Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The in-between...

Remember   ?
It's not easy to do, and as Nesta grows and is interested in longer stories I'm looking to start purchasing books in Spanish instead. Still, many of the books that we have are hand-me-downs and Nesta loves them. Some of his favorites are the Todd Parr books and the Gossie books. I find these books easy to translate on the spot.
As I was looking at the very limited kid's section of books in Spanish at my favorite books store, I noticed something that drove me nuts instantly. I found Gossie in Spanish, and at first I was so happy, and then I noticed something. The title, the name of the main character, the one I have left alone as I translated everything else, the main mojo of the thing IT IS DIFFERENT!!!! Instead of Gossie the name of this new gosling is Gansi. What? WHAT? When I moved to the United States I did not start spelling my name with an H! Well that might be a bad example, but still. Why change the name? I understand that Gossie is a name in English, and it describes a gosling, and Gansi is short for gansito, but I cannot do that to Nesta. Nesta has met Gossie, he has not met Gansi. I showed him the book, and I said Gansi and he said Gossie. I understand that after many reads he will get that there is a Gossie and a Gansi and that they are the same gosling, just like he understands that there is a mesa and a table and they are the same thing. Still, I'm annoyed.
Needless to say, I"m not purchasing Gansi, mainly because I already have it in English and it is an easy book to translate. What really bugs me, is that Gertie's name is unchanged. Why didn't they change it to Gertrudis?
I guess there will always be something lost in translation. The in-between where bilingual folks live, the in-between place where I'll have to take Nesta to or where I'll have to watch him go and discover on his own. The Limbo that lives between our cultures, our language and our identities. That seemingly lonely place, that I hope with time he finds it's not so lonely and really fun to discover. The place that at the end of the day will help him see who he is and who he's not. No comparisons, only you and all that you represent. Something you cannot translate.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


When raising a child bilingual I think most parents may worry that their child may be learning more of one language than the other. I think I mentioned it before, but to me Spanish immersion is so very important because he already is immersed in English. Now that we allow a bit of TV watching, most of the shows are in English. Although, there are shows in Spanish everything else is in English. Our neighbors speak English, our friends speak English, the radio is often in English and so on. Nesta's language growth in Spanish was going great, and I knew an English language growth spurt was coming. Between 18 and 20 months Nesta was surrounded by English speakers more than ever: his grandparents, aunts and cousin. This allowed for his English language to grow extensively. 
Did this freak me out? OH YES! I knew it would happen, but when he would speak in English to me I would try so very hard not to be upset. I know that this language growth is needed, after all he is a bilingual child (two languages Cristina, two!).  
Since we arrived in Oakland I've noticed that Nesta understands that there are two or more words for one thing. I did not know when this would happen and it honestly took me by surprise. One day while at the dinner table, Nesta was banging away at the table and talking some nonsense and suddenly he looked at me and said mesa as he pointed to the table. I responded by saying si, es una mesa (yes, it is a table). Then he looked at his dad and said table. Tho which his dad responded yes, this is a table. From that day on I observed and listened to him when he spoke to his dad. Then we both realized that when he speaks to me or his abuela he speaks in Spanish, and when he speaks to his dad he speaks in English. His dad speaks in Spanish to him as well, but Nesta most often responds in English. I'm sure he's heard me speaking English, yet he speaks in Spanish to me. Now, we've noticed that when interacting with other people he has to yet decide what language to speak to them. First, these other people may not understand Nesta-speak yet so they often try both languages with him which may be confusing for him. It may also not be confusing at all, this I do not know. What I do know is that he can get his message across. While interacting with a friend of ours, Nesta wanted more of something. Nesta said more, when he got no response he said mas and when he got no response he signed more. Then he got a response. Today he did the same thing with his dad. I had never heard him say ice-cream, because we use the word helado more often. He asked his dad for mas ice-cream. Maybe Nesta thought that saying it in English to dad would have more of an effect and that he would actually get more. 
There are things that he only says in one language or the other. For example he knows the colors pink, red, green, brown, purple, blue, gray, white, and orange in Spanish. However, yellow he only says in English. I know amarillo is hard to say, and he has tried it but he likes to say yellow instead. Some thing he knows well in both languages is counting 1-10. With dad he counts in English and with mom he counts in Spanish. I have heard him say uno, dos, eight... when playing around. 
It's no joke that at this age children are like sponges and literally pick up everything, I mean EVERYTHING! It's almost dangerous, but so amazing at the same time. The things you can teach your child if you sit down for a half hour with them. 
I know around this age (23 months) toddlers are able to remember songs, and they do. Nesta can sing the Elmo song,  Itsy Bitsy Spider (in Spanish) and El Marinero Baila. I'm sure there are more songs that I cannot remember, or songs that he sings with his abuela like La Cucaracha. He also remembers dance moves and copies mannerisms. This age is just so amazing. I'm sure there are so many things that I am missing that he can now do. I just think the fact that he is speaking two languages is so amazing, and all that hard work is beginning to show. I remember feeling crazy speaking in Spanish to my baby. I knew it was the right thing to do, but for some reason I felt odd. I felt odd because my husband couldn't understand what I was saying. I felt odd because I had to translate what I had just said to my 2 month old so that his dad would be included, so that I didn't feel alone. It sounds weird, but it was weird. 
I've talked to many parents who started speaking a language other than English to their children and then gave up because it was hard. It sounds silly, but it is hard. It still is hard. It will only get harder when the reading and writing begin.  
Now, I have to do my research for dual-language schools in Oakland.... didn't I just do this ? :D

