Monday, November 2, 2009

Babysitter Turned into Immersion Teacher

To this day, my oldest daughter still believes Melissa only speaks Spanish. Who is Melissa? (name changed to be published online) She was my children's babysitter/teacher.

After reading The Bilingual Edge, I began to realize that my children would soon figure out that they didn't need to speak Spanish. I spoke Spanish and English. So did my husband. Most everyone they met that spoke Spanish also spoke English perfectly well. The Bilingual Edge talks about how children have to feel a need to speak the second language or they will lose motivation. Yes, I can insist with my children that they speak in Spanish, but they know I can understand them if they speak in English.

When my oldest daughter turned 3, she was starting to speak Spanish. She would still switch into English and Spanglish and then a little more Spanish. I wanted her to learn to only respond in Spanish when she was spoken to in Spanish.

We knew a Chilean man from our church. He told us about his granddaughter that was a senior in high school who wanted to study elementary education. I explained to him that I needed someone to speak Spanish with my girls. I e-mailed his granddaughter, Melissa, and asked her if she would be willing to teach my kids Spanish by playing games and actively playing with them. I told her the one rule is that she could never speak English in front of my kids. We could e-mail and talk over the phone together in English, but if we were ever in front of the kids, we had to speak Spanish. I was very adamant about this rule. I asked her to come 1-2 hours once or twice a week.

Since she was still a teenager, I didn't expect her to prepare lessons and activities every time she came. I knew that I didn't want her to just sit back and let the kids play by themselves or watch a movie. So, I e-mailed her games that she could play with them (Simon says, memory, etc.) and borrowed a stack of good Spanish books from the library. When she arrived the first time, I didn't leave her to babysit, I stayed the entire time. I played a game and included her to show her how much I wanted her to repeat words and how I wanted her to insist that my daughter say words in Spanish. Then I let them read books and do an activity alone. We did this many weeks until finally, I left for half of the time. Then I started leaving the entire time. She continued to do fun activities (make rice krispies, play dress-up and read the stack of books I would leave each time). My daughter really took off with her Spanish after having this immersion-type babysitting. I highly recommend it. We actually had her sister come babysit a few times, but after talking to my daughter afterwards, I found out she spoke in Spanglish not only in Spanish.

There are tutors who will charge an enormous amount for playing with your children. I suggest finding a teenager or young adult that could watch your children who is fluent in Spanish. You can help her know what you expect. We had a great experience with this. Obviously your child needs to feel comfortable with the language and be able to understand it so that this can work :)

Steps to have a babysitter become your "immersion teacher":
  1. E-mail or meet with the babysitter (must be fluent in Spanish :) emphasizing your expectations of only speaking Spanish to your child and the activities/books you want her to do with your child. Have the activities/books ready when the babysitter comes.
  2. When your babysitter comes for the first few times, remember that you can only speak with her in Spanish as well (this way your child thinks they don't speak English). You have to be strict about this or the babysitter will just be like any other babysitter.
  3. Stay with your child and the babysitter if needed. Depending on the babysitter, show the babysitter how much you want her to insist on speaking in Spanish and how much you want her to repeat by modeling.
  4. Continue to leave activities and stories each time and make sure they continue speaking only in Spanish to your child!
  5. Pay her a little more than the average babysitter so she will keep coming and because she is doing a little extra work.

My mom gave me this wonderful idea and it has been so successful for our family. Now that we are settled since we moved, I spoke with numerous people I knew (through our church and other friends). I found someone that I think will be great at becoming my children's new "immersion teacher." She comes tomorrow afternoon. I will tell you how it goes :)

Try it out! Good luck!

Please share: How do you create a need to speak in Spanish as you teach your children?


Asiyah said...

What an awesome idea! I'd love to implement this as we know a few native Spanish-speakers. But I would definitely need to improve my comprehension of the language before hiring a babysitter.

Adriana said...

Great post! When I went back to work, we were determined to find a Spanish-speaking babysitter. We put ads in the paper and interviewed A LOT. We found a wonderful lady with a little girl who was the same age at D. When we changed babysitters, we found another Spanish-speaking babysitter this time with a little boy D's age. I really think that the key to keeping the minority language important is finding "outside" help. My son gets lots of opportunities outside of the house to speak Spanish.

Adriana said...

I gave you an award. Please stop by my blog to accept it. :)

Susan said...

I like going to Spanish story time, especially ones in a primarily hispanic neighborhood. The kids and moms all speak Spanish. This motivates my son. I have also found the Spanish speaking playgroups that we are involved in to be helpful. I am looking for a bilingual pre-school near my house, but no luck so far.

Sarah said...

Thanks for sharing your guidelines on the immersion babysitting experience. Earlier this year, I hired a college student majoring in French to take care of my son once in a while, excited that he'd finally be able to hear someone besides Mommy speak French. But she turned out to be not very secure in her speaking ability--and then she dropped her French classes and changed her major. And it never occured to me to model for her what I was expecting and insist that she speak only French in front of him. Your method of "training" the babysitter certainly sounds time-consuming, but it has clearly paid off. I'll try it again with a new sitter (as soon as I can find one)!