Reading with a Bilingual Kid

My four year old Max has been working hard in school this year, learning to say and write the alphabet and numbers. Some days are great, he's begging me to do more homework, other days he's four years old and prefers to play "Incredible Hulk Ambulance Driver" dragging the cat around in a box, but we're getting there. The learn to read process is a bit complicated though, as he is doing it in two languages. In school he's being taught the pronunciation of the vowels in Spanish and with me at home we do it in English. For a while we would have arguments where he would scream "But that's not what Miss Cynthia says!!!" but we've got it worked out and he knows that the two languages have different pronunciations and most of the time he can identify the letters correctly depending on whether he's asked "What letter is this?" or "Que letra es?"

Story time is becoming more complicated as he learns to read. Well, not more complicated, just more of a challenge for Mom! He has books in both English and Spanish and until now, it didn't matter if I was reading the words on the page or not. I always would with English books and point out the words to him, but Spanish books I would just tell the story in a rough translation for him. Now that I want him to identify written language, I want to show him that the words on the page have significance. He asked for one of his Spanish books and I started to read it in Spanish and run my fingers under the words. He said, "No mommy, in English". I explained to him that the book was in Spanish but he said "Not for you, for you it's in English". I pointed at the word "casa", repeated it for him and asked him what the word was (in Spanish). He said "It doesn't say casa it says house!". We're working on it.

Yesterday I decided to play a game with him, writing several words on paper and hiding them in the living room. He had to "onyourmarkgetsetgofind" a word of my choice. He did great. I said "Find Mommy", he looked at a few slips of paper and came running back with the right one. We played this for a while, I was jumping up and down I was so excited for him! It got interesting when Hubby got home and we decided to show off. Hubby held up the word "cat" and asked Max, "What does this say?". "Gato" Max replied. So he read the word and immediately translated it for Daddy/Papa. Same when Hubby held up "Mama" (though strangely instead of saying "Mommy" he said "Kelly", hmmm). Hubby holds up "dog", he says "perro". I hold up "Papa", he says "Daddy". This kid is going to run circles around both us and his teachers I think.

I think his learning is helping mine as well. Now that his books are becoming more advanced, my reading skills in Spanish are put to the test. We've got a big book of great stories in Spanish, but as I am doing "on the fly" translations for the most part, my head starts to whirl after a few minutes! Instant translations of in depth stories are much harder than "The Cat Sat on a Mat". He's caught me making mistakes too, I'll misunderstand a phrase and turn the whole story upside down simply by missing a negative or a future tense. He knows the stories so well that one little mistake and mommy doesn't get a star on her forehead and he puts a sad face on my homework.

This journey of raising a bilingual kid gets better and better. I'm so grateful that my son has this opportunity, I'm jealous too, I wish learning languages got easier with age instead of harder! I figure in a year or two I'll have Max helping me with my Spanish, oh what a joy it will be to have a hyper munchkin correcting my grammar.

Next year, we add ze French.....Au revoir!


Comments

Manolo said…
Canucka!!! That's so exciting. I don't think I will share your post with some colleagues at YorkU. Now we have to figure out how to cite blogs in our papers ;-)

On a personal note, I remember when I visited my aunt (only family in Canada) 10 years ago an saw my little cousin (now he is 15) translating his book to us from English to Spanish.

Max has a good combination of looks, brains, and chutzpah.

Un abrazo amiga.
KfromMichigan said…
You are a great MOM. And to think....Max is teaching you! Learning together .. that's wonderful.
On Mexican Time said…
Totally awesome!! I am so grateful to both my parents for teaching me our language first, than English! It is something I want to pass on to my kids!! Then of course Spanish (for obvious reasons!)!!

Must teach him French - I was just in Quebec for a few weeks and was embarassed to have my brothers and cousins speaking for me!! How quickly we lose it, when we don't use it!!
Amanda Lynn said…
Max sounds like a very awesome (and smart) kid. Raising him to be bilingual will be so beneficial for him. And you. :)
Thanks for the great post.

Youngest Son is in K3 so we have also been down the English and Spanish "learn at the same time track."

The biggest impact is that he is a VERY phonetic reader. Spanish is so phonetic and he actually seems to read Spanish easier. In English, he is very aware of the "rules" since there are so many special cases for combinations of letters and how they are pronounced.

