4 L’s of Bilingualism

4 L's of a language

I love to read bilingual and mulitilingual bloggers New Year’s resolutions. My husband and I identify with so many of them.  Perhaps the fact that we are in the same bilingual boat as these blogger, makes us want to navigate to the same destination, which is, proficiency in the second language.  To tell you the truth,…
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Immersion: I was in “Spanish mode” and forgot to switch back to English

I have been thinking in the bilingual brain and how it works without our help.  When I was learning English, I stopped translating when I was completely immersed in English (my second language), I could not just float in the bilingual waters, it was time to swim!

Here is Rebekah’s immersion experience in Guatemala, or as she called it her time to dive in head first and go for it!

When I started learning Spanish it was kind of a “eh. whatever.” thing for me. I enjoyed learning it, it came fairly easily for me, I just didn’t see the point really, you know.

In the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to go to Guatemala. That was the first time I was surrounded by Spanish for more than 2 hours at a time.

It was so neat to be able to understand what people were saying (or at least get the sorta-kinda gist of their conversations) and to be able to speak to them in my broken, sprinkled with mistakes, Spanish.

And that’s when I decided. I decided I want to be fluent. Almost 3 years later, no hablo con fluidez, but that’s okay, I’m still working towards it.

It scared me at first; actually, it still scares me, that’s something I’m working on. I’m too worried about messing it up and sometimes I miss opportunities, but that’s another story.

El verano pasado, I had the privilege to be able to take a second trip down to Guatemala..and use that Spanish I had been working on. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

It scared me at first; actually, it still scares me, I’m a bit of a perfectionist so messing anything up kind of bothers me, so I’m learning that sometimes, you just have to dive in head first and go for it.

In one town we worked, we built chicken coops for two families. Porque I spoke the most Spanish of the group who went down, I was the one who was sent on walks to la tienda with someone to get food for lunch or other various things.

The things we talked about weren’t really of much importance. Hablamos del tiempo y tal cosas. I asked if the ladies I saw were haciendo tortillas para venderse. They asked what part of the US I was from. Those conversations weren’t deep or profound, but they meant a lot to me, they built Spanish speaking confidence and made me remember how much I liked speaking it.

Those little walks stretched me—I was so worried about messing up, but you know what, they didn’t mind if I mixed up a feminine or masculine article every now and then. They appreciated anyone’s efforts to speak any Spanish to them. And were excited when someone spoke just enough to engage in some decent small talk.

I was able to connect with the people who spoke absolutely no English. Can people connect even with a language barrier? Absolutely. But there is just something so special about being able to converse with someone in their native idioma.

I was able to laugh at at a joke while riding in the back of a truck. I was able to ask questions about a store, I was able to order at a restaurant. I was able to give other people in our group rough translations.

Oh—and funny story, in the Guatemala City airport, as we were going through security one of the employees (a Guatemalan man) asked me, “Is this your bag?” to which I responded:

“Sí, es nuestra.”

“Oh! ¿Hablas español?”

“Sí, yes, I mean, no. Well, English is better.”

After getting over how awkward that was, I realized how cool it was. I was in “Spanish mode” and forgot to switch back to English. That was the first time I ever really spoke without thinking at all. I want to be able to do that, all the time. To be able to Just hear something and just switch over to español effortlessly. That’s bilingualism.

And that’s the goal.




Play with your children while practicing your Spanish verbs – Lobo lobito ¿Qué estas haciendo?

Everybody has heard the story of the bad wolf and the three little pigs. There is a children playground game in Bolivia called, Lobo, lobito ¿qué estás haciendo? (Wolf, little wolf what are you doing?). The story narrates the dialogue of a sleepy wolf and roaming sheep.

I played it  when I was a little girl, I play it with my kids today. It is amazing how their action verbs start coming out when it is time for playing. The best of all is that they do not even know that they are learning.

The lyrics are in a dialogue between a wolf (lobo) and the roaming sheep:

Lobo, lobito ¿Qué estás haciendo? 
Children around the wolf chant chant:
Hay qué lindo es pasear por aquí  (Oh how wonderful is strolling over here)
Cuando el lobo está durmiendo,  (while the wolf is still sleeping)
¿Lobo, lobito qué estás haciendo?  (wolf, little wolf what are you doing?)
Lobito in the middle answers
Poniéndome mis zapatos.  (I am putting my shoes on)
Children continue singing
Ay qué lindo es pasear por aquí
Cuando el lobo está durmiendo,
¿Lobo, lobo qué estás haciendo?
Estoy poniéndome mi camisa.  (I am putting my shirt on)
Ay qué lindo es pasear por aquí
Cuando el lobo está durmiendo,
¿Lobo, lobo qué estás haciendo?
Estoy afilando mi cuchillito.  (I am sharpening my knife)
¿Para qué? (For what?)
Para matar a mis ovejitas (To kill my sheep)
¿Quiénes son tus ovejitas? (Who are  your sheep?)
¡Ustedes! (You!!)

