Supporting my kid who is starting bilingual K in the fall.
May 23, 2019 6:57 AM   Subscribe

My city offers an amazing two way bilingual K-8 program. My daughter got a slot. We are delighted but also nervous. She is a super verbal, not very physically adept (comes by that honestly...sorry kid!), English speaker. Most of the other students are native Spanish speakers or bilingual. Neither myself, nor my husband speak any Spanish. I have some ideas for how to help her prepare/feel confident over the summer, but would love other tips.

She will be the only one in the kindergarten class starting with zero Spanish. Her school gave us a list of common verbs for us to help her play around with and suggested we 'work with her' over the summer, but weren't much more specific than that. We speak zero Spanish, but plan to learn it alongside her.

There are not kids language classes around us that she could take. I'm going to be starting Spanish classes myself this summer so I thought she and I could practice together based on my class. But are there books, apps, music, TV, other magical resources and approaches you would suggest? Or ways that you've successfully supported your kids in building a great foundation for a new language? It feels challenging because she's so young that most of the available resources feel like a mismatch.

We also want to help her build tools for managing the understandable frustration of not being able to communicate at first with her teacher/peers. Particularly given that language has been the thing she has generally leaned into most heavily. We've been trying to talk through times we have been in tough situations that required patience and perseverance, but which ultimately panned out. We try to notice when she manages her own frustration and narrate it for her. But again, if you all have thoughts and ideas I'm all ears.

She is a sweet, engaged, and generally awesome kid. On the one hand I think this is an amazing opportunity. On the other hand, I feel like we kind of booby-trapped kindergarten for her...
posted by jeszac to Education (25 answers total)
Best of all possible worlds: invite some kids in her class over for playdates before the school year starts. Model good language curiosity during those, but mostly just pave the way for her to make good friends where there's mutual care, interest, patience, and fun-having.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:00 AM on May 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Can you check out some language-learning apps with her, and make it a fun activity you do with her, like both of you learn some and practice that way? Adult gets to model language-learning behavior, she finds out that learning this is fun and exciting, and she'll feel good about herself because at that age she will pick it up very quickly and you can walk around having little-kid level conversations en español.

Find a movie she loves that has a Spanish dub version. Watch it with her and get excited about recognizing words together. Note: I am sorry to make you watch $kidmovie another 700 times but now in Spanish, but it really will help her. The more of her other media you can switch to Spanish, the better. If you can put on your own shows in Spanish (you can put on the subtitles for the adults) that will help her too - you want her to be as used to hearing it as possible because that's one of the biggest steps to learning.

Also, check to see if your local library has Spanish-language storytime!
posted by bile and syntax at 7:11 AM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

My kids went through a dual language Spanish program coming in as pretty much monolingual English speakers, and it was a terrific experience that left them (now college and high school age) with solid, useful Spanish skills. But it is hard -- grade school was a lot more work for them, and probably will be for her. My perception was that it was a whole lot of effort and stress through around second grade, and then the ability to really use Spanish to communicate kicked in. If she seems unhappy, I'd still try to stick it out in the program for at least that long.

One very specific booby-trap to watch out for is that you might want to drill her over the summer on how to ask permission to use the bathroom. My daughter had an issue in kindergarten not knowing how to ask in Spanish and not realizing that that was a good enough reason to drop into English even on a Spanish day.

General tips -- if the program is working for her, she shouldn't be learning Spanish from the teacher so much as from the other kids, and they should be learning English from her. "Cheating" off the other kids is key. If she can help out a monolingual Spanish-speaker on an English day by feeding them the words they need for communication, she'll have someone to turn to for help when she needs it.

I'm trying to remember children's books -- De Colores is a song lots of Spanish speaking kids will know, and there are a couple of picture book editions. I don't particularly know the edition I linked, but the song is a touchstone. Un Elephante Se Balanceaba is a counting song (about elephants balancing on a spider web), I think it's also pretty common, so if she knows it when she comes in that will be something familiar, and it might help her learn to count before she starts school. Youtube wasn't a thing yet when my kids were little, but is Spanish language Sesame Street available? It might get her a little used to what the language sounds like.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:17 AM on May 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Dora the Explorer (Dora la Exploradora) is English/Spanish; you can also find the Latin American version which is Spanish/English.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:22 AM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

This recent ask suggests that Duolingo Kids could be a fun thing to try. You might also enjoy the suggestions in the answers. Once you both have some language recognition skills going on, you both might also enjoy the Duolingo podcast which alternates English and Spanish to tell a story so it's surprisingly easy to pick things up from context (you can read the summaries to pick out ones that might be more interesting for her; some topics are probably more kid-appealing than others.)
posted by mosst at 7:23 AM on May 23, 2019

We also want to help her build tools for managing the understandable frustration of not being able to communicate at first with her teacher/peers. Particularly given that language has been the thing she has generally leaned into most heavily.

