel like rushing through the night and getting the kiddos to sleep so you can finally have some peace and a much needed break! I would try to use the time to clean up their substantial mess, get some of my work done, and even get some couch potato T.V. time. But honestly, the time of getting the kids to bed would stress me out, my kids never wanted to go to bed and were super cranky, and by the time I was done I was extremely tired and rarely followed through with my plans.

Working with children, I know the importance of routines. I know that they do better when they know what to expect and what is expected of them, so why wasn’t I applying this to my own children when we were trying to wrap up the day? Once I decided to implement our routine at night, I found time to spend time learning and to actually enjoy my children! So, here is the routine that works for us and it’s my hope that you can get some ideas from it and create a routine that works for you.

Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

  1. Dinner Time

I wrote a post for Cooking with Languages a while back on what children can learn from cooking. It was meaningful for me to write, because cooking with our kids provides such a special opportunity to bond and extend the time learning and practicing the target language. This is not an activity that is merely for older kids, but even the tiniest of tots can join in! My two and three year olds love to pour, crack (eggs), stir, and taste right along with me. Sometimes everything has been cooking on the crock pot all day, and they just get to stir a few times in order to “help” and sometimes we grabbed take out and they just need to set the table. Whatever we do, they always get to help and as they grow, their duties will grow with their abilities.

During this time I use parallel and self-talk in our target language (Spanish) to describe everything we are doing as we cook. I also ask them a lot of open-ended questions about the process (What are you doing? Why do you have to do that?) and watch their little brains workout how to answer me. Obviously, the conversations will evolve as their language skills evolve and I foresee a time when our conversations will go well beyond what we are cooking.

  1. Clean-up time

Oh dreaded clean-up! This is where I spend the majority of my time at home. With two professional mess-makers, it’s no wonder. It’s important to teach our kids from an early age to clean up and contribute to the house, but it’s never too late to start. Sometimes it really is like pulling teeth for me and it takes no small amount of patience, deep breathing, and chocolate (which I hide and eat in my bedroom closet!!) to get through this part of our routine. For now, it is all about me teaching them and indicating exactly what to do every step of the way, but I know that as they grow up, they will be able to do a lot more with a lot less prodding (as long as I keep up the routine!). For now, it’s another great opportunity for us to make practical use of our target language.

Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen
Yes, she chose that outfit. And yes, I let her go out in public like that!

  1. Preparations for the next day

At this point of our evening, I get the girls to help prepare themselves for tomorrow. We pull out pajamas and clothing for the next day. My threenager has developed her own style and takes a long time to put together her outrageous combinations for the following day (Boots with shorts are a current Florida winter favorite of hers) and it cuts down on morning rush (yeah, so I may have it “together” at night, but our mornings are RIDICULOUS! Can’t have it all right?).

This is also a time when we prepare book bags and lunch boxes for the next day. We have a lot of fun and silly conversations in the target language during this portion of our night, and they are usually revolved around the crazy outfits my baby wants to wear.

  1. Bath Time

So, while my kids are little, bath time has to be supervised. Honestly, I wish I could just throw them in and walk away or rush them through it. But they love their baths so much and it’s really a great time for them to play while I sit with a book or (GAASSSPPP!) my phone. If you’re an over-achiever, go ahead and use this time to play and talk with your kids. It’s definitely what I recommend. So, do as I say, not as I do!!

A little reading before bed.
Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

  1. Reading

So, my excuse for taking it easy during bath time is that the next part of our routine is CRUCIAL! Seriously, whether you are a bilingual parent or not, reading every single day with your child is the single most important thing you can do for their education. Whether 0 or 17, reading aloud every single day should be the goal. It doesn’t matter if you read to them or they read to you, reading every day can make a bigger difference than anything else you do for them.  Reading with your child every day has a greater impact on achievement than anything else you may do, including the school they go to, the extracurricular activities they participate in, how much money you make, etc. And as a bilingual parent, this is the best opportunity for my girls to receive rich, deep, and crucial input in the target language.

