For whom are we protecting the designated use of languages in two-way bilingual education (TWBE) programs?

After attending the Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) convention this past week in Atlanta, GA and noticing how much “we” tend to place an immense amount of value on a certain kind “English,” I started thinking about the TWBE context. A context that is dear to my bilingual and Latinx heart as a former TWBE teacher, a parent with children in TWBE programs, and as an academic who has spent a large part of my time invested in this “ideal” form of bilingual education.

In the TWBE community, scholars and parents argue for Spanish to have a protected space in the classroom. Don’t get me wrong — I much prefer Spanish time over English and do think we  need to place more value on Spanish than English (more to come below). A protective space for Spanish is a legit concern considering that English is overwhelmingly present – or, how I like to describe it, English is a huge tidal wave that sweeps everything and everyone with its powerful force. Here’s my issue with “protecting Spanish” or any other minoritized language in dual language classrooms, For whom are we protecting Spanish in TWBE programs? I cannot critique TWBE classrooms without personalizing my experience as a parent raising 3rd generation bilinguals (no small feat!) and as a heritage speaker of Spanish. My daughters, like many heritage speakers of Spanish, walked into their designated dual language program already bilingual. They are used to navigating multilingual spaces and are quite comfortable doing so. Speaking Spanish is like breathing air – an automatic response to being alive. Translanguaging is a way of being for them, it’s not a mystery to be explored and problematized. When we promote a designated time for Spanish or English (!!) we are drawing from the language practices and strategies that were designed for the White and monolingual English-speaking demographic. I think we should all follow Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes (AOC) advice at SXSW and create our own spaces of agency, a sort of FUBU language policies, that reflect our history and language practices.

A more urgent point is that English does not need a protective space in the elementary TWBE programs (at least not until the upper elementary years)! As a parent raising 3rd generation multilingual daughters, I literally threw English out the door, in the trash can, and sent all our English children’s books to Goodwill (don’t really recommend doing that). I have made a huge concerted effort to raise the status of OUR Spanish. I would even argue that I’ve been pretty successful at helping my daughters value their Latinidad and bilingualism, BUT this could not have happened (for many reasons) had I let English have a “protected” space in our lives. English does not need a single centimeter of space – it naturally will consume every facet of your child’s life in the U.S. context (and others internationally).

In my Latinx and bilingual world, the TWBE program would be “heavily marketed” to communities of color who speak a variety of English(es). What I (re)imagine is that a beautiful and linguistically diverse group of students would get to continue to grow up as heritage speakers of [insert minoritized language] while building bridges between communities of color. *Communities of Color [for a reimagined] Two-way Bilingual Education (COC-TWBE)

White supremacy is an intricate part of the institutions we navigate and an ingrained part of our (un)conscious ways of being that it is highly unlikely that my ideal Latinx and bilingual world will come into fruition unfortunately (or any time soon). Until then, I will continue to use my own positionality as a mamá raising language warriors and a Latinx expert in bilingual education to #speakup and #standup for and with communities of colors who seek a more equitable two-way immersion bilingual education program.

#gentrificationTWBE #FUBU #LatinxLanguagePolicies #bilingualeducation #multilingualVIDA #TWBE #PhDLatina #protectedspacesforCOC #notsameassegregation #onourterms #Spanishonourterms #SpanishRights #SpanishasResistence #reclaimingSpanish #sisepuede

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Latinx Community Raising Bilingual Children

Ever since I decided to raise my daughters in a bilingual world I knew that I didn’t fit the profile of the many “how to raise a bilingual child”  books I was reading. First, the “one parent one language” (OPOL) method wasn’t a right fit because both my husband and I are bilingual. The “minority language at home”(M@LH) method also did not fit because it is simply not how we identify as bilinguals. I decided to draw from a second language acquisition theory referred to as input/output theory. My main goal was to expose my daughter to as much Spanish as possible. The only challenge was that my husband and I spoke to each other in English–not exactly the OPOL or MLH method. For us it looked more like–English  to each other, Spanish with our daughter– ~100% of the time. What ended up happening? The first 2 1/2 years of her life she was Spanish-dominant.