Our children are fortunate to get this early in life.
minshap said…
I applaud your efforts CC. I practically gave up trying to teach my kids to read in English after the first two, who didn't appreciate my efforts much - clinging to the belief that they'd learn it when they wanted/needed it. One of my kids still has the most atrocious spelling and he ain't a kid anymore! So good for you! And good for Max! Loved the go-find-it game with the words, what a neat idea!
Heather said…
How cute! After 6 months in San Diego and now after 18 months of living back in the USA, i am more determined than ever to go back to spanish with my kids the way we did in Canada. And so far we are off to to a great start, i read to them in spanish with books from the library and ones we own and like you, my vocab is expanding too. e went back to Montreal last weekend for the 1st time where I spoke spanish only and i was complimented on how "good" my spanish was. I was excited!
We are giving our kids the best of both worlds! Great job!
-h
CancunCanuck said…
Manolo- Hmmm, a blog as a source? I don't know how reliable I am, haha. You can take Max and put him in a lab for further study if you like! Thanks for the lovely words and GREAT to see you here! Are you going to be blogging again? Miss your "voice". Abrazos!

KfromMichigan- Awww, thanks! It's mostly to stave off the boredom and if I don't do constructive things, he does destructive things, haha.

On Mexican Time- You are so lucky to be multilingual, kudos to your parents! I think if I were to go to Quebec right now my stupid brain would just start speaking Spanish, kind of like telling it "Use another language, go" and it goes on automatic, lol.

Amanda- All moms think their kids are smart, and I am no different, haha. I'm so jealous that he is growing up bilingual, I wish it had happened to me!

American Mommy- Sounds like youngest son is doing great with the learn at the same time thing, congratulations! One day he will thank you for the opportunity.

Minshap- I don't know if I would be able to handle more than one child with this process, it can be very tiring, so kudos to you for doing it with multiple kids! One out of the bunch with bad spelling isn't so terrible. :)

Heather- Good for you, back on the Spanish! You'll benefit, the kids will benefit, it's good all around, congrats!
cul-ture-queen said…
I'm so excited for him, he will have the best of both worlds.
I would love to get back into this with Laila, but since she is speech delayed I want to hold off.
Thoughts or suggestions??????
CancunCanuck said…
cul-ture queen- Maybe introducing another language would benefit your lovely Laila, give her new sounds and combinations to try, perhaps it could work. The ladies on the multilingual families board on BBC are SOO good with these things, you should pop over there and see what they have to say, they're expert! Good luck amiga, abrazos a ti y tu bebe. :)
PingPong_Kid said…
Hello All--Even though it's not very timely, I wanted to give a brief recap of our recent trip to Cancun which occurred during the height of the flu scare.

The trip was awesome! We got a great deal at a great resort, the Grand Parnassus/ Great Parnassus. Highly recommended. The service was outstanding and they went out of their way to make sure a frozen margarita was in your hand at all times. The weather was unbelievable. Sadly the hotel was reporting a dismal 15% occupancy and I'm betting the owner, Salvador Ornelas, was losing his butt trying to keep both of the hotels running at full capacity. About the only cutback to any activities and services were a few specialty restaurants that remained closed. But everything else was fully operational. It was a blast.

I was very glad we made the decision to go. One thing I wanted to comment on: Although the resorts and some other vendors were logically offering great deals, I felt that both taxis and excursions (para sailing, jet skis) were still incredibly expensive and kind of a rip off. So there you have it.

Finally, a bit of self praise. We spent a load of money on the trip and we tipped way beyond the norm. I felt it my 'mission' to try and do what I could to help support the Mexican economy. We really took care of everyone and it felt good to do so.

Everyone go and enjoy. One tip: Take the city bus--you can get downtown for $.60 instead of $50. Its quite the deal. Just remember your stop as the bus driver won't stop at all stops. Actually just tell the driver your hotel and they will let you know when to get off. Tip two: Speak the language! If you know and use Spanish, your trip will be enhanced greatly. And the folks appreciate it. The learn in your car CD's are fantastic! Top notch.

Adios and Hasta Luego. Hello Kelly and Max.

Alejandro Bonito de la Playa.
CancunCanuck said…
Ping Pong Kid- Thanks so much for taking the time to give us the run down, great stuff! Glad you had a good trip, thank you thank you thank you. (BTW, taxi drivers are always trying to get the most that they can, but recently with the lack of tourists, I think they've been jacking up their prices to make up for their down days. You can always bargain with them and send them on their way if they won't take your offer, the next one just might. If you want a set rate, get a taxi from the doorman at your hotel, the rates should be posted and are non-negotiable). Hope you come back soon!
My son is bilingual as well and he is only 3, so not quite reading, but he will NOT let me speak in spanish, he is alwyas correcting me! It is hilarious!
CancunCanuck said…
Familia Valvidiviezo- Having a bilingual kid is a trip, kudos to yours for correcting, haha! Reading will come up fast, good luck!

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