  1. Reflecting on the day.

After reading and talking about what we read, we spend some time talking about the day. I ask them a lot of questions and try to remind them of everything that was done. I ask them what their favorite part of the day was, what they didn’t like, what made them laugh, what made them sad, etc. I love to ask them silly questions to make them laugh and more serious questions to make them think. If you’re having a hard time coming up with questions, check out this article!

I also talk to them about the next day and what they think they are going to do. I ask about what they would like to do and talk to them about what they must do. We do all of this in our target language and if they do not know how to say something, I let them say it in English and then I model how to say it in Spanish. It’s a very sweet time spent with them and it’s my absolute favorite part of the day.

Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

Taking the time to have a purposeful and meaningful time with your kids in the evening may seem like a daunting task, but remember, it does not have to take hours of your time. While it may at first be difficult to get your children to help with the clean up and preparing for the following day (especially if they are younger), but with a routine, it will end up being a lot of help and saving you time. If you go about the routine with the purpose of spending time and educating your children, it will also be less stressful! Taking the time to relax, read, and reflect upon the day with your child will also help you unwind and decompress while cuddling and hugging your babies will sure boost up those endorphins! And hey, there’s nothing wrong with getting the process started early. I’ve been known to enforce a 7pm bedtime routine and have lived to tell the tale!

We want to hear from you! Do you have a bedtime routine that you practice with your kids? What does it look like? What benefits have you seen from it? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author
keli-blogKeli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish 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.

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6 Ways in which a Bedtime Routine Can Boost Your Bilingual Child

Part 1 – How and Why a Bedtime Routine Can  Benefit  Our Children

What do your evenings look like? As a busy parent, they probably include making dinner, finishing up chores, and getting the kids off to bed as quickly (if not efficiently) as possible. After such a busy day, you’re probably just looking to just relax and maybe read a book, watch some TV, or maybe browse around on Pinterest for hours on end admiring and pinning projects that you know you’ll never actually get to (guilty!!). This much awaited time never seems to arrive when we are so busy trying to deal with wrapping up our children’s day and getting them to bed! But, what if I told you that while we rush about trying to get our kids to bed, we are missing on valuable bonding and language-learning time that can be a tremendous benefit for them?

I know, I know! After a long day, sometimes we just want and NEED time for ourselves. But just give me a chance! With a few tips and tricks for purposeful time spent together in the evening, our nights can go more smoothly and with less stress, our learning day can be extended, and we can create memories that our children will carry with them for life. But first, let’s cover the “why?”  what are you gaining by spending some quality time with your children in the evenings?

  1. An Insight Into Their Day

Do you ever ask your kids how their day was and they tell you “fine”? Or “what did you do today?” and they respond with “nothing.” AGHHHH!!! It drives me nuts! But it’s not just you. Kids don’t always open up to these sorts of questions, because they either don’t have the skills to process their day on their own so quickly (if they are young) or they are not practiced in the art of conversation with their parents. It takes time and effort and one has to be purposeful in establishing lines of communication, especially with our kids. Spending time together and asking questions like “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” or did “anything today make you feel sad?” can help kids engage and share with you about the day. But here’s the thing, you can’t just bombard them with a bunch of questions and expect them to answer right away! You need to take the time and develop an engaging conversation.

2. An Insight Into Their State of Mind

By gaining insights into their days you can also gain insights into their state of mind. As kids get older, parents often get pushed aside. Kids try to gain independence and if you haven’t developed communication habits, it can be that much harder to really KNOW what’s going on inside their heads. Issues of self-confidence, depression, bullying, anger, selfishness, etc. can be discovered and managed more easily when kids learn they can come to you to deal with them.

The girls love to look at books before bed.
Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

  1. Calmer Evenings

Did you know that negative behavior can be curbed by simply giving a child some time and attention? Most of us know this, but do we actually KNOW this? I mean, do we actually put it into practice? Just sitting down for 10 minutes with your child and actually playing with them can give them the attention they need and crave and then buy you some time to get things done in a much calmer manner. Imagine then if you actually include your child into the chores and activities that must be completed in the evening? You can entertain your child, teach them something new, have bonding time, and get your chores done even faster! Even a three-year-old can help wipe down tables and put away laundry!