During this time I was also in graduate school pursuing a PhD in bilingual/bicultural education. It was through that experience that I began to change my approach as to how I, a bilingual Latina, born and raised in the U.S., chose to expose my daughter to her heritage language, Spanish. I went from saying, “Hablame en espanol” to “Habla los dos idiomas porque eres bilingue.” What I’m trying to say is that our approach was and is different. It is a reflection of how we “do being bilingual.” The  OPOL or ML@H methods are grounded in this idea that languages should never make contact, but in reality they do. These methods are ones that are supported by the dominant group in the U.S.–a group who recently has decided to try and raise bilingual kids, too. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing. This is, in many ways, a bilingual dream come true. The problem I have with it is that the ways my daughter and I “do being bilingual” as members of a Latinx community are not being supported in school sanctioned zones because monolingual English-speaking students need and expect full immersion in Spanish. The second issue is that dual language programs are on the rise and many more are using a lottery system  to accept individuals. This seems like a “fair” method, but in reality it’s not. Spanish is now a product that families want for their children while Latinx families have been trying to pass down their heritage language (many times) with great difficulty because of the power English has in the U.S. If it were up to me the Latinx community would get preference in dual language programs.

Had someone told me that what I learned about bilingual education, language acquisition, language policy, etc, would look and feel so much different in practice I probably would not have believed them. I see the problem with the “preferential” treatment, but when institutional racism and privilege exists drastic thoughts surface. Unfortunately, this idea of the Lartinx community getting preferential treatment in dual language programs will( likely) never be manifested because we have a system in place that privileges those in power.

For more about this topic please read Guadalupe’s Valdes’ cautionary note.

 

 

 

Do Children Learn or Acquire Language?

Below is a video of our 3 year old speaking Mandarin. Her teacher sent it to us because she was very impressed with Siena’s accent in Mandarin and how natural it sounded. To be honest, I was very impressed as well even though I have no idea what she is saying. In fact, I find it totally fascinating that even though I know more than the average person about bilingualism that I am still reacting with amazement of my daughter acquiring a third language. That is, her development as a bilingual Spanish and English speaker came as a “Of course she is becoming bilingual because we, as a family unit, are bilingual,” but it wasn’t an “Oh, wow! Look how she acquires both languages” moment.

As you can infer from the paragraph above I believe Siena is acquiring Mandarin which is very different from learning Mandarin. According to second language acquisition theories, acquiring a language occurs in authentic  settings, such as living in a country where the language is spoken and where individuals are forced to use the target language through social interactions. Learning a language usually occurs in the a traditional school setting and many times grammar becomes a focus.

Our daughter is very privileged in that she is going to a Montessori Chinese immersion school for young children. We didn’t purposely plan on adding a third language to our family’s linguistic repertoire, it was a matter of “convenience” actually. That being said, we welcome the opportunity with open hearts. We also recognize that it takes a huge commitment on our part as a family. We have opened up spaces in our home to talk about learning Mandarin in purposeful ways. One way we do this is with the weekly homework the school provides. For example, I will read the pinyin in order to understand the Chinese characters when helping my older daughter complete her homework. Pinyin is “the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland ChinaMalaysiaSingapore, and Taiwan” (reference from Wikipedia). Meanwhile my younger daughter is also participating by repeating the teacher -recorded sentences. Although this interaction reflects a “learning” of Mandarin it does support the way both girls are acquiring Chinese when they go their classes.

My main message for parents who have their children in language programs is to remember learning/acquiring a language takes a village. It is NOT the sole responsibility of the teacher. You, too, have to make a HUGE effort to support the minority language in your home. This can mean taking the time to learn Spanish (or the target minority language), or in our case Mandarin, as well. This can also mean finding ways to increase the status of the minority language in your lives. However you plan on embracing an additional language–make sure you are enjoying the process because children will also respond to your reactions towards becoming a bi/multilingual family.

Exploring Cuba. #cubalibre ¡Vamos a Cuba!

The first time I went to Miami, Florida I was in my 20’s. I fell in love with the city because a part of me felt like I was somewhere in Latin America or the Caribbean. It was in Miami where I learned how mojitos and cuba libres are supposed to taste and how REAL salseros actually don’t mirror their partners steps (east coast west coast salsa, I get it). There was something spectacularly intriguing to me when I danced with a “Cubano de Cuba.” I’ll never forget how it was described to me, “There’s nothing like watching two Cuban people dance salsa.” After that comment I never saw ANY two dancers the same. In fact,  I think when partners dance they tell a story. Their story to be exact.

