Bilingual Homeschooling: Reading and Writing in More Than One Language

by Maria · 48 comments

biliteracy: reading and writing in more than one language

By Maria Hawkins
Photo credit: Neeta Lind

Let me share a secret with you.  Reading and writing are just more complex ways of speaking and listening; they are just two more ways for you to communicate with the world around you. That is how I introduced my Kindergarten students to these ideas many moons ago.

Yet, despite this, as my eldest son got older and started to be more aware of environmental print and what letters symbolized I started to do a lot of thinking about how it would be best to approach reading and writing in our bilingual home and I got really stressed out. At the time my son was about three and we had not yet made to decision to homeschool officially (that was a couple years away) but I saw that he was ready to explore the world of reading and writing. I struggled at first for what I should do to support his curiosity.

My first thought was that I would just do everything in Spanish (since that is the language we spoke together) but then I worried that would be a disservice to his English. Then I thought I could do both, but that seemed like it would take away from our Spanish relationship at a time when I felt it was quite fragile. 

When I really sat down and did some reflecting I realized the problem was thinking I had to do one or the other or that I would need to direct the learning at all.  He was learning to speak and listen and communicate in Spanish and English without difficulty and I realized that it only made sense that as he explored the world of reading and writing he would approach it the same way.

When we were doing anything together our interaction was in Spanish and this included literacy related items like: reading together, putting labels on the toy bins, me taking dictation of stories for him, him scribbling letters or asking what sounds certain letters make.  When we were with friends it was more often than not in Spanish as well so he had lots of oral Spanish input.  When we were out in the community it was more often he was exposed to English: him asking what signs said, reading him what a receipt said, reading menus at a restaurants.  And then reading and writing with dad was always English as well.

So what I slowly realized was that he had already begun his journey towards becoming biliterate, I just had to keep supporting him as he continued.

As he got older we just continued on this same meandering road and at 8 years old he now reads and writes in both languages fairly comfortably.

When we are together we communicate in Spanish, so we also read and write together in Spanish the majority of the time. If he chooses to read an English book when we are together I will help him with decoding words if needed, but any talking about the content we’ll do in Spanish. Same with writing. I will help him with his English writing , but my explanation is in Spanish. It is still his dad and the community at large that provides him with English input, yet it is more than enough to keep him fairly balanced at this point.

Perhaps my greatest discovery in our journey to biliteracy so far has been the idea that it did not have to be deliberate or linear. It was a great weight taken off my shoulders to come to the conclusion that my children didn’t need to reach reading and writing fluency in one language before learning to read and write in the other.

By opening my mind to the idea that their ever expanding bilingual journey could grow to include literacy without having to choose only one of our two languages to focus on I could be much more comfortable with them following their own interests, doing what felt most comfortable to them and not waste time worrying that I was somehow putting their future in jeoprody.  Instead, I can enjoy our journey and use my energy to support thier growing literacy, in both languages.

Some tips I have taken away from our experience so far:

  • Don’t feel pressured to provide “language balance” in reading and writing instruction. It will work just fine to stick to your language pattern and still support your child in becoming biliterate.
  • Recongnize reading and writing as an extension of speaking and listening. Encourage communication in all forms and in all languages but make sure you continue to especially support the minority language in your house as that will be the one least supported in other ways.
  • Know that like language acquisition in general, reading and writing may ebb and flow. My son felt that reading in Spanish was easier so at first he chose to read in Spanish independently more often.  A few months later and he was choosing both languages equally, the basis of the choice becoming subject matter rather than language as he became a more fluent reader. I didn’t insist he do it in one language or the other and just let his interest be the guide.

