Coco's Blog

Bilingualism & Biculturalism
Sunday, 07 August 2011 05:07

Parenting, Translating & Technology

This evening a mother, someone that I do not know, called me.  She was hoping that I could help her figure out how to register her 6 year old son for this year’s soccer season.  My husband coaches our daughters’ soccer teams and it turns out that this Spanish speaking mom obtained my phone number from a former player’s mom, who was also Spanish speaking. The woman explained to me that she has been unsure about how to register her child for the soccer season and was hoping that I could help her.  A parent had told her to apply online, but she doesn't have internet access and doesn't know how to use the internet.  I told her that I would be happy to find out for her and would give her a call with the information. Honestly, I found the whole application process confusing, and I speak English! How must this mother feel?

Last year my husband also coached and we had a few parents on our team that only spoke Spanish.   It was my job to call the parents anytime that it was needed; I communicated with the English speaking parents mostly by email. So, today’s phone call from the mother got me thinking about how Spanish speaking parents of young children 1. find out information on after school activities for their children and 2. how they communicate with their children’s coaches/teachers.  In our soccer region the important information is available in Spanish on the website, but this assumes that the Spanish speaking parents can access and use the internet. Also, most coaches that we know communicate via email with parents, in English.

This year, the soccer region has set up team websites to help manage all the information that parents need to access on a regular basis.   I am thinking about the woman’s phone call so much because I wonder how someone like her, someone who is only Spanish speaking, would benefit from this system.  She doesn’t have access to the internet and even if she did she wouldn’t be able to understand the information on the website.  As a bilingual team parent, I would be happy to post the information on the team site in Spanish as well, but I won't since the Spanish speaking parents on our team don't use the internet. I will instead call them with important information.

When organizations tell parents "it's easy to sign up or stay connected, just check us out online or email us" they make assumptions. They assume that everyone can can access the same information and understand the information.  When I was young and needed to translate for my Spanish speaking parents, the internet wasn't around.  Today, children who act as child translators for their families must navigate a digital world too.

I applaud our soccer region for making information available to parents in Spanish.  They understood that there was need for this and they acted on it.  The team websites are not a perfect system, but the region is making an effort to make sure that all of their parents stay informed.   I wonder if the real issue is maybe more along the lines of the digital divide and part of a larger topic?

Friday, 17 September 2010 16:36

Peep and the Big Wide World

Peep and Big Wide WorldI am always excited to come across quality programming for children, but I am especially happy when the series is also available in Spanish.

Peep and the Big Wide World is an Emmy award-winning series that teaches preschoolers about science through the adventures of Peep, a newly hatched chick, and his two friends Chirp and Quack (a robin and a duck).

My three children (ages 2, 4 and 6) have asked consistently for me to show them the videos from Peep and the Big Wide World since they first watched it 2 weeks ago.  I completely understand why – the 3 main characters engage young learners as they use science to solve problems that they encounter in the process of exploring their urban park home, a place they call the “big wide world.”  The friends learn about scientific concepts by exploring Shadows, Color, Water, Sound, Plants and Ramps.

So yes, my kids love the series, but do I like it?  Yes!  It’s one of the only programs that teaches Spanish bilingual preschoolers about science.  Each half-hour episode contains two animated stories focused on a problem that can to be solved by highlighting specific science or math concepts.  In one of our favorite episodes, All Fall Down, Squeak the Mouse warns Peep that soon the entire sky will fall down.  Peep learns, with the help from a friend, that in the Fall season many things fall – leaves, apples – but not the sky or the sun.   On our last walk around our neighborhood, my children and I talked about the approaching Fall season and its signs – leaves falling, the cool breeze in the air.  My 4 year related the falling leaves to the series and reminded me that the sky won't fall down!

Each episode is followed by two live-action segments of real kids exploring science and math in everyday places, which can be easily reproduced at home (that’s a BIG plus for our homeschooling moms!).  What science is in our kitchen?  Can we use science to solve a problem at home?  Science is made fun and easy to understand for curious little explorers.

The series in entertaining and child friendly, little ones don’t really know they are learning by watching. It doesn’t feel “scientific,” but rather the show draws you in from the beginning with its friendly animation and narrator’s voice – that of comedian and mother of two Joan Cusack.  Her voice is perfect for the series!  I love that children can get excited about science without even realizing it, and the fact that the series is available in Spanish is a big plus for my family!