My trips to Miami always included the same routines: pastelitos de guayaba y cafe con leche (then the BEACH for hours), a sandwich from Publix (a grocery store) for lunch, rest and a nap, THEN dinner (something Argentine or Peruvian many times), then DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, SALSA, SALSA, SALSA until the break of dawn!

It was through these experiences where I heard immigrant stories about leaving Cuba. Sometimes first hand experiences, but mostly from 2nd generation Cuban immigrants. We shared things in common in that my parents had also immigrated a generation ago (but from Mexico) and in those ways I connected with them. It has been 15 years since I first went to Miami and 15 since I decided that one day I would travel to Cuba.

I’m on a journey now to plan our first trip to Cuba and, as it turns out, this planning also coincided with the passing of Fidel Castro. I am so curious to hear stories from the people that actually live in Cuba, to see how a world so close to us lives in such a different way.  If I state that I am going to “support the Cuban people,” then what kind of proof do I need to show when returning to the U.S.A that I did that? Would staying at a “casa particular” be enough? I have also thought of contacting professors at a local university in Havana to express an interest in planning an educational trip with my university students, but am not quite sure what the first steps involve in trying to do just that?

I would love to hear from my readers who have traveled to Cuba. #cubalibre #vivacuba

 

 

Sometimes Spanish does not come first!

Even before I had Sabrina I was scoping out our foreign language schools options. I got on several waiting lists and eventually got into all of them! In fact, I keep my nena on a rolling waiting list because you never know. I was so set on foreign language exposure that I did not even bother looking into English child development (aka day care options or mothers-day-out programs). I had my heart and eyes focused on the foreign language component that it, unfortunately, blurred my sense of vision. I lost sight of what was really important — my daughter’s well being, her happiness, and what she needed in school.

As I scoped out language schools I started to notice a trend. Most of them seem to have a stricter and more regimented program for teaching and taking care of children. I started to wonder if this had something to do with the ways children are taught and cared for in Latin American countries. I know that western/North American child rearing practices can be very different than other parts of the world, so surely this, too, affects the way children are regarding in Latin American day care centers and schools.

As I have mentioned in other posts, we love the little school Sabrina is enrolled in now. They value linguistic diversity and that, to me, is priceless. We have had to consider other options because it was now too far from our home, but to be honest, I was not entirely happy with the stricter and more regimented schedule they have in place. I won’t get into details, but I will say that I recently checked out an English school in town and walked into a whole new world.

The child was at the center of their “play-curriculum.” If my baby girl wants to paint, she can; if she wants to play with shaving cream in a water table, she can. The place seemed happy, the kids were happy, and most importantly, they were doing things that 2 and a half year olds should be doing—socializing and playing. In other words, they don’t have to wait for art time to happen in an organized, sitting in their chair, and waiting their turn fashion.

Read: Is Bilingual Education Right for Us?

Taking the initiative to look at English schools may have happened out of necessity, but deciding that sometimes Spanish does not come first was a process. We have been speaking in Spanish to Sabrina since the day she was born and have been really consistent about it. She probably knows about 90% Spanish and 10% English.

My heart was aching and tears were swelling up in my eyes when I was forced to take a closer look at the decisions we were making about exposing my daughter to Spanish almost 100% of the day. I realized that the decisions we had made were possibly costing her opportunities to just be a kid. All she wants to do is play, socialize with other kids, and do creative things. Sure she would stay in her seat, listen to the teacher, walk in a line with her hands behind her back, but she is too young to voice her opinion or even know that there are other schools available where being a 2 ½ year old comes first, then learning Spanish.

I’m curious, what are foreign language schools/day care centers like in your city? Have you compared English versus Spanish schools? If so, did you notice a difference like I did? How are you weighing your options?

*Originally published on the Spanglish Baby website on December 26, 2012

In search of the ideal foreign language program for your child? (a post in progress)

Where do you start? Which language do you choose? How do you know which school is the best for your child? How much should it cost? Do all the parents at that school have the same goals? Does it matter? Should there be economic and ethnic diversity? If these are questions that matter to you when choosing a language immersion program then continue reading below.