Some general tips for encouraging reading and writing acquisition:

  • Read to your child and with your child as often as you can and you will be laying the foundation for them to become independent readers and writers later on.
  • Expose your child to multiple forms of print (signs, lists, newspapers, magazines, notes, letters, and books…they are all important).
  • Let  your child see you reading and writing. The more they see it as a natural way to communicate and function in the world the more it becomes a natural progression in their communication and less a skill to be learned.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of dictation (for young children as well as older children). A beginning writer can be frustrated by the logistics of actually writing things down yet be filled with ideas. Even a child as young as two years old has a story to tell. Not being comfortable with the physical process of writing is a terrible reason to not have your story told. Write it down for them and read it back to them as often as they like!  Becoming an author is very inspirational and can really jump start the desire to write.
  • Give your children reasons to become readers and writers. Help them write letters to family and friends in other countries and states, wish lists before birthdays, notes to family members to slide under doors and leave in pockets and labels for the toy bins in their room. They can start with drawing pictures (with you writing the labels) and eventually move towards doing the writing themselves.
  • Make books together in all shapes, sizes and styles…(search online for new ideas if you feel stuck in a rut).
  • Remember through it all to focus on “process not product.” If the end goal is children that enjoy and embrace reading and writing in all their languages then don’t see it as a race to a skill-set but a journey towards a lifestyle.  Enjoy the journey together every step of the way.

What have been your experiences helping your children read and write in more than one language? Are you a bilingual homeschooling family? What are your top tips for helping children learn to read and write?


Maria Hawkins grew up in New Mexico immersed in both Spanish and English. She has her National Teacher Certification in early childhood education and has taught in both bilingual and monolingual public schools. She currently keeps busy homeschooling her three bilingual children, teaching weekly Spanish classes for kids, and leading a Spanish Playgroup to support local bilingual families.

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jo June 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Hi there,

Love this post – think I’m going to print it and stick on the wall behind my desk! I worry a lot about my kids’ reading and writing in their three languages, and the oldest one is only 4… Seriously, this kind of feedback helps me to calm down, and believe (almost) that it will work out ok! Love your tips at the end, especially because we do some of them already, just kind of instinctively.

Thanks,
J.

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2 Maria H July 6, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Jo,
I agree it is so hard not to worry, but I am so glad that this article might help you not worry quite so much! Four is such an exciting time for literacy because they are really becoming aware of print, making lots of connections and becoming such amazing storytellers. And perhaps that is exactly why its a time when we wonder if we are doing all we should? I’m glad to hear the tips are ones that are happening for you already and hope you continue to enjoy and trust your literacy journey.
best,
Maria

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3 Phyllis July 5, 2011 at 10:55 am

I’ve just found this site, and I’m loving what I’ve seen so far. Thank you so much for this post. I think the advice just to relax and let it flow naturally is perfect.

We’re a bi-lingual homeschooling family: Russian and English. So far, our oldest is reading well in Russian, but he’s probably officially a bit behind in English. Our second only just turned six, and I’m trying not to worry, because reading in general just doesn’t make sense to her yet.

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4 Maria H July 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Phyllis,

Glad that the post hit home and happy to hear you are comfortable with letting things happen in their own time. In my experience the ebb and flow from one language being stronger to the other is quite normal and by no means cause for alarm, especially when kids are first getting their feet wet. I hope you can continue to expose your children to lots of literacy and support them as they continue to explore and learn in both.

best,
Maria

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5 Kimberly de Berzunza July 6, 2011 at 10:37 am

Great article, and right on the money! We all worry, but kids learn whatt they are exposed to. Even tho’ we speak only spanish @ home, I do read in english now to my 10yo bc more books are available. :(

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6 Maria H July 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Kimberly,

Always great to hear the article hit home for someone. Sounds like you guys have a model that works for your family which is half the battle in many ways. I think we all agree worry is part of the package but for me its always nice to know we are not alone in our worry and be reminded we shouldn’t let it stop us from forward motion.