We also love that the concepts presented in the series are reinforced through a variety of activities. Educational resources, such as their everyday science activities, an assortment of coloring pages, a recommended reading list and fun games are available for free on their website.

Peep airs English and Spanish episodes on public television, but also on V-me (check local listings).  You can find Spanish language clips on their website or on their YouTube channel. DVDs with both English and Spanish audio tracks are also available.  We hope that you check out this innovative children’s series and let us know what you think!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010 19:08

Trying To Be A Bilingual Family

On my last trip to Chicago I was reminded of how important it is for my children to learn to speak Spanish.  In our home I feel like we go through cycles where we focus more or less on learning the language.  I know in particular I find myself speaking more in Spanish to my 3 kids in the weeks leading up to a trip to see my parents in Chicago, hoping that they will pick more of it up before we make the trip to see their abuelitos.  And, of course, after our trips to see my parents I also find myself speaking more Spanish to the kids, like I have been the past two weeks.

But, sure enough, as other things take priority or as we become busy with projects, it becomes less of a priority.   Why?   Because it’s just easier to speak in English. I hate this….I always assumed that teaching my children to be bilingual would be easy.  I couldn’t understand why some children with Spanish speaking parents (or a parent, like us) were not fully bilingual.  What was so hard about teaching your child both languages?  Well, it has not been easy for our family and I am sure that some of the families that I criticized found it to be hard as well.

Dan, my husband, grew up speaking only English, his parents are not Latino.   He did, however, take a few Spanish classes in high school and college.  Spanish is my native language.  I learned English when I started Kindergarten, although I suppose I knew a little bit from watching television in English or playing with my neighborhood friends.   I am embarrassed when my kids don’t understand a relative who speaks to them in Spanish; but I also feel very happy (and relieved!) when they do….even more when they can respond in Spanish.   My husband tells me not to be so hard on myself, and I know he’s right.

I know that my kids will learn Spanish best by hearing me speak it to them as often as I can, visiting my parents often and me encouraging them to speak it.  I am also trying to get my kids to playdates with other Spanish speaking children.  I will try not to stress out about it, but we are going to try to be better about using more Spanish around our home.  It would be a shame if we didn’t.  I’ll keep you posted on our progress...

Tuesday, 09 March 2010 21:36

Latino Boy Labeled A Hero

Latino heroI recently came across this story of an 11 year-old boy labeled a hero by paramedics and firefighters. The story struck a chord with me.

Young Oscar Rodriguez survived a very serious accident in which the bus he was riding from México to Los Angeles, California rolled over on an Arizona interstate.  Despite his own injuries he translated between injured Spanish speaking passengers and English speaking firefighters and paramedics.  Wow!

I began translating for my mother and father on almost a daily basis from a young age.  I made phone calls for my parents, read their mail and always went on errands because I knew English and they spoke Spanish. Although I currently translate much less for them, stories like this remind me of my translating experiences.  I am grateful for having had them, the good ones and the harder ones.   I have known so many people who were essentially an important connection between their family's Spanish speaking world and the mainstream English domain.  Did you translate for your family, friends, or perhaps neighbors as a child?  What was that experience like for you?   Dr. Marjorie Faulstich has extensively explored the work that child translators do for their families and communities, check out her site out to learn more.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010 00:39

A Weekend with Mami

Weekend with grandmaMy mamí spent the past few days with my family. It was great having her visit, and I know she enjoyed the sunny California weather over the cold temperatures in Chicago! She cooked us delicious Mexican food and did not fail to spoil my children with all of her attention. However, as much as I look forward to seeing my parents, I get a little apprehensive before seeing them. Why? I know that sooner or later one of my children will tell my Spanish speaking parents, in English, “I don’t understand what you’re saying!”

My parents speak Spanish. I grew up speaking Spanish at home and learned English at school. I am fully bilingual and I have always wanted the same for my children. Although my children are learning to be bilingual, it has not been easy. When the time nears for us to see my parents (about twice a year) I worry that they are not learning Spanish well enough, and I question how good of a job I am doing at teaching them both languages. I have to admit that I could be doing better, but teaching my children two languages has been a bigger challenge than expected. Some of my friends are also facing similar anxieties over raising bilingual children, while others are having an easier time in this endeavor. I hope to address some of the challenges that we face in raising bilingual children in our Language section. We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.