Monday, December 2, 2013


Just recently saw a post by my friend Amanda Arellano in her blog Cruisetocruz and it gave me an idea. I've been on the verge of tears lately (of happiness) because my baby is about to turn 2 years old in seventeen days. I feel as though this birthday of his is hitting me a bit harder than the first year. This second year has been so fun and the growing he's been doing has just amazed me. His little gentle personality blooms every day and I am just so thankful to be his mom. Every day I wake up with his smiling face next to me, and his easy going attitude allows me to take everything in and relax . Nesta is such a joy to be around, and I couldn't believe my life without him.
I remember the days when he would fall asleep with his eyes open (yikes!) and I would worry about things like that, or when he would scream in the car seat during a 5 minute drive. I was a nervous wreck with this baby and sometimes I didn't know what to do with myself or with him. All I wanted to do was feed him and make sure he peed and poop. It's so funny how one changes as a parent. Now, I just want to get home from work and play with him, sing, dance and read. I am thankful for our mini-conversations. I am thankful for the million kisses I get and the million hugs that follow. I'm no longer a nervous wreck because I've gotten to know my son and I LOVE the little person he is and the man I know he will become.
I'm thankful for the mess of legos we pick up together (well..) and for the paintings he creates with his fingers as he smears "ashul" on me. I am thankful for the songs we sing and how he's actually singing.. and well it's soo cute. I'm thankful that he chose me to be the one to change his poopy diapers (really, I'm flattered). I'm thankful for the times he reads to me and shows me that he has listened to us as we read to him . I'm thankful for the hugs he gives Albert (rather than a yank at his tail.)
I'm thankful for those little hands that grab my face as he bumps his forehead to my lips to receive a kiss. I'm thankful for his little voice that says "mama" as I walk in from work. I'm even thankful for the disagreements that we have- because it takes a lot to say no to your mama.
I'm so excited for the years to come and to watch this child of mine grow.
However, it is very difficult to watch him grow and to know that the decisions that we make for him will be probably more difficult than "breast-milk vs. formula." I know Nesta will make it seem very easy for us, and I just hope that he grows up to be the man that he wants to be.
I love you Nesta Bob- always and forever.
                                                       Nesta at the public library in Nashville.
                                                    Nesta at his grandparents's house in Brown Co.
                                                       Nesta and mama in the golf cart.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Nesta speaks!

Yes, we waited and waited and we are still sort of waiting but the thing is that Nesta has been speaking for a while now. We just haven't been able to understand what he was saying, until now- sort of. I think my ears finally are picking up the words he's trying to say. For example he says ka ka often, and my mom just thought he was talking about poop. I knew he wasn't, because the word we use for poop is poopoo and we sign this as well. Finally, it dawned on me that my child is saying aca, I often say to him ven aca  (come here). He also says ta, and he has done it recently when we're knocking on his grandma's door and I tell him that she's not there No está. Like this, I have been figuring out what Nesta wants to say to me. So I am making a list of the words he says in English and in Spanish. I have to listen to him more closely when it comes to words in English, because I assume he's saying all in Spanish. However, he says hot rather than caliente and that's because hot is easier to say. 

Has your child every said something that took you a minute to figure out and then when you did figure it out you wanted to hear it again? And then your child being a little punk wouldn't repeat it? Or maybe your kid sensed that you were too excited about whatever it is s/he said that he or she started thinking too much about it and decided not to repeat it for fear of saying it wrong? Whichever it is- this happened and it was oh so so so frustrating. I was changing Nesta and sometimes to entertain him I ask him to do his animal sounds for me. So I asked him if he was a lion: ¿Eres un león? and this time he did not growl, he said tigre. I continued to change him, and then I realized what he had just said. My mom often calls him a tigre and it all came together and I wanted him to say it again, but I pushed too much and he just stared at me and then growled. I growled too ROAR I was so mad at myself for pushing him. This was like 3 or 4 months ago so it was a big deal. He still won't say any animal names, because sounds are so much more fun GROWL!

This has been a draft for sometime, and I just want to post it because it can be never ending.  Mainly I wanted to know how many words he knew. I feel like there are more words that he knows, but the ones in the lists below are definitely the ones he uses the most. He also started to say caliente and música just recently. Another thing he started to do is make new sound that he hadn't done before- these sounds are hard to explain so I keep thinking it is a new word. I'll figure it out soon enough I hope. 



Thursday, May 9, 2013

Brown County, Indiana.

We are very lucky to have family all over the place. Yes, sometimes it is difficult because we would rather be near each other. However, it is fun to be able to visit our family in Wisconsin, New Jersey and Indiana. Of course Indiana is where the grandparents live (Nesta's) and that's where we were over the last two days.
We were searching for mushrooms and a good time. We got both! Nesta didn't know why we wanted mushrooms nor did he care if we found any. We didn't find any morels, but other types were found. Nesta had a blast exploring in the woods, throwing rocks, kissing the cats - well mainly Stewart. He LOVED riding in the mule which is the golf cart that we use to move around when it is too muddy. Well, he didn't like riding in it, he wanted to drive it. He loved spending time with his grandparents and watching them cook breakfast and helping the stir. This kid loves stirring. 
                                                   Nesta really wanted to wear his boots!
                                           So happy to be out in the woods.
                                                Tasting rocks- it's a must!

                                                 New dance move? Nope, just backing up.
                                                   Really throwing rocks.
I had to think fast while walking around the woods and telling Nesta about all the beauty around us. So here is some stuff I came up with:
Turtle: Tortuga.                                          
Woods: Bosque (forest).
Mushrooms: Hongos.
Trees: Arboles.
Tree trunk: Tronco.
Rocks: piedras.
Mud: Lodo.
Flowers: Flores.

It was pretty easy except I keep thinking there is a different word in Spanish for "the woods" but all I could come up with is "el bosque." Also the golf cart my in-laws drive around their property is called "the mule" but I thought it be too funny to call it a mula. So I just called it "el carrito." Nesta now knows what a car is and does and he even adds sound effects to it when he hears the word whether in English or Spanish. He cannot wait to go back to Brown County. He loved every minute we were there. He loves his grandparents and just wants them to hold him and show him what they're doing.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Buscando hongos.

Mushroom hunting should be exciting and fun- that is if you find mushrooms. We found a few but they were old . Here , though are some cute pics of Nesta.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ken gets married!