As my oldest moves forward in his reading I too am beginning to see that reading resources are harder to come by. Please share if you find any good Spanish book sources for older readers and I will do the same. I have had some luck searching for the “Castillo de la lectura” series. I have not taken a look at all of them yet but we have found a few gems.

best,
Maria

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7 BookishIma July 7, 2011 at 8:50 am

I’ve been reading the series here on biliteracy with great interest, since that was the biggest gap in my own bilingualism. As an adult I’ve closed the gap substantially, but I feel like I have many years of “lost literacy.” I really want to avoid the same gap for my son, who has the added challenge of being an OPOL child. I’ve been hoping to read about someone’s experience specifically with homeschooling because it is something I want to have the option to do if I do not find a school environment that is a fit for my child. Because of our particular situation, there is relatively restricted school choice where we currently live (most would not leave any time for our second language). At the same time, I am hesitant to homeschool in a small minority language and one in which I did not receive much formal education. I would obviously need to teach the majority language as well, which means breaking the OPOL rhythm we have, which my son accepts without question at this point. Reading about your experiences has been so helpful, Maria. Thank you! I hope you’ll continue to write on this topic.

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8 Maria H July 26, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Ima,

Thank you so much for your comments, I am excited to hear they are helping you out. I completely understand your worries as I did not study formally in Spanish after 5th grade so much of my “academic” vocabulary is stronger in English. However, that said, so far that has not hurt our ability to homeschool, nor our ability to continue the OPOL model and have the kids still progress in both languages and academically. I hope you will continue with the rhythm that is working so well for you and find a way to add homeschooling if that turns out to be the best option for you. I can reiterate that we are really enjoying it and I will definitely be writing more on the topic soon.

best,
Maria

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9 Tatiana Asakura September 25, 2011 at 6:27 am

Yes, I see now that the balnce comes together with experience in either of the languges.
Sometimes it is funny to see the skill transfered from one language to the other.
Just few dys ago our daughter wrote a note for papa in Japanese: “A present for you” and put it with a chocolate bar on his pillow.
And the next day she struggled through Russian note for me telling: ” Find my dad’s comb!” but definitely in the way the Japanese write, without spaces between words.

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10 Maria H September 25, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Tatiana,

how great to see her using writing in such authentic ways, albeit still making a few errors. I have no doubt she will sort out the details, but how wonderful to see that she has found such a great way to communicate with you both using writing in both languages.

best,
Maria

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11 Nayr January 31, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Great advice! I think literacy gets forgotten when one is struggling to keep up the spoken languages. However, as was said above, what a waste when one looks back and sees years of lost literacy. I’d like to add that it may also include “lost culture”. Literacy is a way into discovering a whole new aspect of a culture, a way of living and seeing the world. I started to read and write in my “mother tongue” at about the age of 8 or 9 and what a discovery! This language that I only used to communicate with my parents in a closed community suddenly opened up a whole new world – I became proud of this language that carried such a fantastic literature, great history (having contributed to world history), interesting thinkers. Every child has a right to this legacy!

Nayr

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12 Maria H February 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Nayr,
Thank you so much for making this important point. Reading and writing can be a wonderful tool to connecting cultures and exposing child to more of the “minority culture” as well. I hope to have a post that touches on this soon.

best,
Maria

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13 ltg February 3, 2012 at 10:31 am

this was very helpful, thank you.
i know every child is different, but motherly concerns are the same:) there is nothing more valuable to me than first hand experience, especially when it comes to raising multilingual children. one can read only so many books and articles on parenting etc, sharing experiences among parents is most important. you and the commenters above answered a few questions i had, thanks again.

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14 Maria H February 9, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Itg,
So glad we could help. I agree that sometimes after all the articles and research you just need to hear from someone that has gone down the road before. Best of luck as you move ahead and I hope to have more posts soon.

best,
Maria

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15 Jefferson February 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Dear Maria,

I would very much appreciate your feedback about an issue that’s worrying me: isn’t it harmful to teach a kid to read (first) in a language which isn’t her mother tongue?

That’s at least what I’ve read more than once (no references at the moment, sorry): that research shows that, if you do so, kids are very likely to become bad readers/writers in both languages.

As I’m the only one at home who speaks the minority language, Portuguese, this is really my son’s second language, so I had decided to take a ‘just-in-case’ approach and teach him to read in the minority language only after he’d learnt it in the community one, German (which is also my wife’s language).