Once the wolf has said ustedes, all the children escape from the wolf and the wolf needs to tag one child, the one who will be the next wolf.

Changes I did to the game.

I keep adding action verbs for the wolf to do, like I am brushing my teeth (me estoy cepillando los dientes), or I am tying my shoe (me amarro los zapatos), and instead of sharpening the knife I just say I am getting the keys to go out (estoy buscando mis llaves para salir) and then I say I am opening the door and I can see you! (Estoy abriendo la puerta y puedo verte!). By then, my kids are so nervous than they just run from me,

The best of all is that this game can be used to practice action verbs in different languages!

Try this: After you play the game, ask your kid, ¿Qué estás haciendo? And I am sure he will know what you mean. My little daughter comes to me and tells me, “¿mamalita, qué estás haciendo? as part of our routine now. And sometimes she likes to pick on me and says. “¿Abuelita que estás haciendo?


Learning is a lifestyle.

It is a pleasure to welcome Bekah to Spanglish House. She is American and she has what it takes to be multicultural. She loves Spanish, she is very interested in Hispanic culture and she has the desire not just to know more about Spanish speaking countries, but she wants to live in one. 

When I was in 3rd(ish) grade, my mom signed me up for weekly Spanish classes. Those only lasted for a few months, and when I was in 4th grade I started having weekly sessions with a tutor.  That tutor randomly stopped showing up to lessons after a few months, so I started studying some en mi casa. In 8th grade, I started weekly tutoring with Cecy. (who don’t tell the others, but she was always my favorite)

Being homeschooled, I thought it was normal to start learning a foreign language so early, I never thought about it twice. I remember thinking it was a bit odd that my friends couldn’t count to at least 30 in Spanish, they didn’t even know how to ask, “Como estas?”  That being said, I was no Spanish mastermind, and I couldn’t conjugate a verb to save my life until I was 12 (and even then it was pretty rough for a while).

If you ask the question, “do you speak another language?” the typical response from high school graduates is, “Well, I took some in high-school, but I don’t remember much.” If you ask someone still in high school, the answer is most often, “Yeah, I’m in Spanish II.” But if you ask them what they know, it turns out, it’s not very much.

Puedes memorizar un idioma o puedes aprender una idioma.

I recently took a Spanish class at a local community college, and to be completely honest, I learned nothing. I have my 4 credits, but no real new knowledge.

Classes are teaching us to think about it. They teach us the exact proper way to say things. We can say things like, “El caballo es azul.” Or “Me gusta la camisa.”

If you can tell me every color, count to 600, name every animal in the zoo, but you can’t politely order a chicken sandwich at Pollo Campero, you’re doing it wrong. The slang, the funny little expressions, that’s what really makes a language unique.

To fully know a language is to be able to say what you want fluidly, without having to stop and really think about it.  The best things I’ve learned have come through just talking to other people. A person can read all the textbooks they want, but a person can never communicate well without actually using it.

If you try to teach your children, or anyone, to speak perfect Spanish all of the time, it won’t work. Just speak to them, teach them by example.

I have learned more Spanish while taking a 15 minute walk to a tienda en Guatemala con una mujer que estudiar un libro de texto por una hora.

Learning to be bilingual doesn’t come from a textbook. It comes from life.


Time to re-organize and re-plan in Español

10 years ago, when I did not have any children, a good friend of my husband was trying to convinced me to homeschool my future kids and do it in Spanish.  At that time I thought he was crazy, but now, I look back and I think he was right I should have done it all in Spanish.

I am homeschooling yes, his craziness was contagious, but I should have used more Spanish with my kids.  Living with my in laws, made a big difference in our Spanish.  Even my Spanish tongue has acquired an accent. I do not sound American, but I have been told that I have an accent.

I started to train my kids bilingual brains since they were babies, even before they were born I spoke Spanish to them.  But once we started to be more submerged in an English environment, in which I am the only Spanish speaker, the things started to change and they started to slow down in their Spanish acquisition process.