One of my oldest and bestest friends got married this month to a great girl. It was Nesta's second wedding but first time wearing a suit. Sorta- I guess baby's suits don't come with a jacket.
I thought Ken and Mary Wilson's wedding deserved a blog post:)

Beautiful day!

Today felt like summer. I've lived in Chicago for about eighteen years and the weather is unpredictable as everyone knows. I never cared if winter took longer than usual or if fall didn't make an appearance. Yes, I whined about it being too cold or too hot. I am a Chicagoan after all. However, now that we have a beautiful and energetic son, the season preferred around this household is Summer. If Spring wants to make a permanent appearance we'll take that too!! Only problem with Spring is wet play grounds and muddy backyards.
I like to take long walk when the sun decides to grace us with its presence. I'm lucky that Nesta likes the long walks too. Although he's an energetic toddler, he doesn't mind sitting in the stroller for a half hour or more. Sometimes he pushes the stroller too. We walk down to Letizia's often and share a muffin. He LOVES muffins- but who doesn't?
Today we went to Letizia's then to the park on California which was packed. He danced, he played and then ha enough. There were too many kids there, he couldn't even get onto the slide We had a pic-nic in Humboldt Park- he thought it was really funny to just sit on the grass. It didn't last long :) He saw a boy kicking a ball and soon he wanted to do the same. Nesta kept talking to the boy, except no one knows what Nesta was saying. The boy tried to share, and we appreciated the effort. Nesta noticed that the boy really didn't want to share with him, and he was okay with it and walked away. He may have been too tired for an argument. 
                                                         Dancing at the park.
Nesta at Letizia's on this sunny day.

We just found out we have to move at the end of May. We had signed a new lease to stay here until 2014, but our landlord failed to tell us that he did not sign the lease because he's selling the building. Apparently the potential buyers want to live in our apartment if they get approved. I'm upset about it. We live across the street from the park, and a block away from the library. It has been so fun to go to the park whenever we get a chance and on rainy or cold days to go to the library. I hope we can find a place we like near a park. I was getting used to Humboldt Park. sigh.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

There's more to it than you think.

A lot of people think it is easy for a bilingual parent to raise a bilingual child. I mean, it's just natural and all that stuff right? Well, yes and no. I thought it would be super easy, but as my child grows I begin to worry more about it. Right now we live in a Spanish-speaking community but (as much as I love you HP) I don't think we'll live here when he starts going to school. Also, it seems that he knows more Spanish than English. I say it seems because of his understanding of commands and questions, he doesn't speak much yet. He says "gracias" "no," and "ven." He knows animals sounds if asked in Spanish, and he sometimes sings a song called "Metete Tete" by Cri-Cri. It's funny because I can just hear him sing "tetete." So I don't know what part of the song he's singing. This has lead us to believe that he knows more Spanish. However, he's so young that anything goes really. 
As the nerd I am, I started reading a couple of books:
The Bilingual Edge by Kendall King, Ph.D. and Alison Mckey, Ph.D.
7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child by Naomi Steiner, M.D., with Susan L. Hayes
In both of these books I read about a language growth spurt. Mainly, a bilingual child will not have an even growth spurt. Nesta will either show an advancement in his language development in English or in Spanish. Right now he's showing one in Spanish. This is how hopefully he will be until he gets to the point of acquiring academic English and Spanish. The authors recommend that bilingual children learn how to read in both languages at the same time. They also point out that bilingual children become better readers than monolingual children. In all the studies they did bilingual children seem to have better understanding of what they are reading. However, bilingual children may have a difficult time expressing themselves right away in writing. Their writing may be very basic without being able to explain the motives of a character, or what happened in the climax of a story. Yet, they will be able to explain it in great detail while speaking. I found that bit weird, but true. I can explain my self while talking, better than writing. I think it is because writing is such a difficult process. An idea starts in your brain, and then you have to go from your brain, to the muscles of your arm/hand and into the paper. If you are a bilingual child and the story started in your head in Polish, but the teacher is asking you to write in English then this adds to that process. Alas, things get lost in translation. They do say that if both languages are constantly supported then at some point children will be able to express themselves in writing in both languages with no problem. Key word-support. Just as a child may need tutoring in writing in English, he/she may need help in that other language. 
Something else that these authors talked about was the need for a bilingual pre-school. Many children grow up speaking Greek, Spanish, Creole, Mandarin, etc and then they go to an English-only pre-school. They go home speaking English, and that's that. I've talked to a few people who remember speaking another language when they were kids and now they don't remember that language. That conversations with each of those adults scared me. 
It scared me because, although I know a bilingual pre-school is necessary finding a good pre-school in general is hard enough. Now, I have to find an awesome bilingual pre-school. Ay! 
Something to always keep in mind if you are raising your child bilingual is this: English is everywhere, it's on the street, at the grocery store, at the coffee shop, at the movie theatre, at the playground, at the indoor play-space, at your friend's house, on tv and in the radio. Do not think that your kid will not understand English because he or she is only around you and you only speak X language. I seldom allow Nesta to watch TV or DVDs, but when I do I let him watch "Pocoyo" because this show is also in Spanish. I'm sure he'll get plenty of TV in English when he's allowed to watch more of it, but trust me in this- I will try my hardest to make some of that TV watching in Spanish. Thank you Plaza Sesamo :)

A little update- I looked up bilingual pre-schools in Chicago and to my surprise there weren't many. The one that I liked the most according to reviews is way up on Wilson and Kedzie. Yay to morning traffic!  If you live in Chicago and know of some awesome bilingual Spanish-English pre-schools I would love the info. Thank you.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Nesta is finally trying to put together words-it really is an amazing thing to see, and hear. I've taken care of children Nesta's age in the past, but of course everything is different when it is your own child.
                                                      Nesta saying something to me, just not sure what!