The ‘problem’ is that, very much like you described, reading can come quite naturally and, by being consistent in our OPOL, I am, for example, singing with him in Portuguese the ‘ABC music’, even ‘correcting’ it from the German version he learned in day care. He’s just 2.5 y.o., so I don’t expect him to start reading tomorrow, but I’m very much tempted to ride on his interest on letter shapes and sounds to gradually introduce syllables, words, … that is, to teach him to read. But again, Portuguese is his second language, so I’m afraid it could be doing him a big disservice, teaching him to read in Portuguese before German.

A side issue is in the first place even having the time at all to do so properly, as I have no relevant training and work full time – so actual homeschooling is out of question (it’s illegal in Germany anyway).

So, please, tell me what you think about all that, and don’t shy away from citing the literature. :)

Best, and thanks,
Jefferson

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16 Maria H February 9, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Jefferson,

Thank you so much for writing. If I am reading correctly you have been using the OPOL method with your son. As such, in my understanding, both languages would be considered his “first language” even though one of the languages is the minority language. I don’t have the time to revisit the research this moment but if I remember correctly most of the time it is speaking to dual language or immersion school environments where a child has learned only one language until school age and is at that time being introduced a second language. I believe it is in this situation that research shows it is best to teach writing and reading in the first language before adding the second.

As you are seeing with your son, when a child is raised with more than one language from birth it is only natural that they would progress to wanting to read and write in both languages as well. My personal opinion is that you should allow that and support it as you are able rather than enforce a rule as to what should happen in a particular order. I would think it makes perfect sense to keep moving forward with Portuguese (you) and German (your wife) when and how you are able and not worry about having a formal system or a certain order.

Please let me know if you have any more questions and best of luck moving forward.

best,
Maria

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17 Jefferson July 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Dear Maria,

thanks a lot for your quick and thoughtful reply, it really made a difference.

Your description sounds very familiar and I’m convinced those studies were indeed about kids learning to read in a second, until then unfamiliar language – not in a weaker first language.

BTW, sorry for all the time I took to give a feedback: I wanted to reassure myself reading some more about the subject and maybe contributing a bit to the thread by sharing some information. But I just didn’t find the time for that since then, so I’ve finally decided I’d have to content myself with simply thanking you. :)

My best regards,
Jefferson

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18 Jasmin Otero February 22, 2012 at 6:51 pm

I am planning on homeschooling my child(ren) in the future and definitely want them to be bilingual. I only speak English – with very limited Spanish. My husband’s first language is Spanish and is pretty much fluent in English as well. I speak to our son in English and he speaks in Spanish. My biggest fear is that I will be doing most of the homeschooling and I am unable to teach spanish grammar (sentence structure). Supporting the minority language is important and I don’t want my son (or furture children) to only learn in English because we live in the US. So many families “plan” for one parent to speak the minority language, but somehow the learning in that language never happens. I knew families that the dad spoke to the kids in spanish and the kids refused to answer in spanish. Even at the Spanish speaking church we attend, the kids of spanish speaking parents would rather speak English. They tell me it is easier since they go to school in English. My son needs to know both, not only for the way the world is becoming more multilingual, but also to communicate with his family. My husband’s parents only speak Spanish – making it very difficult for me to speak with them, even though we live with them. My son needs to be able to speak with his abuelos as much as his English speaking grandparents. Thank you for the information and encouragement that my son can learn to read and write Spanish and English at the same time just the same way he will learn to understand and speak.

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19 Maria H March 1, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Jasmin,

I am so glad this article could offer some encouragement. I think you will be in an especially challenging situation since you are home (as the majority language speaker) and your husband is at work. But, that said, I think with a strong commitment it is absolutely possible. I would encourage you to make sure it is absolutely not acceptable for your son to speak English to your husband. I have no doubt he will have a time when he tries it out (mine have) but if you keep to your pattern and expect him to do the same they will learn that is how language works in your family and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be a point of contention, just an explanation of why its important and support for him. Your son has many reasons to keep growing bilingual and biliterate and I would encourage you to learn Spanish along with them as added inspiration. Why not join the language challenge going on right now and kick start your own learning. I bet that will encourage them as well. I know my own kids love nothing more than helping their dad learn Spanish.

best of luck,
Maria

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20 Sarah May 15, 2012 at 10:37 am

Greetings! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I really enjoy reading through your blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects? Appreciate it!