Our Starting Point as today,

Even though Spanish and Spanglish are in our everyday school time, here is where we are today:

They can understand any daily conversation and instruction in Spanish.  Yes, my husband and I need another secret language.

They use Spanglish in their day.

Great vocabulary, can recognize sounds and relate to things easily.

To my boys, I made sure to teach them to read through phonics (SWR and Veritas Press K and First Grade) and dictation.  And, I did my own cards for the Spanish Phonograms.  Thankfully, a lot of the sounds are the same, so I had to add a few extra sounds and structure.  It is easier to learn to read and write in Spanish that it is in English.
My older boy can read and understand it, and if I dictate it slowly he can also write.  He does not feel comfortable speaking in Spanish.  And I have to make him do it, sadly it does not come naturally.

My second boy complains of ear aches if I speak just Spanish for a long time, I know he can understand it.  He is also reluctant to Speak it, even during his once a week co-op class.

My older girl speaks English and Spanglish, and tries very hard to speak Spanish to please me.  She is learning her letters and sounds in both languages.  And she is not having any problems so far.

And the youngest cracks me up, she tells me, “I can not hear you, speak like me”.  I guess she gets more English from everybody in the house, but me. And she is trying to convinced me to join her team.


Today, March 4rd 2013 as a good homeschool mom,  I am going to change the weekly routine again. I will Introduce “oficially” Spanish as a daily group class.

Even though, I just have one first grader, I think this book will work. The book we will use is Coquito Integrado for first grade.

Why this book?  I have chosen this book because:

  • I already have it, and I like to use what I have.
  • It teaches to read through syllabic sounds. Lectura por Columnas and Pictures of the words.
  • It has components that I believe will encourage conversation.
  • Pictures that show action and a Personal Social Area for discussion.
  • Vocabulary
  • Sound recognition.
  • Teaches to count, that is always good to review.
  • The pictures are very cute.
  • Rhymes, are always good.

Well, I guess I will be telling you more about my Spanish class in my Spanglish house. And see if my new experiment works.

Have a good week, Lord willing mine will be exciting!


If you can not access Spanish – English homeschooling resources

When I started to teach my kids at home, I had set in my mind that even though Spanish was my first language, the school taught at home must be in English. These were the reasons that 4 years ago set my mind,

  • We leave in the States, they must speak English and Spanish, being English their first language (especialmente porque solo uno de los cuatro adultos en la casa es hispano hablante).
  • Most of the available books are in English
  • Most of the curricula is in English
  • English is going to bring them more opportunities in their future life and studies, everywhere..
  • Eso si! Spanish with mom must be used most of the time, but during school time.

However, and as the time went by, I started to change things around. Somethings, I just wouldn’t know how to explain them in English. So, I started to quick in some Español. Here are the changes we have made so far.

  • Phonics, we do it in English first and then in Spanish.
  • Mathematics, I drill in Spanish.
  • We count in Spanish and English
  • Shapes, both languages.
  • Measurements, in both languages
  • If I read the Math  problem, I do it in Spanish. If they read it, it can be in English.
  • Spanish cognates, help a lot to quick some Español in our English Homeschool day.
  • Grammar, sometimes I talk about el Verbo, el Sujeto y el Predicado. The structure and parts of a sentence are similar.
  • Vocabulary time, can be with both dictionaries. An English dictionary and a Spanish dictionary.
  •  Science, Geography and History. Even though our curricula is in English, I always show them Latin words or names of places that have Spanish in it.
  • Play games in Spanish, they love it.
  • Libraries, have some Spanish material. Not a big selection, but a few books is better that nothing.
  • TV, we do not have cable, and I am picky with what we watch. So I use DVD’s from our local library. The best of all is that you can change the language set to Spanish.
  • And of course the internet, that has many valuable resources.
  • We have some Spanish language lessons.
  • Listen to Music in Spanish.

Results I have gotten so far.

  • They understand what I read, and what they read.
  • Their English Speaking Grammar has a lot of Spanish Structure. Americans do not like it, but I love it. That is why we study English Grammar as a subject right?
  • Even though, they do not want to speak much Spanish. They can understand it.  I believe I can solve that problem going to visit home for 6 months.
  • They like Sylvio Rodriguez.
  • They use a lot of bolivianismos in their vocabulary.
  • They are growing accepting other cultures and races as part of God’s Creation, the best is that they love it.