He's always said 'mama' but he says it to other people. If I'm not around and sees a picture of me he knows that's 'mama.' If I'm around he won't call me 'mama,' if he needs me he grabs my hand and takes me where he wants me or hands me a book. However, recently he started repeating more often after me. Usually he likes to mimic animal sounds- his favorite is dog and lion. Still, those are not words just sounds. Like most moms, I sit here saying please and thank you over and over in hopes for my child to have some sort of manners. So the other day after handing him something I heard 'gashas.' I wasn't sure if I heard it, but just in case I said 'de nada.' Something else happened and I said to him this time 'gracias,' and he repeated after me 'gashas.' It was like the sun came out and shone brightly on us both. I believe he also says 'leche' but I am not sure of this one as he uses often and not when he wants milk. I am sure he says many other words but perhaps they don't sound like words to adult ears. All I know is that my kid may have manners after all- just maybe!  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Where are the books?

We have lots and lots of books for Nesta to read. Many of the books I bought I found on sale and are not board books. Board books are of course ideal for little hands. I am also a first time mom and didn't think of this when I bought him a pop-up book. When he was about 4-5 months he loved this book, and he still does but around 8-9 months he started ripping the snake's tail, the lion's paw and so on. So now we keep these books in a shelf where he cannot reach them. One of my favorite books One Love by Cedella Marley also has a page missing that I have yet to tape back. It seems he only likes to rip my favorite books. He did the same to his Frida book. He also chewed through La Oruga Muy Hambrienta, luckily I caught him and the caterpillar is fine thank you. 
However, now that he's not really interested in eating his books I've made some board books readily available for him to pull and read whenever he feels like it. I've also bought him books at Goodwill that cost about $1.00 and I won't feel so bad if he destroys them. One of them is his Elmo pop-up book and it is one of those with buttons and music. It is a good book for the car, but of course he has pulled Zoe's leg off already. 
This little crate is in his bedroom on his playmat. In the crate there are books we own, and in the basket there are library books. He mainly pulls from the basket since he's probably sick of the books in the crate. 

This book is in the kitchen, he likes looking at this book especially. I'm not sure why, but he loves taking these books off of the shelf and he actually looks through the Food Lover's Companion and the Mexican Anytime by Rick Bayless.

Books he hasn't ripped yet:)

Where do you keep your baby's books?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Translating on the spot... interpreter training.

It would be my wish that for every book in English we own, we could have it also in Spanish. It is not possible because the choices at B&N are not the best (especially in board books) and I am not a fan of buying books online. However, the Humboldt Park Branch of CPL just opened a little bit over a month ago and I could not be happier. Nesta spends a lot of time there. Today he went there with his dad, and dad reported that they had to leave shortly after getting all their books because Nesta kept going up to random people and screaming at them. I wonder what he said to them? I'm sure they wonder too.
Our library rules are as follow:
- Have fun!
- Get an equal number of books in English and Spanish.
- Get board books.
- Walk around, play with puzzles and make new friends.
- Read non-board books.
- Return books, renew books, check out new books.
I'm a book hoard, I have 15 books checked out right now. However, we have to have some in English and some in Spanish. Thankfully, there are bilingual books. Bilingual books usually not story books. They're the books that have one word with a picture. I am sure there are bilingual books that are stories but so far I've only seen one and I can't remember the title. It had something with sitting on mom's lap. 
Sometimes Nesta really attaches to a book in English. He brings it over and hands it to me, then sits on my lap and is ready to hear the book read. The first book in English that he really enjoyed was Where The Wild Things Are, luckily we had that one in Spanish. The next one he liked was Where's Spot? This book has flaps for Nesta to lift and find Spot. This book was the first book that I was translating on the spot (ha!) This book is very easy to translate. Each page is one sentence asking if Spot is under the stairs or piano etc. The next book was a bit more challenging. He really liked Color Kittens and this book is mainly read by dad. Dad does a really good job of reading this book, and Nesta enjoys it. However, one day dad was at work and the book was brought to me. This book is long, and it has paragraphs that rhyme. It's a cool book because it shows what colors can be mixed to get other colors like green, purple or brown. Because of all the rhyming I could not sit there and translate every single thing. At this point I just decided to shorten the story. I got to the point and took away some of the rhyming because as much as I translated literally it did not make sense, and it wasn't rhyming anyway. When dad heard me translating the book to Nesta he was appalled! He said "but that's the best part with the poem." I fully agreed with him, but I just couldn't do it justice in Spanish and so he took the book and read it to Nesta. I don't read in English to Nesta. Our one rule is that I speak in Spanish (or read) and dad speaks in English and reads the books in English. So, I will continue to translate books he likes to Spanish to keep up with that rule. I don't know if this is the right thing to do or not, but he doesn't seem to notice the difference. As long as his favorite book is being read to him he's happy. We've been lucky that many of the books he likes are bilingual. These are the books that are very simple, and he mainly likes that the pictures in the books are real pictures (not cartoonish). He also can't sit still to very long books. Color Kittens is probably the longest book he's been into. 
My rules for translating books:
-Translate literally as long as it makes sense.
- If the literal translation doesn't make sense, translate the main idea.
- Always translate it the same way (post its come in handy).
-Read the full sentence before translating.
I've taken Nesta to Story Time in Spanish and I noticed that some of the books they use for story time are in English, and the instructor translates on the spot as well. I think I can get away with doing this for a few more years until we start teaching him how to read. Hopefully by then he'll know when he's expected to speak Spanish and when he's expected to speak English so that I can also teach him to read in English.

Some cool bilingual books that we like are: Ruedas, ruedas a rodar/Wheels, wheels let's roll, Insectos/Bugs, Asi me siento/This Is How I feel, Casa/Home, Crias de animales/Baby Animals, Los germenes no son para compartir/Germs Are Not For Sharing, Mi mama me quiere porque.../My mom loves me because.
Some books in Spanish we like: Un dia ajetreado, Las lechucitas, Buenas noches a todos, Adivina cuanto te quiero?

