How Two English Speaking Parents Raised Their Daughter to Speak Fluent Spanish

 

If you have ever said to yourself, I can't teach my kids a language that I don't speak at all... Today's conversation is going to squash that excuse permanently. 

Today I want to introduce you to Kaila Diaz from Bilinguitos.

Her story is an inspiring one - mainly because her mother knew the value of a second language so much that at a time when it wasn't popular to teach kids multiple languages, she laid a foundation for Kaila to learn the basics of Spanish through leaning on multiple resources when she was little. 

It seems that investment absolutely paid off as these days Kaila is not only fluent in the language, but she is also a linguist and language educator who studied early childhood education in her early years of undergrad. 

She eventually chose to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in English and Linguistics with a concentration in Language Education. In 2018, she graduated summa cum laude from George Mason University with a Master’s Degree in Linguistics with a concentration in Language Acquisition and Childhood Bilingualism.

Impressive right? Today's conversation, we are talking about the foundations that Kailas parents laid for her and how they got started, and I couldn't help but also get some insight into the studies around the best ways to engage a child in your target language through her 'early childhood linguistic perspective'. 

You're going to leave more inspired than ever before to start taking some baby steps forward NOW!

To keep up with all that Kaila is doing you can find her on her Bilinguitos Website, Instagram and of course her Bilingual Parenting Podcast and the Bilingual Parenting Network facebook community.



You can find the full transcript of our interview included below. 

Shannon Kelly: The Cultured Kid:

Okay today, I'm super excited to introduce you to introduce to you Kayla Rumford Diaz and Kayla runs Bilinguitos. She is an amazing mom. She's an educator, she's a linguist. She studied early childhood education. She has an incredible background academically, but also experientially raising a bilingual child. And actually just love to introduce you to her. Hello. I would love you to actually say hello to our community and just share a little bit of your journey if you wouldn't mind.

Kaila Diaz: Bilinguitos:

Sure. Of course. Well, hello to The Cultured Kid Community. I'm really excited for this chat just with what Shannon was talking about with kind of the community in general, and everyone's motivations for learning a second language or teaching a second language to their kids. And I'm excited to share my story as it relates to how I learned a second language and grew up bilingual.

And then of course my background is in linguistics. So I studied what's really linguistics, but concentrated in childhood bilingualism and family bilingualism. So really in this whole realm, but to give you guys a background of who I am and why I care about, you know, childhood bilingualism, not just second language learning in adulthood, but specifically childhood is because I was raised bilingually from 10 months old for the rest of my life until today, I'm still still in the process of learning.

And it was from two parents, neither of which are native Spanish speakers. So my, second language was Spanish. I grew up in an English speaking home. So neither one of my parents speak Spanish fluently and obviously not natively. And still they raised a bilingual child now.

Shannon Kelly: The Cultured Kid:

That's wild because for the most part, the conversations I have with parents, they go, there's no way I could teach my kid a language. I don't speak fluently myself. And so for the most part, we hear all of these benefits that languages are so good for a child's brain. Like they, there is nothing about a foreign language that holds child back. And so most parents don't get started purely because they didn't feel confident. It has nothing to do with the child in and of itself. So how did your parents do that?

Kaila Diaz: Bilinguitos:

Yes. See, this is why I'm excited to share because I think your community will be like, whoa, wait, it is possible. It's more possible than I thought. So it started with my mom who we had a neighbor, we lived, we, I grew up outside of DC, Washington DC. And we had a neighbor family who was raising her kids bilingual. And this is back in the early nineties, dating myself right here. But it wasn't quite, as, you know, bilingualism existed, it's always existed, but it was a thing for families who needed bilingualism, where it was just part of the family culture, heritage, stuff like that. But the whole idea of like childhood bilingualism as an elective thing, wasn't really fully on trend yet. Right. And so my mom was kind of like, wait, so you're raising them. Bilingual had all the questions that everyone typically does. Like, is that confusing? How are they gonna learn English? She had all the questions, but she was also very open to learning and very intrigued. She had studied Spanish in high school and college and loved it, but never reached fluency. So as she's hearing this idea of, wow, you can raise kids bilingual from day one, she started getting really intrigued. And so she decided I'm gonna do that. I want Kayla to speak Spanish because she would say I never got to be fluent her. So she was gonna like make sure that I had the opportunity to.