Just to cheer you up, if she's super verbal in English, I would bet that she will pick up Spanish very aggressively. My kids were both huge talkers in English, and were unusually successful for Anglo kids in the dual language program, I think because they simply couldn't bear to not be able to talk.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:33 AM on May 23, 2019

Just popping in to say that this is incredibly helpful, actionable, and reassuring. You all are the best. Please keep it coming.
posted by jeszac at 7:36 AM on May 23, 2019

I have found some of the themes in the duolingo podcast to be quite mature. I would not recommend you play it for a kindergarten age child without listening to a few episodes yourself first, and then screen each episode before listening together.
posted by bilabial at 7:52 AM on May 23, 2019

Check with your district's community ed program - ours runs summer French and Spanish daycamps that are open to all but specifically aimed at kids entering immersion school in the fall.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:56 AM on May 23, 2019

Also -- I don't know if this is a common thing, but it might be. My daughter, who seemed generally quite academically advanced, learned to read slower than I expected. She wasn't reading fluently even in English until the second half of first grade, right around when I was starting to really worry. And my guess was that it was due to the dual language thing, she picked up reading slower because she was distracted by the language learning.

On the other hand, as soon as she was reading, she was at or above grade level in both languages, and did terrifically well in school from that point on. So, your daughter's mileage may vary, but I would be unsurprised by and tolerant of that kind of slight delay; in my experience it turned out fine in the end.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:56 AM on May 23, 2019

Datapoint: I moved to the US from Chile at 3. Spoke no English, my parents spoke no English. We lived in a puerto rican area of The Bronx, so there where a lot of Spanish speakers around, at the shops, etc.
I stayed at home with my mom for 1 year, watching Sesame Street in English. They repeated the day's episodes at different times on different networks, so I saw the same episode 4 or 5 times each day. This was basically the only English I was exposed to for 1 year.
1 year later, I started KG. According to my parents I came home speaking English after 1 week.
I'm not saying you should park your kid in front of Youtube or anything, but I'd expose her to a lot of Spanish language media.
posted by signal at 7:59 AM on May 23, 2019

Don't sweat it. It's Kindergarten, she will pick it up on her own in a few weeks.

This is what humans are pre-programmed to do -- learn languages :-)

I moved to Canada, with zero English, when I was 7. Within 3 months, I was completely fluent, and now I'm a native speaker.

Three of my kids have gone through French immersion -- with neither parent speaking French -- and they're perfectly fluent now.

It's great to start young, and don't sweat it at all. She won't be left behind. It's actually in her benefit if all the other kids are Spanish-speakers, and more advanced. She'll catch on really quick.
posted by MiG at 8:05 AM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Every program is different, but it is also Kindergarten. The teacher should be able to expect that not all kids will be fluent in the language yet.

My kid is finishing up Kindergarten in Mandarin (we speak English at home). It is truly amazing how much they absorb and how quickly!

Things to note: we've been told that our kids will be behind in English reading up to about 3rd grade, and then after 5th grade, they will surpass their English-only peers. It will be uncomfortable for both kids and parents in those years as we see English-only kids read a faster. But taking the long view is important. Here's a pdf from my school district on "What Parents Want to Know About Foreign Language Immersion Programs".

For me, letting go of being the authority in a subject my kid is learning is humbling but good. He is learning Mandarin quickly and I pick up some words, but he will always be better at it than me.
posted by jillithd at 8:32 AM on May 23, 2019

Another datapoint: my son goes to an immersion PK-12 school here in Santiago, where the first 5 years are only English, all the classes except for Spanish class, and then the gradually phase in other classes in Spanish.
He has the advantage of being bilingual already, but his classmates are not actually fluent, but speak a lot of English, can read books, hold conversations, write reports, give presentations, watch movies, curse at video games, etc. , in English. My son and his friends, only one of which is also bilingual, have recently started playing D&D in English. I'm not a huge fan of the school, a lot of the teachers' English is so-so, and some of the handouts he brings home have grammar and spelling mistakes, but all in all I think it works, even for the kids who start out from scratch.
posted by signal at 8:41 AM on May 23, 2019

One last thing: my son has really good spelling in English, wins spelling bees, because he mostly reads in it, and pretty bad spelling in his "native" Spanish, even though Spanish spelling is much, much simpler.
posted by signal at 8:43 AM on May 23, 2019

We moved from US to France when I was 4 and my parents did not speak French at all. I went to the neighborhood public school (they had free preschool) and I don't remember having any problems communicating with classmates and teachers. I learned French through osmosis from the other kids. This was back in the early 1950s when there wasn't much television in France, we didn't have one.

