In the United States, about 55 million inhabitants are bilingual[1]. English-Spanish bilinguals represent about half of them all.

Every language has, inherently, a world’s perspective. Every culture is attached to its language. Learning a new language will open new opportunities of knowledge and adaptation for your child.

English is one of the most wide-spoken languages in the world. Even if you, as a parent, only know Spanish or are not well-versed in this language, you can help develop your own bilingual kids.

In the first place, you have to remember that your native language, Spanish, is as important as English. When teaching Spanish to your child, you’re allowing him to reach all the values and perspective of all the Hispanic communities around the world. You’ll have to develop in your child solid literacy skills in Spanish before helping him/her to read in English.

This is like teaching a child how to ride two different types of bikes. If your child learns how drive one, it’ll be easier to succeed with the other one.

There are important differences between English and Spanish, and knowing them is key in order to develop a good awareness of the languages.

For instance, there are some sounds in English that do not exist in Spanish, such as the /k/ sound in “can’t”. There are 15 English vowel sounds and only five Spanish vowel sounds. The main difference is the relation between writing and reading. In Spanish you read what you see, (every single letter is read) meanwhile in English, there are some letters that transform other letters’ sounds, or different vowels that represent a very similar sound.  Examples of this can be found in cat and cut, call and cold, or tin and ten.

Making connections and learning the “false friends”[2] in both languages is a good way to learn.

There are a lot of fun activities that you and your child can do together in order to solidify his/her English literacy:

1. Storytelling

There’s no better way to open up your child’s imagination — and language learning — than to tell a story. Your child will learn vocabulary at the same time that he/she hears and mimics the sounds.

2. Sing!

The fun part about singing is that it’s like storytelling, but with rhyme and rhythm. Songs and chants can develop oral language skills such as intonation and word stress.

3. Play with words

Probably you know one or two tongue twisters (trabalenguas) that can be practiced for sheer fun and for learning purposes as well. To say “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” is a great way to differentiate and learn sounds.

4. Visit Your local library

Public libraries in the United States are free and for everyone. Visiting your local library will be a bonding activity with your child, and also will give you access to a world of stories that can be educational, fun, or both!

5. Build your child’s vocabulary

Talk! When you talk and discuss a variety of topics with your child, you’re letting him/her know new words. Ask kids questions that can be answered with sentences and not just “yes” or “no”; also, watch educational children’s television programs together,

6. Read bilingual books

Reading is another way of storytelling. If you only can read in Spanish, do it. There are lots of bilingual books you can use. You can also use books with big, lovely pictures that draw your child’s attention. By doing this frequently, your child will develop an enthusiasm for books and will read them by the child’s own will.

As an additional action, to keeping in touch with teachers is a good idea — and not only for language learning. Pay attention to your child’s performance in school and always have an open communication with their teachers.

If you are unable to invest a significant amount of time with your child, you can always locate a tutor to help and answer any questions. A tutor can provide out-of-school teaching in a customized way.

You can find a lot of useful resources in internet for this purpose, such as the Beyond Tutoring posts. Remember that when you help your child to learn how to write, read, listen and speak English, you’re allowing him to enter to a new culture, and to grasp more success opportunities!

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[1] Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-bilingual/201011/bilingualisms-best-kept-secret

[2] A list of false friends is available in http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Spanish_false_cognates_and_false_friends_with_English

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