Of course when it comes to books I have my favorites, and so does everyone else. One good thing is that lately Nesta has been more open to reading new books. He still misses his old books sometimes though. The adults in the house are the ones who get sick of reading the same books, so we're the ones who go to the library and get a bunch of new ones. Nesta doesn't get that yet. At first we would be too excited and we would want to read all the new library books in one night, until one night when Nesta had had it with the new books and went to the book shelf and got two of his old books and showed him to his dad. POINT TAKEN KID! Now we mix the books we own with the library books. Duh! 
Something else that is fun is how he now loves to read during the day. It isn't just a night time routine anymore. Yes I do get sick of reading Ruedas, ruedas a rodar ten times, but I also love that he wakes up in the morning and goes looking for a book. He looks at his books throughout the day, and sometimes you can hear him 'reading.' It's super cute. I just hope this book loving lasts forever!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Check out this blog

Lots of good information on learning a new language.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A third language???!!

I recently saw this in facebook, and I loved it. 
Something I just recently experienced is connected to this part on the poster "Bilinguals find it easier to learn a third language than monolinguals do to learn a second."  As you know I work with kids. Let me rephrase that: I play, sing and dance with kids in Spanish. I do this once a week at a pre-school near downtown. When I first got the job the director told me that there were a lot of children in that school that were bilingual, and that Spanish was going to be their third language. I wondered how that would turn out. When I was in college I tutored a high-school freshman in Spanish. He hated Spanish. He was already bilingual, he spoke English and Greek. He was also really good at Spanish but didn't want to do the work. He was a little bit lazy. His excuse was "I am already bilingual, I don't need Spanish." Yet, he was so good at it. I did what I could. Now, working with 2-5 year olds the story is very different. In the second class I taught on Monday morning there was a little boy who speaks Italian at home. He was so eager to learn Spanish, and he was no afraid to pronounce words incorrectly. Yes he would sometimes add a little Italian spice to the Spanish words. His accent was great, and he wanted to participate and help others. In the next class I met his younger brother. I found that this little boy was also not afraid to try new words and participate. The little one was only 2 years-old. Many 2 year-olds remain quiet the entire class, and only participate when I ask them to dance or move their hands. Then in my last class another boy who spoke Hindi at home, was also very eager to learn Spanish. He was the first one with his hand up, and would say the new learned words over and over quietly to himself before saying them aloud. 
Of course, many of the other kids who were not bilingual were very eager to participate and try on the new words. It just struck me as interesting that the ones that were the most eager, loudest and excited were the ones who already spoke and heard two languages at home. Not only is it easier for them to learn a third language, but it also helps their confidence and self-esteem. I see 2 year olds three times a week, and for the most part they are quiet and careful. If their parents or caregivers are with them then they open up some. However, if they are in class with a bunch of kids their age they tend to be more careful. It's funny, because my 2 year-old class is my best class. They are the best listeners I could ever ask for. As for my 4 year-olds... well let's just say I'm going out and buying lots and lots of stickers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Making progress.

One of the hardest things as a language teacher is to know whether your students are learning. I remember teaching ESL to beginners my 2nd year as a teacher and thinking that I was an absolute failure. As I mentioned before, I believe immersion is the best way to learn a language. So, I used immersion with the beginner ELLs (English Language Learners). From September until May I spoke only in English to 34 ELLs. I could see some progress in their writing, but I still wasn't sure if they could speak it. The silent period lasts for about a month. There I was thinking that I was awful, and wondering what to change. Then May came and so did another birthday. Along with this birthday there were many birthday cards from almost all 34 of my beginner ELLs which were all written in English and then they wished me happy birthday in English, and from then on, until June 28th all our conversations (and there were many) were in English. It was so great to know that they had learned from all my crazy plans, and that they could actually understand my instructions. This is what keeps me sane on days when I am teaching a 1-year-old something new. A 1-year-old who doesn't speak .
Like any parent, I've been teaching Nesta new words, how to say thank you and please, body parts and so on. It's hard to know if he understands me, because he does respond to me it's just jibberish. And, yes I do respond to his jibberish- I encourage him to communicate in which ever way works for him. As he grows he is able to do more things. He likes to mimic and point. Lately that is how I know he's making progress and he does understand me when I speak to him in Spanish and he understands his dad who speaks to him in English. For example, I have been teaching him where his head, eyes, nose and teeth are. He's always pointed to his head, but I wasn't sure if he was pointing to it because he knew that was his head or because he felt like pointing to his head. After all he's a kid and he's got many ideas going in his brain; one minute he's dancing the next one he's decided he needs a spatula to mix his legos. Now, we play a game in the car when I say (in Spanish) "Where is your head?" and so on. He usually points correctly to his head, nose, eye, feet, teeth and tongue. He also knows many other things that often surprise me, and he's now trying to repeat words after I say them to him (over and over). Today he tried to say "gracias." The other day he tried to say "nariz." I am pretty sure he tried saying "tongue" as well. It's hard to know because he still is just speaking jibberish. 
All I know is that I don't feel so crazy now when I am explaining, showing, repeating and holding conversations with him. Now I know he's responding to me in his own way. I also know that he's responding to me in Spanish and to his dad in English. Call me crazy, but I just know it!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bilingual dogs?

Recently I was co-teaching a class with a woman whose native tongue is Spanish. She speaks English as a second language and has been in the United States for three years. She was trying to get a kid to play with some toys, and she kept making the animal noises to get the 2-year-old's attention. I joined in with her, and suddenly we were both barking and ribbit-ing. The funny thing is that she took a toy dog and said "guau-guau" and I said "ruff, ruff." We looked at each other and laughed. She then said to me, "you know that animals speak different in English and in Spanish." 
Then I suddenly remembered having that conversation in the past, and now I realize that my animals speak mostly English! This does not bode well for someone who is teaching her son Spanish. It really doesn't matter, I just find it funny and interesting. The reason most of my animals speak English is because I have learned my animal noises from Gram. His animals are very sophisticated sounding- almost like the animal itself. It's weird how good he is at that. I am not, but I do try. I cannot even spell out what a rooster sounds like in English-but I know in Spanish is "qui-qui-riqui." Baby chicks say "peep-peep" in English and "pio-pio-pio" in Spanish. Gram now says "pio-pio" though. Does this mean he's learning Spanish? 
I went searching in Nesta's books the different noises that animals make, and I found a few that support the fact that animals do sound different in different languages.
One of the few bilingual books.
 "The baby chicks are singing peep peep peep"               "Los pollitos dicen pio, pio, pio."
                                          Lions growl.
                                          El leon dice GRRR.
                                                     El perro dice "guau-guau."
                                                      El gallo dice "qui-quiri-qui."

