As a mother, “Back to School” has always been a bittersweet experience for me. Embracing all the changes that come with every new year, including new teachers, a new curriculum and a different set of friends, is all very exciting. The side that is rather sad for me is missing the long days with my one and only son. I cherish those days and now would have to wait until 3pm to see his cute little face emerge off the bus.
While he slept in on summer mornings, I would plan the day to ensure he would spend time outside, visit with friends, and practice his español. Unlike him, I got to spend many summers with my abuela in Panamá where there was no choice but to speak Spanish. I wanted to pass down our culture, our preferences, and our idioma to my little chicharón so he would relish in being bicultural and bilingual just like his mamá.
Morning conversations would start off with the usual, “Ay papi, venga acá mi amor y darme un besito querido.” Oh the joy of squeezing those cachetes! Breakfast would be served en español with lots of questions to keep the conversation going. Throughout the day I would consciously create opportunities for Spanish conversation versus just vocabulary sharing; all the research indicates we acquire a second language through three major conditions:
1) a learner who realizes the need to learn the second language and is motivated to do so
2) speakers of the target language who know it well enough to provide the learner with access to the spoken language and the support (such as simplification, repetition, and feedback)
(3) a social setting which brings the learner in frequent enough and sustained enough contact with target language speakers to make language learning possible (Wong-Fillmore, 1991).
Listening is therefore essential to language development. The speaking part usually comes later—so, madres, if you’re frustrated that minimal progress is being made, keep up the conversation as you will see fruit from your efforts in time. Also look for other opportunities to engage with your kids through Spanish and bilingual and educational apps like TipiTom (preK), Juana La Iguana (preK) and web platform ABCmouse.com.
The word immersion has several meanings including “deep mental involvement” and “a method of teaching a second language by the exclusive use of that language.” For me, summer presented multiple opportunities for all kinds of immersion: Spanish immersion, fun immersion and, most important, mama and child immersion. As I say goodbye to the summer, and hello to the new school year, I’m enveloped in feelings of happiness and longing. Nothing beats spending those beautiful summer days with my querido chicharón.