About La Mother Tongue

La Mother Tongue is my medium to share the joys and challenges of being a new parent as well as to share how we make a conscious effort in our daily life to bring baby up bilingual.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Power of Language

Sofía, a very, very good baby, has been vocal from birth. At only two days old, she was kicked out of the nursery for being a big mouth. That will make for great dinner conversation with her friends in years to come! Since I’m a language nerd, it is no surprise that the entire world of baby language fascinates me. If you are at all interested in a more detailed account of how babies can hear in the womb and how bilingual babies differentiate between their two languages in the womb, check out this article posted on Bilingual Readers, called Prenatal Bilingualism. Before Sofía was banned from the nursery, my husband went there to pick her up (they were conducting tests of some sort) and bring her to our luxury suite. My husband walked into the nursery and said something to one of the nurses. As soon as Sofía heard his voice, she stopped crying. The nurse said they had tried everything make her stop crying and were just about to bring her to us. Ah, the power of prenatal parental bonding!

Here is the next video to document Sofía language progression. (It also shows her being a payasa, a clown. She pretends she is going to give me some of her food and then she takes it and eats it herself! It is one of her favorite gigs!) The video documents her oral comprehension of what her father tells her to do (Give the food to Mami.), as well as her oral production. She is saying “gato”.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Gato See, Gato Do!

Constantly, I am looking for ways that I can enhance Sofía’s play time. She has solo play which is usually while I am showering and getting dressed and then we together play. Sometimes play is structured towards a specific task or milestone and sometimes it is just for good ole fun. I got the idea of creating some kind of tent for Sofía to play with so that she could develop her sense of depth-perception, problem solving, and learn the concepts of “in and out”. So I got an idea to cut holes in a large moving-box, a caja, and then I realized that I had a caja that one of her toys for Christmas came in. It has been great idea. We store all her balls inside it. She has learned to reach inside and get them out. Sometimes she can’t reach all of them, so she has to figure out how to do that (reach further, ask for help, move to the other side or move the caja). She also uses the caja to pull herself up on and uses the top as a table. Recently, she has started using the entire caja as a “walker”. I think it works well for her because the surface area is large so it makes taking those wobbly steps easier. Her latest gig is climbing inside the caja which is hilarious. As you can see from the fotos, ALL the family gets uses out of the caja! I included a pic from the actual toy which is called “Parents’ Busy School Activity Cube”. Hope this inspires someone to make or share info about their own toys!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Runway Baby!

If we were in earlier times of arranged marriages or perhaps a different culture, I would have had Sofía’s husband picked out for her before she was born. My best friend had a son exactly one month before Sofía was born. This was all a coincidence of course, but non-the-less convenient for me! When we were pregnant, I had someone to warn me what was about to come and someone who understood that some days I just couldn’t take one more step without eating a piece of mint, chocolate chip cake! So, Sofía and Domenico are best friends (according to me) even though they live several states apart. Do you like the lovely hat, mittens, and booties (that go all the way up to the knee!) that my Runway Baby is sporting in the picture? Well, if you do, there are many other goodies that Domenico’s mom has for sale. Some baby items, some not, but you take a peek at her Etsy site: http://www.amyben2.etsy.com/.  If you don’t see what you want, let Amy know and she can create it for you!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lights, Cámara, Babble!

The linguistic side of how infants learn to speak is fascinating to me. I wanted to write about the order of introductions of the sounds they produce, but my pregnancy brain still has a hold of my academic brain and I couldn’t remember. Just as I was in the middle of researching how it all transpires, I came across Tamara’s blog http://www.nonnativebilingualism.blogspot.com/ and she addresses the sounds beautifully. So, it makes more sense to refer you to her posting, coincidently, on today, February 24, 2010.

