My Mother meets the iPad

Story by July 24, 2015
“Bilingual” has been a buzzword for families, schools, and quite a few of us entering the work force for some time now. It seems the world is changing, becoming smaller and more intimate, bringing us closer to one another than ever before, which also precipitates a new skill set. Namely, learning another language.

The task seems daunting, especially for those of us who hail from the solidly English speaking region of northern Minnesota. It’s entirely possible, however, to share an appreciation, passion, and love of language learning with your child, even if you’re not a native speaker of a second language.

I’d love to share a few anecdotes from my own childhood, as well as observations based on my recent experience developing a children’s app in both Spanish and English. The app is called Intro to United States, by Montessorium. The lessons from childhood fall under the category of “my mother”.

I grew up in a very northern European household. Enjoying a plate of lefse wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, and my grandmother was known to use some choice German words when she was upset. However, as I began my journey through school, my mother became determined that I learn Spanish. Her enthusiasm must have been effective, as I later went on to finish a degree in Hispanic Studies, travel through quite a few Spanish-speaking countries, and work as a translator.

Here are a few of her tricks.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in front of your child. My mother wasn’t very good at Spanish, and I took every opportunity to correct her, which in turn helped me practice.
Find a native speaker to help. Even in our small town, we were able to find a lovely Honduran woman willing to assist a young linguist. In fact, those lessons developed into a sort of club at the elementary school!

Incorporate the language wherever possible at home. We often listened to Spanish music, stuck Spanish labels around the house, for example on “el horno” or “la leche”, and found Spanish children’s programs on TV.

"Use the opportunity to learn together. Mom would often ask me to translate a sign or help with a word she wasn’t familiar with. If I didn’t know, we’d usually grab a dictionary or track down a translation online together."

Recently, while working on the geography app that helps children learn the state names, shapes, and animals in both Spanish and English, I was reminded of these lessons in language learning from childhood.

At first, I imagined Intro to United States would be utilized by both English and Spanish speakers in bilingual homes, but I never realized the potential for children of non-native speakers. You see, just as my mother discovered, there’s plenty of possibility to incorporate a second language, even if it’s not spoken in the home.

The beautiful visuals, easy to navigate activities, and encouraging voiceover of Intro to United States all provide a positive and engaging experience for early language learners.

I’m pretty sure if the iPad was around when I was growing up, my mother would have loved it.

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