So it started with, I did go to immersion daycare. That was my start at 10 months old. We she found a home daycare for me, close to her work. That was a Peruvian family. So the caretaker all spoke Spanish to us, the babies, yeah. And that was honestly, I think this will be encouraging as well. That was honestly only a year from 10 months to right before I turned two. I only had a one year of immersion.

Shannon Kelly: The Cultured Kid:

It's easy to go. Oh, well you had an immersion, you had somebody who was a fluent speaker, native speaker teaching all the correct pronunciation. And they could, they could create that exposure all day, every day. Right. What happened?

Kaila Diaz: Bilinguitos:

So I, from two years old, until eight years old, there was no immersion going on. So I had that one year in daycare. Yes. Which did, you know, kind of lay a foundation. But I think it really just kind of gave my mom that inspiration, like, okay, she's, she's gonna learn Spanish. We've already started this. So then between two and eight, it was very kind of like here and there.

Shannon Kelly: The Cultured Kid:

When you mean here and there, as in, did she read a couple of books? Like how did she create the language exposure?

Kaila Diaz: Bilinguitos:

Very, very minimal. So it really picked back up at eight years old. Which if she had like continued it from two, between those years of two and eight, it would've been even better. But there was also a gap which is also encouraging to parents who were like, well, you know, my child was in a Spanish immersion daycare preschool at three, but then we moved and he hasn't had any Spanish immersion since then. It's been three years. Are we too late? Gaps are not like the end of the world.

So I had a large gap then started again at around seven or eight doing weekly Spanish classes, weekly Spanish classes. But really that's just an hour a week. It's very minimal. But what was happening at home is my mom was taking out books from the library. She was you know, finding really elementary video programs.

Kaila Diaz: Bilinguitos:

There wasn't much back then. So it was pretty rudimentary. And she was learning alongside, it was my sister and I at this point. So she was learning alongside of us, which was very encouraging and I could feel her, I remember her being excited about it. And so for me it was like, yeah, Spanish is fun. Just her attitude came through. So it was really just, that was a weekly Spanish class and then books from the library, some video programs and her in there with us learning new vocabulary and, and practicing. And so that was until high school when I did high school Spanish. But that was my, that was my like foundation of Spanish as a child classes were at a community center with a, a Spanish teacher. So yes. So that was starting at eight.

Shannon Kelly: The Cultured Kid:

So talk to me, because you mentioned before if your Mom had done something between the ages of two and eight because what I would, what I would love to hear from your academic, you know, studied perspective is that the first five years or like we always talk about early childhood studies, the idea that those first five years are so crucial with what goes on in a child's brain, the absorption, everything that they're actually engaged with. I'd love you to expand on why that window of opportunity starts to close at a certain age and why it's so important to be able to take advantage of those early years.

Kaila Diaz: Bilinguitos:

But it is, it is a crucial time. If you think about it, a child is learning their first language very much in those early years, they are processing language input and cataloging and making sense of these strings of sounds they're hearing. And they're just doing a lot of language catalog cataloging at that age. And so they're kind of just primed for it. And so people might say, oh well they're focusing on their first language. They're cataloging so much language data, wouldn't it just be, you know, confusing or it would overload them to add in a second language during that time. That's so crucial for their first language. But actually what we know from research is that it's not confusing for a child to hear multiple languages in their world around them. Even from day one, they can hear both languages or starting you know, let's say at three, in any case it's not confusing. They're just gonna be processing more language data, but kids' brains are able to sort it out and figure out who in their world speaks, what, which language is which, and so capitalizing on that time where the brain is in that mode is very helpful.

Beyond that from a practicality standpoint, as parents with let's say toddler and preschool year or preschool age kids, we are also in a stage where we're very focused on Ling language, rich activities, play-based activities where we're getting on the floor and we're playing with them. As they get into the older years, their interests kind of change. And you know, maybe they're doing more independent play and such, which isn't to say, you can't bring language into those activities, but it's such an, it's such a good opportunity in those young years to capitalize on the kinds of things that are interested interesting to them and the activities we're already kind of thinking about like narrating stuff to our kids or just talking to them about the world around them. Yeah. And their first language. Why not also do it in a second language with the right tools to help you do it.

Shannon Kelly: The Cultured Kid:

Like I always say to our community, you don't have to be the expert, but your role as a parent is to create that level of exposure for your child. Can you speak to even just the importance of the role a parent plays when it comes to helping their kids learn a language?