  1. Bonding and a Nurturing Relationship

Bonding is an important human instinct that gives children (and adults) a sense of security and self-esteem. Bonding occurs when humans spend time together, talking, showing affection, and taking care of each other. The thing is that bonding takes time, and not just your spare minutes. You need quality time spent doing special activities, but you also need quantity time! When I say this, I mean ordinary time spent doing routine activities that, although they may not feel special, they develop trust and a sense of nurturing and security. This time serves to let a family get to know eachother, reinforces mutual respect, improves communication and lets people learn to listen and communicate with each other.

Reading Together

  1. You Will Gain an Opportunity to Help You Children Process Their Day 

Establishing an evening and bed-time routine with your kids will help them process their day. They can reflect back on what happened and discuss the good, the bad, the ugly. You can help kids put a positive spin on their day and help them plan and prepare for tomorrow. It’s a great time to discuss goals, both small and large, and talk about the future. It’s also a great time to teach kids about thankfulness and the effect that their actions and choices have upon their lives and the lives of others.

  1. Extended Education

Finally, this time together at night can serve for practicing language and communication. For bilingual parents, this can be a crucial time of target language input. If your child spends a majority of the time listening and interacting in the community language, the evening spent with you can be crucial for practicing the target language and using it for higher order thinking and learning. You can model grammar, language structure and vocabulary and give them plenty of opportunities to emulate you. Most importantly, you can develop your relationship in the target language and help your child gain the confidence to use it.

Our days are busy. We are constantly running around with the business of life and we don’t often take the time to just be with each other and spend time in communication and bonding. Whether you are a parent who works outside of the home all day or you are a parent who works in the home all day, the reality is that you most likely spend your hours working! When the evening comes and kids get home from school it’s important to take time together to process the day, use our language and communication skills, and create the kind of deep relationships that will be crucial for the rest of our lives.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where I will share some Ideas and Tips for Establishing a Bedtime Routine for your Bilingual Children.

Sweet dreams!
Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

We want to hear from you! Do you have a bedtime routine that you practice with your kids? What does it look like? What benefits have you seen from it? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author
keli-blogKeli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish 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.

Integrating Spaced-Repetition in Ed-Tech

 

 

Girls playing Spanish Safari Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

If you have ever been a student, then the ritual will be familiar to you; cram an entire semester’s worth of information into your brain over the course of one day (or one night if you’re a real go-getter)), in order to spill it out on a piece of paper on test day, and the  never think about the information again. Because honestly, you couldn’t possibly be expected to remember all of that. It is certainly not the most effective way of long-term learning, but we sure rely on it. But, what if there’s a better way? What if we could work with our brain, instead of against it?

Hacking the Brain

The brain is an extremely complicated organ and although a lot of research has been done on it, there’s so much that is unknown. How memory works and how we learn is still largely a mystery, but the small glimpses that we have into our wonderful brains can be extremely useful if we can harness what we have learned. One of the things that we have learned is that the brain learns and commits to memory things that it deems most useful and more often used. We have also learned that spacing this information out over time is more useful than cramming it all in to our short-term memory.

The Science

Spacing out this information, or what scientists like to call the spacing effect, is actually one of the most reliable and replicable developments in experimental psychology. So, what are the specifics of this effect? It’s actually pretty simple; for a given amount of time, repetitions that are spaced out have better learning outcomes than mass presentations (or cramming). According to researchers (Hitnzman, 1974; Meltown, 1970), presenting information in two spaced out  sessions is twice as effective as two cramming sessions. And these successes have been observed across many different subjects and learning environments.

How Does it Work?
The technique involves increasing intervals of time between consecutive reviews of material previously  learned. Spaced repetition can be applied to any subject in which information needs to be committed to memory for an indefinite amount of time. It can be used to learn medical facts, historical facts, biology, vocabulary, etc. It is often associated with  learning vocabulary in a new language.

