Despite the English-only rhetoric in some sectors of the country, a growing number of Latino and non-Latino families alike see the value in raising bilingual children and seeking out resources to help them teach a second language at home.
Julia Pimsleur Levine is the creator of Little Pim, a comprehensive series of educational materials for introducing a foreign language to young children ages 0 to 5. She came up with the idea in 2006 because she wanted her own son to learn French and wasn’t happy with the resources available. Pimsleur Levine herself is fluent in French, and also knows a little Spanish, Italian, and German.
Her company, Little Pim, is distinctive in that it uses what she calls the Entertainment Immersion Method®. Its roots lie in the Pimsleur Method, an audio-based language learning method for adults developed by her father, Dr. Paul Pimsleur. Julia Pimsleur Levine adapted the method for children and added a visual element using other children as subjects, as well as an animated character to capture and engage her young audience. The Spanish immersion videos emphasize repetition and make teaching a foreign language easier for parents who may not speak it themselves.
In this global economy, she says, being bilingual is an essential skill for finding a job. For most Europeans, for example, speaking a second, third, or even fourth language is commonplace.
“Of the 25 top industrialized nations, 21 of those introduce a second language to their citizens in kindergarten,” she says. The United States is not one of those.
She also cites the fact that bilingualism is a brain booster. “It improves analytical skills and memory. Really, it has many cognitive benfits.”
Since creating Little Pim, Pimsleur Levine says she has seen a tidal wave of interest in foreign language learning from parents across the country. Her company has continued to grow and now offers materials in 10 languages.
Other business owners are seeing similar success. Just a few weeks ago, the book Bilingual is Better by Roxana Soto and Ana Flores hit the market with a loud bang. Written by two Latina moms who also publish the blog SpanglishBaby.com, the book discusses how attitudes towards bilingual parenting are changing, and provides encouragement to parents ready to begin the journey of raising a bilingual child.
Flores says the response to the book launch has been overwhelming. “We’ve been embraced by the major Hispanic media outlets that have reported about our bilingual parenting movement,” she said.
But more importantly, the community has eagerly responded. “We’ve discovered that pretty much every Latino we’ve talked to about the book has a story to share about either their own bilingual upbringing, the lack of it or how they are, or plan to, raise their children to speak Spanish and embrace their heritage.”
Inspired by their own experiences in raising bilingual children, Flores and Soto started Spanglish Baby to encourage other parents, answer questions, and provide resources to help bilingual families. Their dedication to their cause is deeply personal.
“My personal mission to promote bilingualism is to give my daughter the gift of a real connection with her familia, since most of them live abroad in El Salvador and Mexico, and for her to feel connected to her heritage,” Flores says. And after discovering all the physical and professional benefits bilingualism offers, she feels compelled to share the information with other parents.
“I truly believe that all children must be given the opportunity to learn a second language as early as possible.”
Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.