Kaila Diaz: Bilinguitos:

Yes absolutely. Well, like I mentioned in my story, part of what happens is kids feel our excitement. So our kids, if we're excited about it, they're gonna be like, oh, like what's the big deal? Why is mom so excited about this language? I'm intrigued, I'm engaged. I want to learn more. Whereas if it feels like a chore for the parent or it feels like a school subject, maybe we have some kind of, a little bit of emotional baggage with a language because we just associate it with high school textbook Spanish or something. Yeah. Then that'll convey as well. So as much as we can, as parents bringing fun into it, bringing excitement, like you said, dance parties with songs, it does not have to be, it does not have to be where it's like this strict sit down and learn this stuff. It could be so much fun and that is gonna really convey to our kids a little bit of what I do with Bilinguitos is what we call family language plan.

Kaila Diaz: Bilinguitos:

Which is where you kind of examine what's your context. Are there any native speakers? Are there not? And so you kind of start taking inventory of where the language will come from. So in the case of there are no caregivers that are, are native speakers to the language. So this is where you can commit to at least laying a foundation in the, in the language. Maybe you're not, you know, if you're, I'm thinking about a parent, who's also learning alongside their child, they're not gonna be able to commit to, okay, three days out of the week, I'm only gonna speak to you in Spanish and like that's just not attainable.

What you're committing to is bringing that target language. I'll just use Spanish as the example, but bringing that target language into your home as much as you can, but also not beating yourself up about it if you're not doing it like a hundred percent of the time, obviously that's not gonna happen.

So it would look like books, programs like The Cultured Kid bringing different resources into it and, and just committing to laying a foundation, giving your child more foundation in Spanish than let's say, 'Joe', next door has, you're giving them at least something to go off of and build off later.

If you think about my experience, mine was much, very much just with my mom laying a base, laying a foundation, a good amount. I mean more than let's say my neighbor, 'Joe', it's kidding. I don't have a neighbor named 'Joe', but more than the average person let's say so I was getting a base. I was getting a base, but I wasn't fluent until early adulthood and that's okay.

Kaila Diaz: Bilinguitos

That was what was attainable and sustainable for my mom as a non fluent Spanish speaker learning alongside us and able to bring in Spanish to the home as much as she was able to, we traveled when we were able to. Yep. And it ended up leading to me being like, oh, I love bilingualism. Oh, I love that. I have this foundation. Let me take this and run with it because she laid that base.

Shannon Kelly: The Cultured Kid:

We think as well, you know, the idea that we are going to, we're gonna teach our kids a language. Great. And we think, okay, it's all on us to make sure that our kids go from like their first word right through to fluency. I just think like if we take that pressure off us to go as moms and dads to actually go our job isn't to do everything, our job is to just lay, even at these early years age to lay a foundation of fun, to even just the excitement levels that you talked about, that your mom would come in and be like, yay, we're doing Spanish.

Shannon Kelly: The Cultured Kid:

Like you caught something there. And because you caught something there you chose to keep going, as you grew up. And we've got a huge huge community who are teaching their kids Spanish. So I know that even just your reels and your stories on Instagram, definitely go and follow. Let us know where we can find you.

Kaila Diaz: Bilinguitos:

Yeah. So my handle on Instagram is Bilinguitos I won't spell it. It's it'll be linked. My website's the same bilinguitos.com. Twitter is Bilinguitos, but the best place to connect with definitely be Instagram. I have a lot of reals about raising bilingual kids and it's all very much based in linguistics and in research on childhood bilingualism. So lots of ree ls, lots of, kind of community engaging in the stories. And there's also a Facebook group, the bilingual parenting network and a podcast, the bilingual parenting podcast.

Shannon Kelly: The Cultured Kid:

What don't you do? Let's be real. I'm gonna link everything below so everybody can just go, oh, she actually does this, this, this, this tons of resources. Thank you, because I feel like little bit by little bit, we're actually gonna start to change the perspective of parents and help them see that this is something that they can do from the, the foundational levels as their children are born. And that, as your mom has proven, it's very feasible to do with no background in the language. So thank you for your time. I really appreciate it. And go and check her out everybody.

Kaila Diaz: Bilinguitos:

Thank you. Thanks for having me!

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