What do animals say in other languages? 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Language schools in Chitown.

Disclosure: This is my humble opinion based on the experiences I've had at each school I have visited. Every family's dynamic and needs are different. I compared both schools and at the end of this post, I express my opinion on which one I think works best based on quality of classes, budget and location.

Maybe you don't speak a second language, but you want your kids to. Maybe you are the only one at home who speaks a second language and you want your kids to be expose to that language more. We always think about teaching Nesta a third language. I know, we're crazy-the kid doesn't even speak yet! So I started researching language schools in Chicago while trying to find Story Time in Spanish for Nesta. I was also secretly searching for me. I may want to take up French again. 

I have already posted about Multilingual Chicago and my experience there with Nesta. This is about our trial class at Language Stars. You can explore their website here 
If you type <language schools for kids> on your google search engine, the first school that comes up is Language Stars. It is conveniently located on 1741 N. Elston Avenue. They also have centers in Evanston/Wilmette and other suburbs. Here is how our experience with Language Stars went:

First I tried to set up a free-trial class via email like I did with Multilingual Chicago. I find email so much easier, but I understand that it can be impersonal. A Language Stars recruiter did email me back, but they also called me-often. Finally I called them and we set up a day for Nesta to try the class. The day was scheduled for a month after the phone call. Then I got a call a week before the class and they told me that class was actually full and if I could please change it. I did, hoping that the time would work for Nesta's nap. The class was pushed back again. Then I was called and the class was changed again because the class was full. However, this last change was on the same week and it worked for us. 

We went to the class yesterday. The great thing about the Lincoln Park center is that they have a parking lot. Of course, I parked in the wrong parking lot and had to go move the car. A man there volunteered to watch Nesta while I did that. I was a bit hesitant since Nesta has what in Spanish we call "mamitis." Nesta was actually fine. I ran, of course but when I was back Nesta was playing with toys and giving the instructor a hard time. There was a lot of chanting in the class, and action verbs were introduced. There were visual aids on the board, and the instructor would point to them. There was a song on the board as well that we used with each verb. It went like this "Puedes correr? Si, puedo correr" over and over. So each time we changed the verb. Then we counted until 10. Then we ran around in a circle. After all the action verbs were sang about, we moved on to a little table. I really like this part. Mainly, because Nesta lately has been good at sitting at tables. He doesn't last long, but it's a start. So the kids sat on the table and the caregivers sat behind them. Many of the kids participated often which was nice to see. There was a lot of clapping too. At the table each kid was given a place mat with all the action verbs. First the instructor tickled their bellies, then she grabbed their hands and told them they were dirty. She handed them wipes to clean their hands with. Most kids cleaned the table, Nesta included. Then she handed them cheerios which Nesta proceeded to spill all over the floor. The cheerios were supposed to be used as markers. The kids had to move the cheerios over to the action verb the instructor spoke aloud. Some cheerios were moved, some were eaten. The instructor then brought out water, which scared me so I ran to get Nesta's cup. She still gave him a little bit of water, then another little bit which ended up down his shirt. Still, he got the experience of sitting with kids at a table eating. After being at the table, we moved back to the mat and the instructor pulled out balls to practice the verb of "tirar la pelota" as they threw the ball to their caregivers. Nesta just wanted to get into the bag where all the balls came from. I had to step out to give Nesta a snack, since an hour is a bit long for a little guy. When we went back in they were singing the "Hasta Luego" song. 

There was another mom there with her daughter also trying the class. We were both instructed to stay in the room and a guy came in to talk to us about tuition. After he explained tuition he asked if I wanted to sign up. I said that I have to talk to my husband. On the way out, a little old lady saw Nesta walking and she said "he's so young, what's he learning here?" I explained to her that we were just trying it out. She then asked me what other language I spoke. I told her, and she responded "well he'll just learn from you, why are you here?!" I thought that exchange was funny since everyone in the center heard, and tried not to look worried. I laughed, and said good bye. I thought about it, and I was not the only native Spanish speaker at the class. There was another mom with her boy there who was a native speaker. It might seem silly to enroll Nesta in a Spanish class, but I understand why moms do it. They want their kids to be totally immersed in Spanish. So many of our family members speak English, and the world around us speaks English. I'm not enrolling Nesta in a Spanish class, if anything we would enroll him in a French class. I was doing some research, and since I speak Spanish I wanted to experience that class first. 

Actually, we've been trying to take him to "French Explorers" at Multilingual, but it is an early class. It is during Nesta's nap. One day we'll make it. Maybe next year this blog will be "Trilingual Bebe."

What I like about:    Multilingual Chicago                                

        • El Cuento on Tuesdays and Thursday from 10:30-11am.
        • El Cuento is $10 drop-in, no commitment. 
        • Native Spanish speakers as instructors. 
        • A half hour class is all Nesta can handle right now.     
        • It is much closer to my home, located on Central Park and Milwaukee (2934 N. Milwaukee Avenue.)
        • I was welcomed by the front desk lady, and she showed me around.
        • After my trial class with Nesta, I was asked how it went and was not asked if I wanted to enroll.
        • There is a little cafe where the kids hang out after while having a snack that Multilingual Chicago provides.
        • They have coffee for tired moms. (it's the little things!) 
        • If we ever decide to sign up for "French Explorers," it is only $270 for 12 weeks, 50 minutes a week. 
        • They let you sign up whenever, which means a pro-rated price.

