What do I mean by “Actively Bilingual?” I mean that when raising a bilingual child, they do not only understands a family’s target language (in this post, Spanish), but also speak it back to you.
It’s perfectly normal for children to be passively fluent in a second language, especially when it is not the dominant language of the community. The child understands everything, but isn’t comfortable speaking it.
But it’s half the goal. We want them to speak the language whenever possible!
I’m 8 years into raising a bilingual child who actively speaks Spanish (our target language) even though she is surrounded by English (the dominant community language).
And I’m doing it again with my 1-year-old.
My secret? Music. But not just any music.
Here are 3 reasons why music is my secret weapon for raising a bilingual child:
Music increases a child’s positive association with Spanish
In the early months and years, babies are absolutely attuned to absorbing, learning, and holding onto anything their brain tells them is important.
The way they know something is important is by seeing, hearing, or feeling it over and over from the people caring for them.
Nothing is more important to a baby than the sound of their parents’ voices. So if you are singing to your baby, by all means, sing in your target language.
Think of the early years (0-5) as a golden time for front loading Spanish. English will make its way in eventually without us even trying.
In her book “Raising a Bilingual Child” the author Barbara Zurer Pearson, PhD says “Make the second language especially rewarding. Take pains to make it fun to use the second language. Use song and active movement to the hilt.”
In addition to the music, Mi Casa Es Tu Casa has a fully developed music-based program families can do from home with sign language, movement, and screen-safe animation.
Carving out time each week to get out our instruments basket and follow along to Mi Casa Es Tu Casa’s Spanish immersion program has been a lifeline for keeping Spanish alive in our home.
Music is essential for language-learning, and should be treated that way
As important as talking to, reading to, or listening and responding to your baby is…music. It’s often treated as a fun “extra” activity. However, experts say that because of the rhythmic, melodic, tonal similarities between speech and music, babies’ brains are primed for learning both, and music is an incredibly powerful way to develop speech and language skills early in life.
One scholarly article from Frontiers in Psychology puts it this way: “Without the ability to hear musically, we would be unable to learn a language.”
I poured my heart into learning traditional songs in Spanish when my older daughter was small. It felt like a part time job to find the right music. Music that I liked and that actually helped develop her language skills. When I finally found Mi Casa Es Tu Casa, I never had to search for “kids’ music in Spanish” on YouTube ever again.
Their music is a far cry from “Wheels on the Bus”. It is rich, complex, high quality music that everyone enjoys. It’s rich in the variety of musical styles one hears from across Hispanic cultures, covering meaningful topics from emotions to daily habits to the natural world around us.
I sing the song Agua to my daughter at bath time, or if I’m pouring her cup of water. Guess what her first word was!
Music allows children to physically reproduce sounds
If we’re talking about tools for getting our children to one day reply to us in our target language, any time they are producing that language is a win.
It’s a lot harder to make someone say something than it is to get someone to sing along with you to their favorite tune.
Whether babies are spitting, making raspberries between laughs or imitating the melody of something you hummed, they are physically readying themselves for speech.
Mi Casa Es Tu Casa’s music taps into that early playful vocalization with music and is intentionally created to help babies form sounds, roll their “R”s, and more.
Bam, Bam, Bam is a playful, melodic musical round that gets babies vocalizing both open and closed sounds (and gets all of us smiling).
In summary, start as early as possible and lean into the target language. Find music you can enjoy together. Children deserve high quality music. Beyond sitting down for “Spanish music time” let the songs seep into your daily life so that one day you look up and realize you have a song for everything.
Getting in the car? There’s a song for that. Taking a bath? There’s a song for that. Driving to grandma’s? There’s a song for that. Feeling upset? There’s a song for that…