A conversation about language development with the illustrious Dr. Kata Murphy-Judy made me realize what I needed to do—(I realized it because she TOLD me to do it). How cool, not to mention, linguistically fascinating to have a video record of Sofía’s language progression. Right now it will just be documenting her initial vowel and consonant sounds and words en Español, but eventually, when she learns some English, I will have an account of her bilingual progression as well. Very, very, very sharp, Dr. Kata! As I was going back through videos I have taken of Sofía, they are mostly of what she is physically able to do, like move her legs, clasp her hands together, crawl….and not so much of her sounds. I was able to find one video of when Sofía was two months old. She is actually interacting with the sun from her baby gym which I used to refer to as her “crack” because she loved it so much! I will post other videos as I get them. Now I’m running around the house trying to video tape her saying the words she knows how to say, like “gato” or “Nacho”. So, if you have not started recording your baby’s bilingual progression—don’t dawdle…. Every day they learn to say something new and better!!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Raising a Bilingual

Solo en Inglés
Before I met my husband, I used to train language teachers how to teach a foreign language. The majority of the audiences were teachers in various countries of Latin America, so they were teaching English. I cannot stress ENOUGH how important I think speaking in the target language is. And all the time. I really don’t believe that a teacher needs to go out of the target language unless it has something to do with safety or something along those lines of importance. Since this is not a blog about teaching methods, I’m not going to go in-depth to explain how your physical actions help a third grader put meaning to what you are saying in the foreign language. Anyway, the teachers would frequently complain that they couldn’t only speak in the target language (English) because the students didn’t understand English. My response to them was always the same, “Students aren’t going to learn English by speaking to them in Spanish.”

Research has shown us that there are certain truths about learning a language that are standard across the board. Exposure to a language is much better the younger one is. The brain is able to absorb sounds and make more and better connections in the area of language at a younger age. We know that babies and children are not confused by hearing various languages and nor do they have delayed speech as once thought to be true. What one does need is a language rich environment. What does this mean? Children/babies need to hear language constantly. They need to hear speech, song, rhymes, babble, chatter, and be read to. Constantly. They need meaningful interaction (We can’t just sit them in front of a French video all day long and think they will learn French.) Baby talk or toddler talk isn’t necessarily limited to only simple vocabulary, intonation, and construction. Although important and essential, babies also need exposure to natural, regular conversation and vocabulary.

All day long, I am narrating my actions and interacting with my daughter. We converse, listen to songs in Spanish, we watch animated children’s songs in Spanish, and I read to her in Spanish. I’m not perfect. It’s hard sometimes, because sometimes I’m tired and I want to zone out or eat in silence, but I know that I can’t because every moment is important. We chose to only speak to Sofía in Spanish. I consider myself very lucky that the Man of My Dreams happens to also speak Spanish and shares my passion for the importance of bilingualism. For me this means more Spanish input for Sofía’s little sponge. If the Man of My Dreams didn’t speak Spanish, I still would anyway. Sofía would be receiving less Spanish input, but still a substantial amount of input that would still allow her to be a proficient bilingual. We all must know examples of people where this is true. I have a friend whose children grew up bilingual in Mexico. Her daughter went to Stanford and then Harvard. I’d say her English was extremely proficient with only one parent speaking English to her.

The Majority Language
We don’t worry about the Sofía’s English either, because once she starts socializing with friends and enters pre-school, there will be meaningful input and usefulness and need for her to learn it. Español is definitely the minority language in our community (even though there are family and a substantial Spanish-speaking community), so basically once she steps foot outside of our house, her world will be in English, which means we really want to stress the Español.

Mi Pasión
As the previous paragraphs prove, I have quite a bit to say about raising a child bilingually and how I think is the most effective way to do it - probably not only because I have dedicated so much of my life to studying, teaching, and researching it, but because I have lived it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Circus is in Town!

We gave Sofía a new toy for her birthday. It’s a circus tren! It is supposed to help her learn how to coordinate her legs to scoot around and the back can be used as a walker. She LOVES to push the buttons and dance to the circus music. She’s not so big on scooting yet though! The tren is coincidently another Fisher Price item. I swear we should buy stock in Fisher Price and Proctor & Gamble (the makers of Pampers Diapers)!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fisher Price Little People

