How To Create A Bilingual Environment At Home
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It’s not hard to create a bilingual environment that helps your kids learn and retain more of the home language- but you must be intentional about it! Here are a few tips for creating an awesome bilingual environment at home to help your kids succeed!
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What Is a Bilingual Environment?
The bilingual environment is simply the things you have in your house to reinforce the language you use. This can be the music you keep on the radio, the shows you watch on TV, the books you have on your bookshelves and the games you have in the game closet. Part of the bilingual environment is even the times and places in which you and your children are using language.
What is often overlooked by parents is the importance of having what teachers call a “rich text environment” on the walls of your home. Intentionally creating this text environment can really boost language learning, and it’s something teachers do really well.
Luckily, I was an expert at creating a rich text environment on the walls of my classroom for the 15 years I taught high school Spanish and I have now begun to use those skills to create an environment at home that supports language learning for my own bilingual children as we navigate bilingualism at home.
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Why The Bilingual Environment Is Beneficial
Every single bilingual person I know has expressed in one way or another the feeling of having a word or an idea on the tip of their tongue and not being able to call the right vocabulary up in the correct language. That’s how Spanglish (or Frenglish or Dengish or any other mix up of languages) was born! It’s also why it’s so fun for bilinguals of the same language to talk freely because there is a shared understanding of this hurdle.
The same thing happens in math class, for example, when students are learning a new formula and learning to apply it before they have the concept completely memorized. Teachers will often hang formulas on the wall when they introduce a new concept, and then slowly take away the formula on the wall until they students have fully internalized the concept.
We can do the same thing at home for our kids. Their brains are learning to navigate multiple languages in multiple concepts, and at times they just forget what they are trying to say or do in each language. As parents, we can help them with this by intentionally having the right tools available for them when they need them.
This happens through the curation of dictionaries, flashcards, posters, whiteboards, word walls and more that can help our kids remember vocabulary that we are using. This can be as simple as labeling all the parts of the house, keeping a white board with new words, or even just hanging the alphabet in a prominent place.
Below I’ll share with you some of my favorite ways to create a rich text bilingual environment in your home, and I’ve broken it down by age. I’ll also include ideas about how to get your kids to take ownership of the rich text environment as well.
Related post: Choosing a School for your Bilingual Child
How To Create A Bilingual Environment At Home- Tips By Age
Birth- Age 2
When you first bring your new baby home from the hospital, the most important thing you can do is to just make sure that you get yourself in the habit of speaking Spanish to that child at all times. Same goes for your partner if they also can do so.
At the earliest stages of bilingualism, the bilingual environment is less about acquiring visual language through reading and writing, and more about creating a bilingual sensory experience.
We consistently played Spanish music for our girls when we did bath time and diaper changes, and I loved the Jose Luis Orozco. I often played my Spanish Nursery Rhyme playlist from YouTube to the girls, and I also just played Latin music I love like Juanes and Aventura.
Additionally, hanging beautiful art from your country of origin or from Latin America in general is a great way to get your child used to Latin American culture and colors from day 1. I adore shopping the colors of El Canto, Artelexia.
Board books are also a wonderful way to introduce simple language and culture to your baby- I love Canticos Lil’Libros and this book set from Books del Sur which I am about to carry in my own store!
One your young children are starting to get an better awareness of letters and numbers and are moving into prereading, it gets more important to have lots of rich text on the walls around your home so that your children get used to seeing the target language in printed form.
I love to have the Spanish alphabet on the rooms of their walls, and this adorable Spanish poster from Gus on the Go has been my consistent favorite.
I also find it really helpful to have numbers to 100 on the wall and we can just point to the numbers and practice. I don’t even include words, we would just say the numbers throughout the day. (I still do this with my bigger kids!)
I have this free Spanish printable for the dresser and you can make or purchase flashcards with the picture of the item and the word beneath. At this age I also like to create simple labels for household items.
Then, I love these magnetic Spanish syllables. We hang them on a white board or the fridge and can start to understand how syllables in Spanish work, and form basic words that become our sight words later on.
When you children are just starting to read, it’s an important time to be bombarding them with words they can feel successful reading and successful taking their language acquisition to the next level in an academic way..
This is when I love to play lots of games in Spanish and have words all over the walls! One fun way to do this is to hang the famous Loteria cards from Mexico up or play memory with them. I just try to take away the focus on English as much as possible.
Whistlefritz has a really fun matching card game and I love the resources from Calico Spanish for this age too!
This is where it gets really fun- in my opinion. Older children can really start to take some ownership of the activities and right text that they want to have and see in their own environment. If you are lucky enough to have a bilingual education, your school can be a partner here in activities and ideas. If not, here are a few I like:
Resources such as motivational quotes and Spanish magnetic word tiles allow your kids to interact with Spanish throughout the day in a very low or no pressure setting.
Additionally, you can create your own rich text environment with your kids- think collages around a theme, stacks of Spanish jokes books stacked around the house (the bathroom is a great place for this!), and board games galore.
One final tip is to make sure that you change out your resources periodically so that you all don’t get used to seeing the same things on the wall over and over.
What I do to keep this simple is to have two or three sets of wall hangings and resources in separate boxes. Every 4-6 weeks I just switch them out to keep things fresh, budget friendly and easy for me to manage.
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Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by