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21 Maria H May 24, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Sarah,

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Knowing the articles help gives me the inspiration to keep writing and sharing info. One resource is sadly no longer active but has some great archives: http://www.bilingualfamilynewsletter.com/

feel free to share any resources you know about.

best,
Maria

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22 gina December 30, 2012 at 7:12 am

Do you think home schooling is an advantage in trying to keep the minority language strong since I would be the one who speaks and encourage the minority language (Spanish) vs sending my son to school where peers,teacheres and everyone speaks English. Thanks.

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23 maria December 30, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Gina,

My personal opinion is that homeschool for you would be a big advantage in that you could continue to keep Spanish exposure high vs. him being in school where his English input will increase greatly and Spanish exposure decrease greatly. In my own experience speaking Spanish with my kids where English is the majority language I have found that as they get older it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain Spanish even as a homeschool family. I can only assume it would be even more so if they were in school all day with English speaking peers. Best of luck.

Maria

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24 gina December 31, 2012 at 7:56 am

Hi Maria,
Thanks for your reply. I can see how homeschooling in this endevour can be beneficial. The concept of homeschooling feels challenging since is something new to us; but I could see the pros that comes with it. Specially when I see that with my own sister’s kids Spanish was pretty much gone once they started school. Thanks again for your reply and for sharing your wisdom.

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25 maria January 6, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Gina,

No worries! Thank you for stopping by. Keep us posted on how things are going and keep coming back to MLL. Hopefully we will keep having info that will help you on your journey. Remember that you are not alone and that anything is possible once you set your mind to it!

best,
Maria

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26 Marien April 23, 2013 at 2:43 am

Hi Maria,
Hola! I’m so pleased I found your article, it has really given me peace of mind about my decision of homeschooling bilingually. After reading many articles about how you should wait before you teach to read in the second language, none of them felt quite right to me. Your article summarized my instinct, thank you!
As I’m new to homeschooling and will oficially start soon when my oldest turns 5, my biggest concerns are two: how do you manage the “seating time for learning literacy and reading” with 2 younger kids around you that also need attention? How do you prevent from burning out by having your children 24/7? any suggestions or advice? muchas gracias Maria! I have read most of your articles in this magazine.

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27 maria April 23, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Marien,

I am so glad you found the article helpful and appreciate you taking the time to write. I think your concerns are normal and legitimate things to think about. Having your kids with you all the time can sometimes be a lot to handle, as is finding the best way to manage your time with kids of multiple ages. You make me think that perhaps a few more articles dealing with these topics are in order. I’ll start working on answering your questions and try to get them finished soon. They are both such great questions and I don’t feel like I can answer them well in the few minutes I have this moment. For now enjoy the journey and don’t worry too much about having all the answers. Some of it comes with time and in many ways its an ongoing work.

best,
Maria

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28 gina April 23, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Hi Maria,

Besides the obvious reassons of bilingualism what are
The benefits you see in homeschooling vs public or private schools in your experience.

Thank you,

Gina

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29 Katie Brumley June 2, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Maria,
You are just the person I’ve been searching for. I speak Spanish with my children and my husband speaks English. We are planning to homeschool our children (all boys ages 5, 4, and 2 months). I’m looking for resources and curriculum for homeschooling in Spanish. Since Spanish is the minority language, I really am not worried about any formal teaching in English.

How old are your children, and how has your homeschooling gone so far? I would love to connect with you to learn from your experiences.

As far as a philosophy of education, or a model anyway, I’m trying to follow what I’ve read about education in Finland. Children are not formally educated until age seven, but they are in a literacy rich environment up to that point. We read whatever Spanish children’s books we can get our hands on. I’m in the middle of a project to increase the collection at our local library.