Does anyone recognize these faces?
They are the Fisher Price people from my childhood. I used to have the school house and my cousin had the farm. Well, Fisher Price has modernized them and calls them “Little People”. We bought the small version of the farm for Sofia. We thought it was time for her to have little doll-type characters to play with and it’s something simple without lights or sounds. What I really like about it is that it came with a free Fisher Price Little People DVD. The DVD, “Discovering Animals”, has five different animated stories starring the Little People characters. The DVD can be seen in English, Español, or French! The audio uses native speakers and is well-written. So, although we don’t allow Sofía to really watch La Caja Mágica, (the Magic Box) as we call it, the DVD will be nice to use for extension activities with her playtime. Since the DVD is about animals, we can watch it and talk about it after reading a book about animals or playing with the farm. When our friend Kata comes to visit we can also put in the DVD in French so that Sofía can watch the French version with a French speaker. We like to expose her to various language sounds while she still possesses the ability to differentiate between all the sounds. The whole toy set with the DVD cost less than $20. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Baby Signing Times

¡Brillante! If you have a baby or toddler or know someone who has a baby or toddler, you should run, and I mean RUN, not walk, RUN, to purchase the Baby Signing Times DVDs. Their website is http://www.signingtime.com/ , but you can also buy them from Amazon.com. If you have ever been to a foreign country, you understand how FRUSTRATING it is to not be able to express yourself and everyone around you stares and acts like you are from Mars. I can only imagine that babies have that same feeling as they mature. Sofia understands many things when I talk to her, but she can’t verbally tell me that she wants grapes and not bananas. Well, using sign language she can!
Really, my husband is the one who started using the signs from the DVD. And between us reinforcing the signs and watching the video (like maybe only once a week) she learned the signs for various things. It is amazing how Sofía learns them in English and uses them when I speak to her in Spanish. So she knows them either language. Isn’t the brain amazing! She was just nine months old when she started to use the signs, so that means she understood them much earlier. In the line of language acquisition, oral comprehension happens first and actual production, or speaking, follows later. So Sofía knows how to sign the following: finished, more, eat, milk, agua, hat, shoes, banana and today she used “grapes” for the first time! It’s incredible! There are words that I sign with Sofía that aren’t on the videos, so I look them up on the ASL website, http://www.lifeprint.com/ .

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Year in Review

Here is snapshot view of Sofía’s first year!

Sofía was born three weeks early! It was the best surreal drama ever, complete with Mami’s water breaking in the middle of the night, denial, and not being packed for the hospital. She was born at 12:06 PM. But drama didn’t stop there….She had jaundice and a broken clavicle, but was perfecta!

Nacho sleeps with Sofía.

Sofía concentrates on working her abs!

Going for a ride outside with Mami.

Sofía visits her first Washington monument.

Sofía celebrated her gatos’ birthday!

Sofía learns to stand in her excersaucer!

Sofía’s bautismo

Sofía first time at the piscina!

Sofía laughs at Mami.

We celebrated Papi’s birthday at the playa!

Sofía learned to sit by herself!

First time sitting by herself in a shopping cart!

Sofía crawls everywhere!

Tigger visited amigos at Halloween!

Santa was a big hit with Sofía.

Sofía opened a few regalos at her First Cumpleaños!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

October 17, 2009

On October 17, 2009, My Gatita got her first tooth! And a few days later she crawled for the first time!!! She was brave, she was relatively drooless, and kept her crankiness to a minimal during such a trying time in her life! Yea Sofia! (Currently she is cutting four upper teeth and she is handling the pain pretty well!) If you find yourself with a cranky teething infant, I strongly recommend Highland’s Homeopathic Teething tablets available at any grocery, drug, or baby store! My friend swears they are like magic!

Baby Babble

The first time Sofía spoke her first word in context, we weren’t sure if we were hearing what we thought we were hearing. It was almost like we took a double take, “Did she say what I think she said?” But yes, she did! Sofía’s first word was “Nacho” and her second was “Gato”! She also says a few other words: her linguistic approxamation of “papi” (which is very, very similar to “Gato”), mama, stinky, and night-night. She has also just started to repeat some animal sounds when you say them to her. She loves the monkey, gato (of course), and cow sounds. For her birthday her Godparents, her padrinos, gave her these awesome books with pictures of animals and the sounds the animals make. We really like them because we read them in both en Español and English. Not all animal sounds are the same in both languages, so I like that I can introduce that feature early. For example, in English, a rooster says, “Cock-a-doodle-do”, but en Español , it says, “kikiriki”.