Don't worry too much about this. She'll pick it up.
posted by mareli at 9:16 AM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't teach in exactly the same setting as this, but as a language teacher who works in a school with a bilingual kindergarten, I'd say you can assume that the teachers in this kindergarten will have gone through extensive additional training to not just speak to your daughter in two languages, but teach her successfully in those two languages. When it's frustrating or when she's making mistakes but still getting her point across, remember that the emphasis, especially at this age, is on rewarding successful communication, and relying on the communicative experience itself as educative not just linguistically, but socially as well.

For example...

- Your daughter will absolutely ask for something in a mixture of languages, and rather than be corrected right away, be rewarded for using what linguistic resource she had to get the job done, but then also be shown/taught/gently reminded in an age-appropriate way how to say the whole idea in one of the two languages:

Señora Smith, ¿

Mrs. Smith, is

¡Sí, los tenemos aquí! daughterofjeszac, ¿recuerdas como se dice esos [points to pencils] en español? 'La...'
Yes, we've got some right here. daughterofjeszac, do you remember how to say these [points to pencils] in Spanish? 'La...'


Bueno! Lapices.
Great! Lapices.

You could support her at home in managing interactions like this if they become a source of anxiety by role-playing these situations in whatever language you feel most comfortable in - perhaps she plays the teacher and a stuffed animal friend plays the student who's asking about a Spanish word?

- Expect a lot of singing! You can assume (and may witness as a classroom volunteer?) that she is participating in 'drilling' in class, which is used to help students master both pronunciation and meaning; your daughter is going to learn lots of songs and chants, as well as go through a lot of clapping/rhythm/tapping/drumming activities to help her master intonation and word stress, which are of course different in English and Spanish. Here's a quick explainer of how that might look in the second-language classroom from BBC Teach English.

You can support her at home, as signal says above, with lots of exposure to spoken Spanish and English, as well as with lots of reading aloud. Your own Spanish will quickly improve too when you find you need to read her favourite story like her teacher does! Here's a super simple video showing this.

- Remember that there's not always a linear relationship between progress in one element of language development and another. Your daughter may have an incredible ability to roll her Rs in words like 'perro' (dog) but find writing stressful; similarly, she may embrace reading in Spanish but shy away from speaking Spanish in situations that are unfamiliar to her. As signal says in his second comment, full fluency may well be elusive for her entire education, to a greater extent than it would be for monolingual kids; she'll be in high school and still need to look up words, check her spelling, and not mispronounce segue until she's 25 like I did.

This may mean the people around her, the neighbours, her extended family, and really, anyone who'll ask her 'How's school?' should not demand perfect language knowledge or expect much performative ability, but instead model an age-appropriate level of interest and curiosity not just in languages but in what she likes and can be proud of knowing:

- 'What are you learning at school this week? Your mom told me you were cooking?'
- 'Yeah, we were! We're practising talking about food and we even had a RESTAURANT in CLASS!'
- 'Wow, that sounds fun - can you teach me something you learned that you thought was really cool? I don't know much Spanish...'
- 'Yes! In English we say glass of water but in Spanish you say vaso de agua!
- Really? I didn't know that! I don't know this, maybe you do - can you have a vaso of coffee?
- No, that's a copa - like a mug or a cup, I think?
- Ah, yeah, I've seen that before, should we check?
- OK.
- [Google Image searches 'copa de café', shows your daughter] I think you're right, it is a mug! Thanks for telling me about your cool class. What did you eat in the class restaurant? ...

She's going to do great! Just keep her as exposed to language as possible and she'll thrive. She'll have off days, and of course, expect some summer backsliding without extensive exposure - perhaps the next family vacation can be somewhere Spanish-speaking! - but she'll get there.