Spaced Repetition in Ed-Tech

There have been several systems developed around Spaced repetition, including the famous Pimsleur language learning system.This system, in which phrases are learned through audio instruction, relied on very short intervals of repetition: 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, and 2 years.*  Although this method may seem old-school these days, it’s important to not forget that audio was a revolutionary tech and that advancements in sound have increased the quality of these programs. Though old-hat, picking up a Pimsleur Method language CD is still a very effective form of language acquisition for adults. But don’t freak out! You can still pick up a digital copy of them on iTunes.

The spaced repetition method can be applied to any subject by using several programs, such as Anki, fullrecall and supermemo, in which you can schedule your own flashcards. The software will present a question and the user attempts to recall the answer from memory, once answered, the software will schedule the questions for a later date; Most of the software out there will schedule them in intervals based on how you answered the question (correct or incorrect)  and on your rating of it (hard or easy).

The team I am a part of, Learn Safari, is currently developing an app to teach young children Spanish. We are using a modified version of spaced repetition. Because children learn language best through experiences, we have created a virtual world in which they can take part in the narrative. They are exposed to the vocabulary repeatedly in increasing intervals of time, but they interact with it in several different ways that are compatible with their intuitive way of learning language.

Child playing Spanish Safari Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

The Future of Education

Although spaced repetition has been around since the 1930s, the method has not been widely used in mainstream education. Being that it is such an effective method of learning, tech companies are using it to create new learning opportunities and products. As a teacher and an advocate of education, I hope to see more students taking advantage of this method and applying it for real and long-lasting learning results.  As ed-tech continues to revolutionize the static world of education, I think we will see an increasing number of innovations taking advantage of this brain “hack.”

*(Pimsleur, Paul (February 1967). “A Memory Schedule”. The Modern Language Journal (Blackwell Publishing) 51 (2): 73–75. doi:10.2307/321812. JSTOR 321812)

Thanksgiving in Venezuela: A story of Biculturalism, Food, and Love.

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Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays, because it was one just for us. The story of our thanksgiving goes back over half a century and it’s a story that has had a great influence on who I am today.

My grandparents came to Venezuela back in 1948 with 2 little girls, a few bucks to their name and hearts full of hope.  They had arrived to a very prosperous country that welcomed them, and all immigrants, with open arms.  It was a time when a lot of Americans arrived to Venezuela’s western coast to settle into oil camps.

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The Cox family in 1948.

My Grandparents lived happily with their family and friends in their close knit community, where everyone was  from the U.S. or “Americanized.” This meant that there was very little need to speak Spanish fluently, with store clerks that spoke English and “American” schools for their children. As the years passed, 2 new little girls (including my mother) were born in this new country. To them, growing up in Venezuela and often visiting family in Texas offered the best of both worlds, from which they created a dual-culture all of their own. One of the greatest examples of this dual culture was our very own Venezuelan Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, although a popular U.S. Holiday, is not celebrated in Venezuela and back in the 1950s it was difficult to find some of the wonderful holiday staples that are traditional to the meal. Through frequent trips to the U.S. and the advent of canned goods and boxed mixes, however, my grandparents made it a mission to celebrate this beloved holiday.

As the years passed, and their children and grandchildren grew up, this Venezuelan thanksgiving became a tradition that evolved to reflect us as a family and it is one of my fondest childhood (and adulthood) memories.

Thanksgiving dinner was always celebrated at my grandmother’s home in La Concepción, a small town in the outskirts of Maracaibo. My grandmother was the Queen of Thanksgiving, a holiday that was hers to do with as she pleased. There were no other events, no juggling of dates or family members, and everyone was welcomed with open arms. However, you always had to make sure you had enough room for that pecan pie!

The Queen of Thanksgiving herself, Grandma Cleo

The Queen of Thanksgiving herself, Grandma Cleo

As many of you know, hosting a holiday tradition in a different place has to come with some adjustments, but maybe that is what made our Venezuelan Thanksgiving even more special.  As you can imagine, celebrating a holiday on a Thursday was next to impossible, with their married daughters, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren all on Venezuelan calendars. Celebrating on the Saturday after Thanksgiving was the first compromise.