When I started investigating,  8 years ago,  which language program would be a great fit for my daughter I simply looked at programs that offered Spanish. I failed in considering whether the foreign language programs were a good fit for her emotional and social well-being. One of the goals in writing this post is to offer parents an informed perspective, as a parent and academic, in helping you choose the “right” school for your child.

Please leave any other questions or concerns about choosing the ideal foreign language school for your child in the comments section below.

**this is a rough-draft of an upcoming post

 

 

 

 

Co-authored a Huffington Post Article about CA’s Proposition 58- LEARN

Please help me in spreading the news about California’s Proposition 58 – (Language Education, Acquisition and Readiness). It will be on the November ballot and we must get California residents to vote YES. Voting YES means ALL students in the state of CA will have the opportunity to receive a multilingual education. This isn’t the first time I have urged the public to become advocates for bilingual education, so please take a moment to read about the proposition and share it with friends, family, and colleagues that can vote in the state of California.

Some may ask why I have an invested interest in seeing this proposition pass. I grew up in Southern California and in a bilingual community up until 8th grade. I personally did not benefit from bilingual education, but would love to see it an option for all students, but, especially students who come from bilingual homes.

Please click on the link below to read the Huffington Post promoting CA Proposition 58.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/american-anthropological-association/save-ca-residents-from-a_b_11387726.html

My Toddler’s Bilingual Development

I have been recording (mostly on Facebook) my daughters’ bilingual development. The following conversation took place when she was 1 year and 11 months old.

Me: Sabrina, ven a comer los frijoles.
Sabrina: No, jole!
Me: Ven aquí.
Sabrina: No ven
Me: Si
Sabrina No, si!

As you can see  her words are “fragmented” and she echoed what I was saying, yet all in Spanish. It has been an amazing journey that not a single person could have described to me prior to deciding to raise my daughter with 2 (at least) languages. I have seen her change from a predominately Spanish speaker at 2 and a 1/2 years old to having a strong command of English within 6 months of being immersed in an English daycare. Today, at 4 years old, it can be difficult to tell which of the 2 languages she speaks “better.” Just the other day the following conversation took place between her and a new friend:

New Friend: Sabrina, por que hablas ingles?
Sabrina: En Austin hablamos espaniol y in Ecuador we speak English!
Me: That’s right, honey. You are bilingual and your friend is becoming bilingual just like you!

In fact, one could argue, based on that single sentence she uttered above, that she has a strong command of both languages because she managed to code-switch while maintaining the grammatical structure of both languages!

When it comes to raising a bilingual child it seems like, as I have said before, there are many trials, joys, and tribulations. Having moved to Ecuador recently we switched to speaking English with Sabrina for the first time in her life! She refused to speak to us in English for about 2 months UNTIL she came home from her first day at a Spanish school. The teachers and classmates were so impressed with her American English that she, what I assume, felt proud. Since that day she speaks mostly in English to us. It was a complete shock to me to see how drastically she switched all due to what her peers thought. Now, as I mentioned, my biggest concern is asking her to switch back to Spanish IF we ever decide to move back to the U.S.

Have your children successfully switched back to the original language you had spoken after moving back to a country of origin?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to choose the best foreign language school for your child.

Has this crossed your mind? Are you in the process of trying to find a foreign language school for your child? This topic is one I have been thinking a lot about for several years. As a former teacher I often times sought out the ideal settings to teach Spanish or English in and what I have come to realize are many things that make a great way to learn another language. I am in the process of drafting an e-book about the characteristics that make a foreign language school/experience the best for YOUR child. In other words, just like many parents spend time and money scoping out schools, in general, the parent who has learning a second or third language a priority for their child also has special interests and important decisions to consider and make.

In my opinion, there are so many things to consider, but the problem the parent who has learning another language as top priority also has the added challenge of being limited by the number of schools to choose from in any city they may live in. It is, unfortunately, a situation very common in the US.

I am writing this post to get an idea about the specific interests parents have when looking into foreign language schools in their community. I’d like to offer my unique perspective, not only as a parent who shares the same interest in finding the perfect foreign language school, but as a doctoral student who knows about some of the most optimal methodologies to teach/learn another language.

Please share some of your specific interests/concerns when looking into foreign language schools.