My oldest son is very interested in doing “homework”. So even though I have no plans to pressure him to do math everyday, I want to have a curriculum ready for when he wants to do it. Have you heard of Singapore Math? It seems to be very popular. I would like to find a good version in Spanish.

I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who speak Spanish, and others who homeschool, but none who do both. So I am excited to find you!

Katie

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30 maria June 5, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Katie,
I am so glad that you found me too! I know what it is like to start down this road and be a bit worried how it will all turn out. My oldest just turned 10 today and I also have three more 7, 5 and 2-years old. I am very happy with our journey so far. Both older kids are fluent readers and writers in both languages and so far have remained balanced (though keeping up the Spanish takes constant work!)
In general we have loosly structured mornings and do more play or adventures outside the house in the afternoon. I support the take it slow plan and tend to shy away from formal programs as that just doesn’t fit well with our family. The good news is that there are lots of resources available in Spanish. Feel free to be in touch as you move forward and run into questions along the way.
I have not used the program below myself but I have heard good things about it
http://www.mamutmatematicas.com/
That said, at 5 I would really focus on filling his environment with manipulatives that he can use to scaffod his learning. Here is a great Spanish math blog and a solid list of things to have: http://aprendiendomatematicas.com/educacion-primaria/mis-10-materiales-imprescindibles-en-primaria/

Best of luck and keep me posted on how things are going!
Maria

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31 Marien June 2, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Katy, my situation is very similar to yours as well. I have 3 boys ages almost 5, 3 and 1 years old. I also been trying to find a person that is doing bilingual homeschooling in Spanish, I also felt relief when I read Maria’s article. And I’m certainly bringing all the Spanish book to my local library. I live in Auckland, New Zealnad but I’m happy to connect via email/skype with you to share tips, experiences and support in this wonderful journey of homeschooling in Spanish in an English speaking community.
My email address is marienvilni@yahoo.com.ar
I look forward to hearing from you.
Marien

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32 maria June 5, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Marien,
I’m glad you are still connected. I just finsihed working on a big project but hope to get to those articles over the summer so that they can reach you before fall!
I’m so happy to see you connected with katie, perhaps you can start a group in the forum?
best,
Maria

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33 Phyllis June 2, 2013 at 9:54 pm

I know nothing about Spanish, but we are in the midst of homeschooling bi-lingually with other languages. I just thought I’d say that the math program we use is available in Spanish. I have heard it compared to Singapore, too. It’s called MEP, and all the books are available free online.

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34 Katie Brumley June 4, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Thank you Phyllis! I will look into this.

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35 Brynna August 8, 2013 at 5:41 am

I’m so glad I found this post! Our daughter is only 1.5 years old but we’re very interested in exploring the possibility of homeschooling her bilingually in Indonesian and English. At this stage we’re most interested in ‘unschooling’ styles of homeschooling… i.e. not having a fixed curriculum, which sounds similar to what you’re doing?

It’s so wonderful to hear that other people are already homeschooling bilingually and doing so successfully. Not to mention that focusing on the minority language hasn’t negatively impacted on their English… My gut feeling was that this wouldn’t be a problem, but something was still niggling away, occasionally making me think it might. Knowing that even as homeschoolers you still have to work on keeping the minority language alive and well gives me a huge amount of reassurance and inspiration to keep exploring, thank you! :-)

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36 Maria Hawkins October 2, 2013 at 12:13 am

Brynna,

Thank you for taking time to comment! I had that same worry when my first child was about that age. Funny tidbit, now that I have been down this road before as my fourth child is two I am the opposite in that I almost cringe when he uses English because I know that the work to keep Spanish alive is starting even earlier than it did with his siblings. Bilingual homeschooling is absolutely a possibility and I’m glad that you have connected with multilingual living as you begin your journey. Having support makes all the difference.

best,
Maria

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37 Emily October 29, 2013 at 5:55 am

Anyone out there in a family where English and Khmer (or some other language derivative of Sanskrit, or at least an Asian language with completely different writing system than English) is bein spoken by both parents but only one parent can read/write in each language? My husband and I are raising our two year old bilingually and are both reasonably fluent in speaking each other’s languages, but I can’t read/write in his at all (would love to learn but the time commitment and complex writing structure is beyond me right now). I want our son to read English sinner than later but worry that the more difficult system should prioritized since it is predominant where we live. But most children here don’t learn reading until 7 or 8, which to me is 3 or 4 years later than what I’m accustomed to. Thoughts?