The Menu
The food was another place where new traditions would evolve. Apples were not that popular in Venezuela until recently, so apple pie was never that prominent, but the pecan pie and pumpkin pies were ever-present. With the addition of new family members, new Venezuelan recipes came to accompany the traditional fare and my grandmother picked up a few tricks from Venezuelan cuisine along the way.

It wouldn’t be turkey day without the bird, and thanks to some enterprising businessmen, turkeys were available in select stores in town.  The dressing was cornbread, of course, made with Funche La Lucha, (the closest thing to coarse yellow corn meal) baked with vegetables and turkey stock and served with giblet gravy. We later switched to Cachapa mix (corn pancake mix – deliciousness) to make the dressing, but it was still amazing.  Cranberries were canned and jellied, the corn was fresh and fried, and the string bean casserole made with real Campbell’s cream of mushrooms. We also had mashed potatoes, baked beans, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, carrot cake, mincemeat bars, lemon pie, quesillo (condensed milk and caramel flan, and yes it is as good as it sounds) and fruit salad, all made from scratch with the exception of some imported ingredients, and it was all eaten with gusto. Large pitchers of iced tea and café guayoyito (a filtered and less concentrated cup, but it’s still made with some of the best coffee in the world!)  finished off the meal.

After we served our plates buffet style and we sat down to say grace in several tables across living room and dining room, (we were 20 and counting) and looked down at all this delicious food made with love by grandma and my aunts you could just see her smile, all of her chicks were back in the nest, all that effort paid off.

Some of the children and grandchildren of Grandma Cleo.

Some of the children and grandchildren of Grandma Cleo.

Some compromises were made, but Thanksgiving Sunday Supper was a must, and it was Grandma’s pride and joy.  Later on daughters and granddaughters (even me!) started to bring dishes of their own to these gatherings, right until grandma moved back to Texas. Now, we all celebrate thanksgiving in our own homes, celebrating our heritage with our new families, and we stick to tradition, our own tradition of incorporating our loved one’s favorite dishes to this holiday.  After all, this is a day for being thankful and counting one’s blessings, and family is the most special blessing of all.

About the author

Becky Becky Garcia-Muir is a Southern belle from way South, a Bilingual teacher and mom, and community manager for Learn Safari.

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Growing Up in Spanglish

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Carol with her two oldest children, Christian and Rebecca.

Learn Safari is very excited this guest post from Carol Cox. Carol is an accomplished English teacher from Venezuela and her bilingual story is very inspirational. We hope you enjoy! 

My Own Bilingual Journey

Growing up in Venezuela, you would think that I had grown up speaking Spanish, right? Think again! My parents are originally from Luffkin, Texas. They moved to Venezuela in 1948, during the oil boom. Daddy sold industrial laundry equipment and while making a sale to Creole, he took over their laundry concession and the rest, as they say, is history. Mom and Dad never learned to speak Spanish correctly nor fluently, too many of their friends wanted to practice their English with a native speaker, and Mother did her best to conserve her lifestyle; American foods, English-speaking church, trips home in the summer. My sister and I were born in Venezuela, but attended an International School where we received 2 hours of Spanish a week. Exposure to Spanish was limited to shop people and the housekeeper.

This all changed in high-school. My dad decided that he wasn’t going to send us away to college in the US, so we would study in the excellent universities of Venezuela. To do that, we needed to speak Spanish. Thus he enrolled us in an all-girl Catholic school. Talk about culture shock! We had been attending an English-speaking school with small classrooms, no more than 10 students per class. And suddenly we were thrust into classrooms of 45 girls who spoke no English. Believe me, we picked up Spanish very quickly, and made some life-long friends along the way. We were teased because of our accent, but corrected when we made grammatical mistakes. I was put back 2 years due to differences in the curricula. But we learned to speak, read and write in Spanish to the point where we are both completely fluent in both languages.

