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Why I Chose Spanish Immersion

“Mas … mas … mas, mas, mas, mas … MAS!” M is furiously pointing at the food pouches in the grocery store trying to get my attention. I grab a pouch {The purple one … why are they always obsessed with the purple one?} and hand it over. It’s a Tuesday. A couple walking by with their 3-year-old child stops me. “Are you taking on any other jobs or weekend sitting? Or even just Spanish lessons?” I stare at them and respond in perfect English that I’m not right now. They hand me a card, smile, and say let them know if I change my mind.

“Gosh, it’d be great to get a head start on Spanish!” I smile and move on. M giggles at the face I make at her.

You see, where M has fine, beautiful, coppery blonde hair that naturally Farah Fawcett’s out {I’m making that a verb} and a sweet round face, I’m all dark features and coloring and sharp angles. There is almost no passing similarity in us other than a small slant of the eyes that gives us both a crinkly-eyed half moon appearance when we smile. Another fact … I don’t speak Spanish. Like at all. In my 8 years of living in Houston, it’s like my brain refuses to learn it. I speak passing Croatian {as in fact, I am Croatian}, conversational German, and a bit of French. So when people see this Precious Moments looking child pointing out things to me in Spanish … well this is what happens.


M’s daycare offers Spanish immersion. At first I was hesitant, but it has turned out to be so awesome in SO many ways. Here are some insights to the experience…

Dual Languages or Tri? 

I wasn’t sure immersion made sense for her because I was already doing some Croatian, and her grandparents speak it as well. The original plan was that her dad would only speak Croatian to her, and I would do English … but that fell through when I suddenly became a single mom. I was already afraid I was confusing her with my mixed speaking. I spoke to our pediatrician, and he said there was absolutely no reason NOT to put her in. In fact, the more languages you expose them to earlier, the better. Science says {and I do love science} that at birth, human brains and chimpanzee brains are about the same size. The chimp’s brain expands about 28% by adulthood, while a human brain expands 300%. This means that most of our brain develops after birth and is influenced by the environment.

A two-year-old child has 50% more synapses than an adult, and brain metabolic activity peaks at age four. They are BUILT to learn at a rapid pace in these years, and these critical synapse connections are being made at this young age. So I transitioned her, which incidentally reunited her with her bestie P from the infant room, so she was thrilled!

English

At first I was a bit worried. I noticed before I moved her into the Spanish immersion room {around 15 months}, that she had some words but was clipping the ends of words {ex: “puppa” for puppy and “moh” for more}. She also didn’t seem to be picking up words as quickly as our English only friends. People kept telling me she should have more words, or that I don’t talk to her enough. Others felt the Spanish was confusing her. I kept at it though and supplemented with a lot of reading, repetition, and dual language toys. {Fisher Price is all over this!} Within a few months, I noticed her English words became perfect. Her mimicking was exact, and anyone could understand her.

I’ve learned it is NORMAL for children of dual languages to have a bit of a delay in speaking as they are processing things and categorizing them in their brain. Do NOT stress over this. It takes time, but in the end, several studies have shown learning a different language helps you learn your native language because you now pick up on the differences. She’s developed an “ear” for it, and I seriously cannot get her to STOP talking now!

Communication

One day I was folding laundry and M was playing on the floor in my bedroom. She spied something on the counter and said “Mama, mas.” I replied, “Okay baby, you know I don’t speak Spanish.” {It was a bit like a weird Anchorman flashback with a toddler.} She stomped her foot, and then said, “Jos” {Croatian word pronounced yosh} and signed “more” at the same time. I stared at her dumbfounded, slowly realizing she wanted her crackers. She then walked over and pulled my face down to hers and very clearly and slowly said, “Mama, more crackers.” She was 17 months old and just used 4 different forms of communication to tell me – hey crazy lady, get me some darn crackers.

You guys, I won’t lie; it was sort of amazing.

Six months in we are enjoying a word EXPLOSION! Sentences, full songs, reciting books by heart. She now will flip from whatever language you speak to her in; she’ll walk up and down the stairs counting in Spanish, then Croatian, then English, and she even can speak each language on command {ex: now say it in Spanish}. If a friend doesn’t understand her first pass at a request, she’ll repeat it in a different language. At 2 she understands the value of communicating to get her needs met and exchange thoughts. That, my friends, is no small thing.

HISD Programs

Need another reason to love H-town? Houston Independent School District has made a huge effort to integrate dual language into their programs. ELL/ESL is still a program offered in all schools for non-native English speakers, but dual language curriculums are exploding in the HISD system. Houston was even the focus of a study in the early 2000’s highlighting the ASTOUNDING effects of dual language curriculum.

There are now over 30 dual language schools with Spanish at the forefront, but they also offer Arabic and Mandarin. They emphasize they would like the child to be committed to the program from K-5th grade, and if possible through high school. Studies have shown 5 years of immersion is critical for full development in a dual language. They have a great resource on highlights of entering a dual language program, but these facts stood out to me ::

  1. Studies have shown that children enrolled in dual language programs routinely outperform their peers on standardized tests and college-readiness exams such as the SAT. In addition, they can earn up to 20 percent more in wages as adults.
  2. People who regularly use two languages tend to perform better on executive function tasks and maintain better cognitive functioning with age. Bilingualism is also associated with a five to six year delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms after diagnosis.

Lifelong Learning

You know, as much as I stressed over this… I speak dual languages. It has helped me in my life in subtle ways that I never realized. I mentioned I don’t speak Spanish a few times, but when I have Spanish patients, I take in the cadence of their speech. I FEEL the emotion behind their words. Even though I don’t technically understand them, I have a sense of what they are trying to communicate to me. I take it in and respect their words and their needs. I hear them. When I travel I have an appreciation for words, culture, and a joy in global connection. I also now can’t say I don’t know any Spanish… I’ve learned. I now know my colors, how to say basic greetings, express that I am happy or sad, or even share an I love you. Just like anything, I had to be in the right environment to learn. So yes, at 34 I learned Spanish from a 2-year-old little girl. I hope she never stops learning as well.

Interested in learning more about dual language programs in your area? Try contacting your local school district or daycare too!

Dual Language Programs :: Why I Chose Spanish Immersion | Houston Moms Blog

2 Responses to Why I Chose Spanish Immersion

  1. Waldina February 20, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    Great story! I’m Hispanic and a fluent Spanish speaker but my husband is not. We just had a baby and I’m contemplating on whether we should expose her to dual languages as my husband thinks it will confuse her. I will definitely be sharing this post with him!

    • Ana T
      Ana T February 20, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

      Yes! i think it is a GREAT idea – seriously gives them a leg up in the long run!

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