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38 maria November 20, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Emily,

I can’t speak to Khmer, but can give my general advice as a teacher and bilingual mom/homeschooler. I would not worry too much about ages or languages but would just introduce reading in whatever language you can read/write in when he expresses interest. Really the most important piece is that he is being read to lots now in both languages and that continues. That said, if Khmer is what he will be studying in school and its natural to not introduce it until 7 or 8 than getting a head start on English is probably a good thing anyway as that is what will take more more to maintain as the minority language for your family.

best,
Maria

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39 Emily October 29, 2013 at 5:58 am

Sorry for the spelling errors, gotta love auto-correct and small screened phones where you can’t read what you’re writing!

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40 Elisabeth Alvarado July 5, 2014 at 2:59 pm

I am so interested to hear experiences like yours in homeschooling bilingually! It was very reassuring to hear your relaxed approach. I feel totally comfortable with the idea of homeschooling in a mix of English and Spanish, but am not sure what we will do when beginning phonics and reading. Because English is much more complicated with many more phonograms, etc., I have been thinking it would best to start reading lessons in English first– not that we can’t read books and write in Spanish sometimes too! Just that spelling and decoding is so complex in English. I haven’t found much research or advice on this topic though. Enjoyed finding this post!

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41 Maria July 5, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Elisabeth,
So glad you found this article helpful. In our family our kids (3 so far) have naturally gravitated to reading and writing in Spanish first, rather than English. I have seen several positives in this model for our family. Spanish is very straightforward so they have felt like “readers” very quickly. In the same way they wrote in Spanish first. My own kids have become pretty comfortable reading and writing in Spanish before they started working on English yet both older kids found the transition to be an easy one. They were able to apply the general understanding of how reading and writing works from Spanish and use it with English. My oldest two are now fully biliterate (3rd and 5th grade) and my youngest (1st) is still only using Spanish. Good luck with your journey and let me know what you find.
best,
Maria

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42 Elize vdM July 11, 2014 at 10:19 am

We have a similar situation as the one you describe: we speak one language (minority – Afrikaans) at home, but the community is English. My husband and I never purposely taught our boys to speak English (we are both bilingual), they picked up on the language as most people, including friends, where English, and they wanted to talk to them! Also most stories and a lot of books they were interested in having read to them, are/were in English.
We homeschool as well, and I teach and discuss most things in Afrikaans, though a lot of the curricula we buy is written in English, so I read it in English. I have found that both boys (now 5yrs and 7yrs respectively) understand without me having to translate for them.
I was however recently confronted with the fact that especially our oldest is more English than Afrikaans, and was told to change my tuition of them to English, while my husband still speak Afrikaans to both boys. We were told the boys need to have one language as a home language, in which they are very good, to be able to build upon for other languages, but that is not what we are finding “in real life”.
So I am in a bit of a connundrum, as my oldest is now teaching himself to read English (sight reading), while I’m teacing him to read Afrikaans. I don’t quite know whether to just continue as usual or to informally start teaching him to read English (thinking of the write pronounciation of the letters, etc.). Both boys remember math facts in English a bit better than they do in Afrikaans, but otherwise we usually discuss topics in Afrikaans.
Does it really matter whether they have one strong home language, or two languages that they are “growing” in simultaneously? Should one parent always speak one of the languages, and the other parent the other language? What happens when we have to add a third (local African) language as is mandatory according to our educational policies? When should I introduce the third language?
I just can’t find clarity on this subject, thus would greatly appreciate some advice.