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Carol and her mother; The beginning of a bilingual Journey

My First Born- a Late Talker

I never made it to college. I met and married my husband right out of high-school, and two years later we welcomed our son into this world. He was a happy baby, with a deep belly laugh that was highly contagious. Loved and spoiled by both sets of grandparents. They were saddened to see us move to the US while my husband studied in the university, and I traveled back and forth with the baby. He would chatter away but he didn’t actually say anything. By the time he was 3, I took him to several doctors to check his hearing, but the results came back fine, he just didn’t want to speak. The pediatrician suggested I enroll him in a pre-school, and so I did. He started talking clearly 3 months later. Back then we had never heard of OPOL, we just did it.  I constantly exposed him to English, speaking and singing to him, putting him in an English-language day care. My sister would send me Betamax tapes with Saturday cartoons for when we were in Venezuela and I bought story books, lots of books. My husband’s family spoke to him in Spanish. And he eventually attended Venezuelan schools. We would spend summers in Texas, as my parents had retired there by then, and my sister had moved there with them. He loved Texas! And his English has a strong hint of a Texas accent.  He is grown up now and still bilingual. He reads and writes it well, even though he never formally studied English. Exposure to the target language seemed to have worked with him. He still lives and works in Venezuela and now has 3 sons of his own. He and I have worked hard to make them bilingual as well. It is working so far.

My husband graduated with a degree in Broadcast Management, in English!!! Before we left for him to study in the US, he had attended a newly opened binational language center to learn English and take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). His teachers there were native speakers: Canadians, Trinidadians, Grenadians, a few British ex-pats. Remember English is the primary language in many countries and islands of the Caribbean. He learned very proper English and had a big problem understanding anyone in Texas! But after a few months of total immersion, he picked up the “lingo” fairly quickly.

Carol's Son Christian.

Carol’s Son Christian.

My Daughter – a Refusal to Speak English

Four years after our son was born, back in Venezuela, settled in and both of us working, we decided to try for a second child. Our daughter arrived kicking and screaming right on schedule. We tried to follow what we had done with our son, exposing her to English and Spanish through the OPOL method, VHS tapes, books and songs. She spoke earlier, by age 2, but preferred Spanish. We continued going to Texas during summers to stay with my parents and she attended Venezuelan day-care. However, by the time she was 5 or 6 years old, she told me firmly – “no English, mommy. No quiero English”.  I continued to speak to her in English as did my parents, and she would answer back in Spanish, so I knew it was being assimilated. She studied in Venezuelan schools, where she was taught 2 hours of English a week in high-school.

When she turned 14, she suddenly decided she needed to speak English. So we enrolled her in the same bi-national center her father had studied in years prior. She took a placement test and was placed fairly well. Being a good student, she learned quickly and well, graduating with top grades. She went on to study in a Venezuelan university majoring in Graphic Design with a minor in Education. She worked for 10 years in an English language Day-care, and with a major publishing company in their teacher training program, before marrying her long-time boyfriend and presenting us with a granddaughter.  She is now working virtually from home (as Community Manager for none other than Learn Safari!)  and is dedicated to teaching her child to be bi-lingual. She has cable TV with English-language options, laptops and tablets, and many books, which are all wonderful tools for language learning. Our son in law speaks to our grand-daughter in Spanish and exposes her to heavy metal and car-tuning shows. It seems to be working well, so far.

Rebecca and her grandfather.

Rebecca and her grandfather.

A Surprise – My Trilingual Child

Did I mention that when I turned 40, I had one last child? Our 2 older children were 18 and 14 respectively. My parents had returned to Venezuela as retirement bored them and 3 of their daughters lived here with their families. I was working for them so my children were very close to their grandparents and their aunts and cousins. Family is important in many ways, including language learning.  I began having random “female troubles”, so I went in for a medical check-up. I was recommended a hysterectomy. Imagine my surprise when I went for a pre-surgery sonogram and was told I was 10 weeks pregnant! Our last child, a daughter, was born without complications 2 weeks early. She has been a bright, happy child. I quit my job when she was born and was a stay at home mom. We spoke to her in English and Spanish pretty much as we had with her brother and sister.  I enrolled her in daycare and went back to work. This time at the bi-national center as an EFL/ESL teacher.  I could work fewer hours and be at home when the kids were home from school.