Good luck!
posted by mdonley at 9:16 AM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Villa Alegre was a bilingual PBS show from the 70s...some of it is on youtube.
posted by brujita at 9:20 AM on May 23, 2019

When my kids started French immersion kindergarten, I started learning French too, so that I could help them with their eventual homework. I've continued working on it, and I can hold my own even with my oldest, who is in sixth grade, even though they make fun of my accent (l'il snobs!). It'll take them 2-3 years to really get fully fluent, and in that time, you can learn a lot of Spanish too.
posted by umbú at 9:31 AM on May 23, 2019

I may be going a bit against the grain in saying that it won't be helpful to do bilingual stuff at first. Human brains are lazy, language is hard. Immersion is the only way to go, and the easiest place to get that is in class. We were in the same situation you were in, and I was amazed at the energy level the teachers brought to the class to keep everyone focused even when they couldn't understand a single word that was being said. So much pantomime! Honestly, it looked exhausting and I am so glad there were trained professionals (even though some of them were non-native speakers) to do it. In our program the teachers kept it a secret that they could even speak the non-target language until later in the year. After several years in the program, the kids are fluent enough that a simple, "eh, eh, en espanol, por favor" is enough to get them back on track. But they did ask us to stick with the program through third grade, acknowledging that it would be a struggle at times.

Things that were tough: at first, he came home very sleepy. Building all those new neural connections is exhausting! In our school many of the kids come from difficult home situations or have parents who are uncomfortable speaking English. It's hard to set up a playdate when the kid is being picked up from school by their older cousin and the parents don't have email. Or having to explain, "Well, Yamileth's house burned down and they don't have insurance so they had to move." I never got the point where child has a single Spanish-speaking friend outside school, which I feel bad about. For better or worse, the group of kids in your child's class is going to stay together. It's really hard to get into a bilingual program unless you're already pretty fluent twice, so it tends to shrink. Getting ahold of Spanish-only books is not that easy once you exhaust the limited selection in Scholastic, which is always months later and more expensive than the English books; I have had lots of hassles and expense getting things shipped from Mexico (though TV, Netflix, and Youtube are easy). We went to Puerto Rico when he had been in the program in Kindergarten, and I knew he was fluent, at least in the classroom milieu. But he would not say one word of Spanish. I was so pissed, but they had warned us, and so I didn't push it. Fast forward two years, we go to Mexico, and cannot shut him up. Watching him talk fluently in Spanish and Spanglish with the Yucatecan kids really made it all worthwhile. And, no, I never acheived fluency. He actually code switches with me now to a worse accent and slower pace so I can understand him.
posted by wnissen at 9:52 AM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

One thing I did raising my bilingual kid in a monolingual country is never, ever, let it become a parlor trick, never parade him in front of aunts or friends of the family to show-off his language, never get angry about his refusal to speak English in some contexts, never make a big deal out of it, so it wouldn't become an embarrassing thing his dad did, a trauma or bargaining chip down the line.
posted by signal at 9:58 AM on May 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

What a wonderful opportunity!! I think the best thing to do is be positive and supportive. They will likely love the program from the start but, even if they're frustrated or scared, validate their worries while also encouraging them to keep trying. Talk about their day at school and let them teach you little bits and pieces. My younger siblings all did Spanish immersion and are fluent while my parents never learned (they do other languages.) However, they were always so encouraging and positive and that's what mattered.

Attend school events and cultural events in your community! Don't worry about being the "only" non-Spanish speaker there. Just be friendly and positive! A lot of the parents of your child's classmates may not speak a lot of English and are just as nervous as you are but for the opposite reason! Encourage your child to invite friends over and let them go over to see friends. My friends from Spanish-speaking cultures always had the BEST birthday parties and celebrations! Please don't ever let your fear of not knowing Spanish keep you from interacting with parents who only or mostly speak Spanish (and often an indigenous language, too, like Otomi, FWIW.) Yes, it can be awkward at first but you all can smile and say little but be united in enjoying your children's wonderful friendship and learning together!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:47 PM on May 23, 2019

My child goes to a billingual school and we did no preparation at all. It worked out fine. But do expect reading to come more slowly than peers at single language schools.
posted by kerf at 5:33 PM on May 23, 2019

My brother's kid speaks his mother's language, whereas my brother doesn't speak that language very well at all. Kid wants stories read in that language and will ask any convenient adult to read them, regardless whether they speak the language. Brother says having mastered pronunciation helps because he can read to kid even though he doesn't always know all the words he's reading. This might also work for you! :)
posted by bibliotropic at 12:00 AM on May 24, 2019

Seconding checking with your local library for bilingual or Spanish language story/singing time! They may also have fun and age appropriate language-learning tools (books, music, movies, apps, etc.) to recommend.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:43 AM on May 24, 2019

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