Friday, June 25, 2010


So here's my review of two books I recently read on bilingualism. But first of all, for any of you who are unaware, my husband is from Colombia and he does speak to our kids in Spanish. Sometimes. Recently, our three year old started demanding "In English!!!!" Hence my desire to check out these books. To be honest, I would read pieces of one and then read pieces of the other, so I'm not exactly sure what info came from what book. Lo siento.

One was the 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child by Naomi Steiner and the other was Bilingual By Choice: Raising Kids in Two (or more!) Languages by Virginie Raguenaud.

There was nothing extremely new in these books that I hadn't heard before here and there. I did learn some new vocabulary. Such as "heritage language." (My kids' heritage languages would be Spanish and English.) And OPOL (One-parent-one-language) technic. They did have some good suggestions for implementing a few rules. Mostly, I just found them motivating, which is good too. Also, both listed resources of where you can find books or websites in other languages, which I plan on keeping a list of. Another useful bit was just the redirecting of what our goals are for our children's language abilities. One of the books mentioned how rare it is to have a "balanced bilingual" or a person that is equally good in both languages in all aspects of life. We definitely want our kids to be able to read and write in Spanish, but expecting a balanced bilingual is really pushing it.

Probably the most thought-provoking part in both books is when they were discussing pride in your culture and heritage. Both books talk about parents and kids being embarrassed to speak another language in public. Errr... I find it irritating, at best, when my daughter Ana tries to "cover-up" the fact that she's Latina or speaks Spanish. My brother-in-law (in Arizona) used to tell people he was from Italy and refused to acknowledge he was Latino at all when he was in high school . The author even pointed it out in one of the books how little "status" Spanish has as a language in the U.S. I guess I can understand it on some level, I mean Arizona's new law certainly points out how clearly racist some can get. (Anybody taking issue with that last statement, just think--Is my illegal, red-headed Canadian cousin going to be questioned? Umm, no. Are my legal, thick accented Latino in-laws going to be questioned? Umm, yeah.) Also, when my husband first came here, he was turned away from a job, because he supposedly "failed" a basic math test (addition, subtraction, etc.) when he was taking advanced calculus at ASU. They didn't let him see the test after it was scored either, by the way. So I'm not saying discrimination doesn't happen, I guess because I take so much pride in my heritage and history and culture (eh?), it really bothers me when people don't do the same. So here's some of the research results regarding this. "Adolescents who are active in their families' cultural traditions, have a clear way to identify themselves, and show pride in their heritage, are happier and have a healthier sense of self." (Bilingual By Choice, pg. 46). "A 2002 study of U.S. adolescents who were second-generation immigrants showed that those who kept their parents' native languages have better relationships within their families, feel better about themselves, and have a more positive attitude about school than their peers who lose their heritage language and become monolingual English speakers. Another researcher reported that bilingual children have a sophisticated sense of their identities." (7 Steps pg. 22). There was also other interesting stuff of how bad it is for a kid to abandon their native language, ie less likely to function on a high literacy level in their second language, which is the reverse of what I was expecting, but it's true nonetheless. Anyay it led me to recognize how important it is for Leo to speak to them in Spanish no matter where we are, because if the parent is willing to speak it anywhere the child will be more likely to pick up a feeling of pride of their culture.

Oh, and one other random fact I learned from Bilingual by Choice, is that it's natural for the brain to "forget" (at least for a while) an expression or word in one language when we are learning a second language. It's temporary, but necessary for langauge acquisiton. This actually has happened to me occasionally. Made me feel happy that I might actually be progressing in learning Spanish.

Overall, I felt Bilingual by Choice dwelt more on ESL issues, because that had been the author's experience, and hence not as useful to me since that's not my children's issues. On the other hand, I felt 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child fit more those parents who can afford to look only for a Chinese speaking nanny, or a French preschool, or travel to Italy every summer. Umm, that's not really me either. But I still thought it was more useful all together and would be the one I recommend if you're just choosing one or the other.

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