By this time my parents became very attached to my youngest child and would “kidnap” her for several days at a time. She spoke mostly English until she was 7, when she entered first grade in the Venezuelan school system.  She would spend her summers with me at the Center’s summer English program for children. So Spanish was a problem for her. She could speak and understand it, but English was her first language. You could see her visibly switching from one language to another. It wasn’t a fluid transition. What could I do about it? One solution was theater. There was a theater group at the bi-national center and she was active in it. She was always involved in the book-club at the library and a girl scout for a few years.  So, total immersion in Spanish helped her a lot.  Today she has graduated from the university in Spanish, is fully bilingual and does most of her work on line, in both languages. By the way, she also speaks Japanese. In her late teens, she found a private teacher who would accept her as a student. She has really enjoyed it. Being multi-lingual is a distinct advantage on her resume as she begins job hunting.

barbaritaAs it turns out, there are many ways to raise bilingual children. We did not have a formula, we did not follow a plan and specific rules. We trusted our instinct, we loved our children, and we made adjustments along the way to meet their individual needs. The important factor is to make sure they are exposed to the target languages and that you never give up on them, or yourself.

What language strategy do you use in your household? We’d love to hear your story in the comments!

About the Author

Carol Cox
A long time English teacher in Venezuela, Carol Cox is an amazing baker and crafter. She is the mother of 3 and the grandmother of 4. You can get to know her more by following her on Pinterest.

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Feeling Resistance When Trying To Raise Your Child To Be Bilingual? Here Are 5 Tips To Get Skeptics On Board!

Photo credit: Jack Moreh

Photo credit: Jack Moreh

I always assumed I would raise my children to speak Spanish and English. I didn’t think about it much, because it is the way I was raised. With that assumption, however, came the ignorance of the many complications and difficulties I would face. Like I always say, raising children to speak multiple languages takes work! It also takes planning and support.

I come across stories of many parents who don’t have support when it comes to raising their children in more than one language. This is especially true when only one parent speaks the target language which they want their children to learn. Sometimes the spouse is not on board, or the grandparents aren´t supportive. At times it can feel like you are playing defense against family members who just don´t agree with how you´re raising your children! I’m not going to lie, I have amazing support and my husband WANTS my daughters to speak more than one language. He’s not only appreciative, but he’s enthusiastic about it! However, being that I am the only fluent Spanish speaker, and that my husband and inlaws don’t speak Spanish fluently (if at all), I do have some insight on the hurdles that a Family can face when teaching their children a second language. Therefore, I’m going to share with you 5 tips for including non-target language speakers in your language-learning journey.

1. Share Articles, Studies & Blogs On The Benefits Of Multilingualism 

Sometimes, people don´t understand how beneficial learning a second (or even third and fourth) language is. The old-fashioned notion that children will become confused and not learn any language well is still believed by some. Even those who support bilingualism are often worried that their children´s speech will be delayed by learning more than one language. As advocates for bilingualism, it falls upon us to educate them! There are many articles and research reports that highlight the many cognitive, social, and professional benefits of bilingualism. Let your family in on this knowledge and they will become your allies in the language-learning journey you have chosen.

2. Teach Them Bits & Pieces Of The Language 

Include others in the process. Teach them some of the language or better yet, have your child(ren) teach them! Some family members may want to study the language intensely, while others will be satisfied with learning just a couple of words.

My husband, who as I said before is very enthusiastic about Spanish, knows and understands a lot (more than he lets on actually). But he often asks me how to say certain things so he can teach our girls something new. For a period of time we even had vocabulary words posted all over the house so that he could practice! It was really cute and a great topic of conversation when people would come to visit.

3. Include Them In Cultural Celebrations 

Another great way to have people become interested in a language is by teaching them about the culture. Any teacher knows that the key to getting students involved in class is teaching

them about the people, places, foods, music and customs of the places that use the target language. If you want your children to become not only bilingual, but also bicultural, it´s important to participate in these types of celebrations. Whether you are making a cultural meal, hosting a celebration, or attending one, including family members is a key way to making them more understanding and supportive of your goals and of who you are as a family.