                                     Language Stars
        • They have an indoor parking lot.
        • It's in a part of Lincoln Park that is easy to get to.
        • Native Spanish speakers as instructors.
        • The class was long, but there were breaks for the kids like moving to the table for a little snack.   
        • A nice man volunteered to watch Nesta while I moved my car.         
   Really, when it comes down to it both schools offer the same type of class. There is chanting, dancing and lots of repetition throughout the class. The quality of the class is the same at both centers: amazing! Nesta had a blast at each class. He was always included, and asked to repeat even though he doesn't speak. To me it came down to tuition. Language Stars charges $1489.52 for 17 weeks, twice a week. They offered me a 10% discount on that. If I chose to just go once a week then the price was $744.76 with not 10% discount. I'm not very good at math, but I can add, divide, multiply and subtract. Multilingual Chicago is just $270 for 12 weeks, once a week. Maybe, the 10 minute difference is what makes Language Stars pricier, but I didn't include that in the math. Classes at Multilingual Chicago for Nesta's age group are 50 minutes, at Language Stars they are 60 minutes. That's 70 more minutes at Language Stars. However, Nesta is not ready for 50 or 60 minutes. Thirty minutes works great for us, which is another reason why I like Multilingual Chicago best. I don't have to pay a ton, and I don't have to commit. If he had a good nap then we go to story time "El Cuento" on Tuesdays. Sometimes one of the meet-ups I am part of sets up an agreement with Multilingual Chicago and I take advantage of that. 
When I arrived at Language Stars it took a minute for me to find someone. I needed to talk to someone about where I parked. They were busy, not ignoring me. I wasn't shown around, I was just told I couldn't park where I parked, and then shown the classroom. There was no cafe or place to hang out at. Everyone, was nice and that was that. I really did not enjoy the fact that they called me often. I got a call every week twice a week from someone different to schedule the class. With Multilingual Chicago, it was all done via email. Once it was set up that was that. They didn't call me, or push me to sign up. 
When it comes to location, they are both easy to get to. However, I live closer to Multilingual Chicago. Even if I didn't, I would drive there for "El Cuento."

I also found another language schools called Lango Kids:  However, the closest center is in the South Loop. That's out of the way for me. The next class that I can sign up for is in March. I may try it. You should check out their website.          
Nesta after class.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


This post is mainly going to be reflective, and maybe a little informative. As my kid grows, I notice how he's learning new things. It is almost dangerous to do anything around him without thinking twice before doing it. I take my vitamins in the bathroom. I don't want him to see me. If I am eating something, he immediately demands to eat the same thing. I eat really spicy food, so I sometimes give him an itsy-bitsy-tiny taste so he knows what it tastes like and whether he wants more. Although it may be dangerous that he wants to do everything I do, I do take advantage of this and try to teach him as much as I can.
I was talking to a music friend of mine. He's a teacher, and works with children. I asked if it was worth taking Nesta to those music classes offered around town. Nesta is 13 months and whenever we go to any 'class' he doesn't stay still to listen to a story and he gets upset if I try to sit him down. With that in mind, my friend told me that those classes may not be necessary right away. He said to play classical music for him and to rub his arms and legs to the rhythm of the music. I started doing that with Nesta. Some of the music I've been playing for him lately is classical and some of it is mixed kid's music with classical music from the album Trepsi: a clown who sings with children. Now, every time Nesta hears this certain song with violins, cello and violas he looks at his arms. I usually rub his arms when the song plays or tap on his legs. He looks towards the iPod and moves his head from side to side as if in rhythm with the music. It feels like this is the same way children learn language. Maybe not exactly the same, but the music, the repetition and the clapping or tapping really help.
Today during story time there was a little boy who loved singing and dancing. We were clapping and singing phrases in Spanish and this little boy danced up to me and repeated everything I said. He said it in his two-year-old accent and sometimes a little mumbled but we all knew what he was saying. He clapped and repeated "libro, libro, libro." Then there were bubbles and "burbujas" is a big word, but he sure tried to say it over and over as he sang and clapped. His mom kept tapping his legs, and the teacher repeated everything three times. 
Now, I find myself singing more than before. I also use the floor as a drum or anything around to make a beat as we learn new words. It might be that one day he'll surprise me and start singing before talking. And that's the idea, isn't?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sing it sister! (or brother).

I am the worst singer in the planet! Maybe not the planet, but I am a pretty bad singer. Nesta doesn't know that, and until he does I will sing sing sing. Why? Well singing is fun for kids, and it's more than just singing, we dance and we make faces and we point to things, and we sing and repeat and repeat stuff we're learning over and over. Yes, I sing in Spanish of course. I have busted out the "Itsy-bitsy Spider.." during car rides when he's about to lose his temper, because that spider seems to calm him down. Is there itsy-bitsy in Spanish? 
Back to repetition, it really goes a long way. Kids like to watch movies over and over, and they want to read their favorite book over and over, and they want you to do that funny thing you did over and over. You get the idea. They like repetition. You may not like it, but just remember that they are learning. When teaching a language (or anything) repetition works great. Also showing works great. For example I've been teaching Nesta about where his big cabeza is and his ojos and nariz. We have a little song, and a lot of pointing and touching. Mainly he likes to pat my head or his dad's. If you were to walk in my kitchen you may find me singing cabeza cabeza cabeza while touching my head over and over. I do the same with other movements like when I pick him up and then bring him down. Arriba y abajo. There are also songs that we have been listening to that sing about moving hips and shoulders and so I point to those as we dance. It may seem like a lot of information (and sometimes I think so), but then I remember that his brain is growing super fast and that even though it seems all this information can be overwhelming he certainly doesn't seem overwhelmed. He likes to dance, and to pat my head and to put food on his head. He knows the things he likes, and if he wants them he needs to learn how to ask for them. Even if for now he just wants to point after I say the word.
It's funny because people have asked me "doesn't he get confused when you speak in Spanish and his dad speaks to him in English?" I want to say, "No m'am my kid is a genius!" He really isn't, (maybe he is :) ) he's just a baby who is growing and growing and so is his brain. All kids are capable of learning a new language just like they are capable of learning a new task. Today he finally understood how to use his spoon without flinging cheese in my face. 
Learning a language doesn't have to be confusing, not if we start them young. It may be more difficult for a 12 year-old, but even that 12 year-old's brain will pick it up pretty quickly. My 9 year-old nephew has an awesome accent when speaking Spanish. It may be more difficult for an adult, but really anything is possible for anyone. 
El Cuento at Multilingual Chicago starts with singing and ends with singing. The singing only stops while the book is being read, but even then sometimes the instructor goes back to her sing-song tune probably out of habit. The kids love the singing and respond to it. They also like to get up and dance. Of course, there is something to be said for learning styles, but when the kids are so young singing and dancing seems like the fun way to do anything.
Remember, your kid is a genius- now go on a teach him a new language, a new song, a new trick or a new way to to get a laugh! Just hit repeat.