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43 Maria July 29, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Elize,
I wonder who is it that told you that you need to change your language pattern at home to using English and that you need one “home language”? Oddly I would think that the fact that both you and your husband speak Afrikaans at home is a strong home language that they are building on so that advice confuses me. The truth is that there are many different language models for families that speak more than one language and the important thing, in my opinion, is to find the model that works best for your family and that you can consistently stick with. From your note it sounds to me like your son is already on the road to becoming biliterate just based on his interests and what you are doing at home. I’m not sure I understand why you need to change anything. I think when to add the third language would depend on what the law is and who/when it will be added to your routine. Best of luck and feel free to write again if you think I can offer any insight. Best of luck,
Maria

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44 Elize vdM July 30, 2014 at 12:06 am

Hi Maria, thank you for taking the time to answer.
It was a teacher-family member who specialised in primary school: special needs and home language (?). She feels that they need to learn one language first, and know it very well – sentence structures, grammar, etc. and then base all other languages that they learn, on this home (first) language. But all other languages are only learned at additional language level, and not a first language level.
She specifically felt that my oldest son thinks in English, then translates to Afrikaans to speak to my husband and I, because of his sentence structure (which is English) and his accent. However, my son and I both tend to pick up the accent of other people when talking to them, so some of our words sound British, some American, some South African English! My husband laughs when I read to the boys about other countries (China for example), as I tend to mimick their accents when reading the speech parts.
Where we live, my husband and I are the only people speaking Afrikaans to the boys, and we feel that they will loose it if I start speaking English to them, as he works long hours and obviously doesn’t talk to them as much as I do. It also feels unnatural to speak to them in English, and quite frankly they don’t like it. We tried it for one day and they refused to answer me in English, they always reverted back to Afrikaans.
So… I started introducing the English phonetic sounds to them (Starfall), and they took to it like ducks to water! We’ll learn English two days and Afrikaans three days a week, but stick to me reading in either language depending on the book we are using, and discussing everything in Afrikaans. Both of them (because my youngest wants to, not because I am telling him to join us with school work) are basing their English “reading” on what I teach them in Afrikaans, though. So I don’t know – we’ll just continue this way and see how it goes. They do retain English terms better than Afrikaans (triangle, square, carnivore, etc.).
With regards to the third language: according to our edu.policies, we have to teach an indigenous language starting in primary school, but there are no stipulations as to when and whether it is first level or just to be able to speak, and not read or write. We were just wondering when would be best to introduce it? When would be easier to learn to at least speak Zulu (in our case)? We do have a cleaning lady who comes every Wednesday. Her home language is Zulu, but currently she prefers speaking English to us! My husband thought we should ask her help with pronounciation as it is very difficult for us. We do have some children’s books with vocabulary in Zulu that we can use.

Thanks again for your time and advice. I greatly appreciate it.

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45 maria September 12, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Elize,

Interesting. I am in the US so perhaps ideas are different, but that is not something I have ever learned to be true (needing to have one home language to build other languages on). There are many people all over the world that grow bilingual from birth very successfully. Sadly there are many myths on what raising bilingual kids means and does so lots of misinformation gets passed along. Here in one study I came across recently that talks to kids abilities to learn to language systems at once a bit: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130715151106.htm

It sounds like you have found a good balance for your family and really I think that is the most important part. It is important you all enjoy and love the languages you are using. Supporting the kids in all their languages and showing them they have legitimate reasons to use them are, I think, the key pieces at this age. Best of luck and do let me know how things go as you move forward.

Maria

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46 Tanya July 31, 2014 at 4:06 am

Hi all,

For the lack of a more modest word, I’m a collector of children’s books and run a little Facebook page where I post some brief reviews of books and illustrations: https://www.facebook.com/illustratedbooks

Please join if you like what you see and recommend your favorite chilren’s books. The idea is to make this a resource for multilingual parents or just fans of illustrated books. I can read in English, French, Ukrainian, and Russian, and to a smaller extent in Polish and Spanish, so I’m really happy when people from other countries can recommend their favorite children’s books that I would not find otherwise. Thank you!

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