4. Don’t Leave Them Out Of The Conversation 

This is often a point of contention. Some people think it´s rude to speak another language in front of people who do not understand and others are not willing to compromise on their language goals in order to accommodate others. Now, it is very important that your child(ren) often hear and participate in the target language, or they will never fully learn! However, it´s just as important to remember that the goal of language is to have people connect. It´s not fair to family members and friends to feel like they cannot connect with your child.

That being said, there are ways to make sure people feel like they are a part of the conversation when you are around. You can speak to children in the target language and then translate for others around or even have your child translate for them. Remember to be aware of your setting. It is one thing to have a one on one conversation with your child in the target language, even if others are around, and it´s a completely different thing to dominate the dinner table with a conversation that others do not understand. Be aware of people´s feelings and as long as you have plenty of time together in your target language, translating for others and encouraging your child to communicate with others will not hurt one bit! In fact, it will help others feel like they are a part of your journey.

5. Be Sure To Emphasize That Their Language Is Important & Valuable Too 

Often, one of the biggest determinants of whether family members will support your language choices is whether they feel like they are being left out or not. Parents and grandparents want to be important to children and if they feel like their contributions are being undervalued they will resist you. A father who feels like he can´t communicate with a child or a grandmother who feels like she is unappreciated and unwanted, will often lash out against the idea of a child being bilingual. It´s important to emphasize that their language, culture and traditions are just as important. Encourage communication and have them spend time together. Balance your child´s experiences and they will become well-rounded and be able to navigate in both of your worlds. I hope this piece was of encouragement to you. It´s important to have allies when you are raising your children to be bilingual. It´s hard work enough without having to constantly argue and defend your choices. Including family members, even if they do not speak the target language, will offer you much needed support and encouragement.

We want to hear from you! Have you come across resistance to your language goals for your children? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author
keli-blogKeli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari,  Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Bilingual Dough Creatures Game – Teach the Parts of the Face in Spanish to Kids with this Fun Language Activity (Free Printable Included)

Teaching the Parts of The Facein Spanish with a fun language activity (Free printable)

We are so excited to present this activity by Kids Activities Designer Rodrigo Macias * It is a wonderful and fun way to practice the parts of the face in Spanish with your kids and/or students. We promise, they will not get bored with this one! Enjoy! 

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Activity: Practice the vocabulary for the parts of the face in Spanish by rolling the “face parts dice” and then choosing from a mix of different kinds of dough eyes, noses, mouths and ears to form different kinds of funny creature’s faces.

What do you need?

  1. The Bilingual Creatures’ Face Parts printable
  2. Scissors
  3. Any kind of glue or tape

Set it up:

  1. Print and cut out the face parts and dice provided in the free printable.
  2. After bending in the gray lines on the dice, use tape or any kind of glue to stick the flaps andform a steady cube shape.
  3. Layout the base face template and place the face parts around it.

(Video) Stop-motion with face examples

How to play:

  1. Roll the English dice and select a matching face part from the pool.
  2. Do the same, but now using the Spanish dice.
  3. Keep alternating the dice until the creature’s face has all 6 parts (left/right eye, left/right ear,mouth and nose).

– To keep the game fresh during many different rounds, rotate the base face template between rounds to make different kinds of creatures (see example video above).

– Each face part can also be rotated to form different looks. This encourages the kid’s creativity as well as giving more dynamism to the activity.

Game twist:

Forget the base face template and let the kids add the face parts to any random objects (you might need tape to do this). Below is an example using a roll of toilet paper 😛 .

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PRINTABLE’S DOWNLOAD PAGE

About the guest author:

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Rodrigo Macias is the creative behind The Box of Ideas (his website) where he merges his experience working in Childcare, Design and Languages to produce free high quality printables and playful-educational activities for kids.

Rodrigo’s social outlets: PinterestTpT InstagramGoogle Plus