P.S. A mom of a kid who goes to a very fancy school recently told me that the Spanish teacher is the best one there because everything they do seems to be in song, and her kid really remembers the lessons and enjoys them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Story Time in Spanish. "El Cuento."

Do you want your kids to learn Spanish, but you don't speak it? Would you like your kids to experience a new language from time to time? 

I teach Nesta Spanish at home, and I read to him in Spanish. However, I wanted him to experience Story Time in Spanish. I remember back in Denver I would take the kids I took care of to story time at the library. Some libraries offered story time in Spanish, but it was always for older children (3-5 years-old). So , I was beyond excited when I saw that Multilingual Chicago offered story time in Spanish or "El Cuento." The age range at Multilingual Chicago is 11months to 3 years. I took Nesta right away.

Story time in Spanish at Multilingual Chicago is 3o minutes long, which is just long enough for little guys like Nesta. The class starts with toys on the ground for the kids to play with. Then we sing "adios juguetes" and the toys are put away. The instructor then plays with her hands and feet by clapping and stomping. There is some movement of the hands to the front and to the back. Sometimes if the class is large a big circle is made and then a little circle. The kids love the little circle. Then the instructor asks for each kid to say his/her name. She'll say "me llamo _____" and then when the kid says his/her name we'll sing it a couple of times like "me llamo Nesta, me llamo Nesta." By we I mean the moms because the kids don't say much. The parents are encouraged to participate as much as the kids. Some older kids do respond after a lot of repetition, but some kids like Nesta walk around trying to check out all the furniture in the room. More singing takes place, then a puppet comes out and says hi to the kids. The book finally comes out and the kids are encouraged to sing "abre el libro" which means open the book. The last two times we've gone the book has been a pop-out book which means I have to keep Nesta on my lap so he doesn't jump up and tear it! The instructor doesn't read a story from the book, rather points out the characters and makes the animal noises. In one case the story was La Oruga Muy Hambrienta, and the instructor had each fruit(fake)  that the caterpillar eats. She handed each kid a "ciruela" or "manzana" or "naranja." After looking at the book, each kid was asked to feed the very hungry caterpillar the fruit they had been given. This was my favorite story time. Maybe because I love La Oruga Muy Hambrienta, or maybe because of all the props the instructor had. Either way, story time in Spanish is a great tool for kids to learn Spanish. There is a lot of singing and repetition. The best, I think it's that the parents or caregivers have to participate. So, if your kid is shy, he or she may do what you are doing. I do have to say that I felt a bit foolish jumping around and dancing around to all the commands the instructor was giving, while Nesta was off somewhere else trying to find toys or the door. These are the things we go through as parents, and at the end of the day they do a little something that helps you realize that they were listening and they learned something new. I knew this when I praised Nesta for using his signs, I started singing a song I learned at Spanish story time which went like this "Bravo, bravo, bravo, bravisimo, bravo lo hiciste muy bien," as I clapped for him. He started clapping and humming the song. It's funny because Nesta never claps when others are clapping, he usually claps for himself on his own time. This time he clapped with me as I sang the song.
It's the little things. Oh, it's the little things.

Friday, January 18, 2013

¿Cómo se dice...?

I am thirty-four years young, and I arrived in the United States a month after I had turned fourteen-years-old. I've been immersed in the culture of the United States and the English language for about twenty years. I probably became fluent in English in my twenties. I cannot tell you which day, but I do remember thinking that I could understand things better. Most of the jobs I have held have not been jobs where I could speak Spanish constantly. Needless to say, I forget how to say certain things in Spanish. Some things I never even knew the name for it in Spanish. It's kind of funny sometimes, but definitely frustrating. This is another challenge.

A couple of weeks ago we took Nesta to the Shedd Aquarium during one of the free days. We were excited to show Nesta all the cool fish. Nesta was excited to walk around on carpeted floors. For some of the time I carried him and showed him certain types of fish that I found cool. At first I was telling him "Mira los peces, y el del rio que grande!" I was also using the sign for fish. Then we came across a stingray. I was like "Mira la... stingray." Ahhhhh it was so frustrating, and so funny. My husband and I had a laugh, but the entire rest of our time there I kept digging in my brain for the word for it. I also couldn't remember how to say walrus in Spanish, and I just did not know how to say sea otter in Spanish either. This all took me back to a conversation I had with my mom and cousins recently. I was telling them how Nesta loved eating scallops. No one could think of the word for scallops in Spanish.  I looked it up and according to the online dictionary it is vieria.
Maybe I never dined on scallops when I lived in Mexico, but I definitely had never heard that word before. Actually, I have heard it but as someone's last name.

Well the word in Spanish for stingray is mantarraya. Of course, it came to me once we were home and there were no stingrays for me to show Nesta.
Another word I never knew in Spanish is nutria marina, which is the word for sea otter.
The translation of walrus is morsa. I had to look this one up, and once I saw the translation I remembered that I knew it. Just because we're in the topic of sea animals here are some more translations:
Fish: pez (note-pescado is what you eat, pescado means fished out).
Shark: tiburón
Dolphin: delfin
Whale: ballena

I wish I had taken a picture of Nesta at the Shedd Aquarium, but I was too busy chasing him around. Until next post!