Las Canciones

Exposing any language learner to authentic material, whether it is books, songs-canciones, or videos, is essential to language learning. I personally didn’t know any nursery rhymes in either language so I was kind of stuck!!! I started making up my own canciones in Spanish. Actually much of my dialogue to Sofía is sung during the day because she loves the movement, the sounds, the dancing and motion that go along with my canciones. The best part of my crazy made-up canciones is that my husband learned my silly verse and sings them to her also! However, my research did lead me to handful of authentic nursery rhymes en Español. I found them on YouTube and downloaded them to my computer and then burned them to a disk. They are awesome because they are canciones that my husband grew up singing and are now animated. By default I have learned the lyrics and Sofía LOVES them. When we ask her if she wants to hear her canciones, she becomes very excited and claps her hands. She boogies a bit to the music, claps and is fixated on the video clips. Click HERE to see what we use at our house.
If your language is something other than Español, I’m sure you can just do a search by song name and find them. There is a special tool that I downloaded to my computer and it allows me to download and convert the YouTube videos so that I can save them to my computer. It is actually called Youtube Downloader and it is free. Click HERE to see the free program.


I wish I would have started this blog much earlier in Sofía’s life. I think the early months are so harry and you have so many questions and sometimes are too tired to do the research. I know I spent much time cruising the internet looking for answers to my seemingly rare “problems”. For example, no one told me that there is a Five-Month regression where some babies go from sleeping through the “night” to waking up every 2 hours. I also didn’t know that Carter’s clothing made various lines of clothes and that the generally run small and moderately shrink. I also didn’t know that Costco sells awesome Carter’s footed fleece pajamas for the cheapest price in town and that I should stock up for the next 3 sizes because by the time I needed the next size, they would be out of season! I also found that jumpsuits are the most awesome invention ever. Once Sofia outgrew the sizes available in the footed Sleep and Plays (Gerbers were my favorite!) I found I could move to jumpsuits which are the one piece outfits without the feet. I love them because they have easy access for diaper changes. In fact, I hate two pieces because my Gatita is a squirmer thus causing two pieces to be a royal pain.

La Gatita

We have always felt that our gatos think they are our babies. Nacho sleeps in our bed under the blanket with his head on a pillow. They both sit on the chairs during dinner. We are gato pushovers. So it is no wonder that on our way home from the hospital after Sofía was born, that my husband said that she looks like a little gatita. And that was it, her new nickname was born. Since then, over the past year, we have noticed many similarities between La Gatita and the gatos. They like to play with the same toys (remote controls, cell phones, balls, a piece of paper or a paper clip) and eat the same foods (chicken, beef, and peas). Heck…she even likes to feed them! Take a peek!


Sofía is now a year old and I can’t believe it! My little Gatita has grown so much and has learned to do so much so quickly! I wish I could learn things at the rate that she does! She is a happy baby who laughs and loves to play with her gatos, Nacho and Fulanito. Sofía is goofy and curious and at times very determined. She suffers from mamitis which means that she wants to be around me siempre-always. This means that when she takes a nap, she wants to nap in my lap or on my shoulder. I’ve let it go on for a year because I tried everything else unsuccessfully and as I threw in the towel, decided that there will come a time when she isn’t going to want to be with me and I am going to want her to be, so I better get it all while I can now. Sofía’s mamitis also means that she went through a phase where she was leery about people she didn’t know and would scowl at them. Now that she has learned to wave, she waves at everyone coming and going.

Our Crashed Torre de Babel

My husband and I feel that it is imperative that Sofía grow up bilingual. We have made a conscious effort to surround her with a language-rich environment en Español , because once she becomes social and goes to school, English will more than likely be the dominant language. We only speak en Español at home unless we have company that doesn’t speak Spanish. We’re not perfect, but we are pretty good at not filling her oral environment with Splanglish. I do have a few words I use in English because I feel that every now and then you come across words that just feel better in one language or the other. But they are few and far between.

What Do You Do All Day?

This must be the number one question people ask me when they find out that I stopped working in public and private education to work at home raising my gata. I’m an educator. I have a plethora of activities, both educational and non-educational to fill Sofía’s day. When I run dry on ideas or reach an area I’m weak in, I research. As an educator, we not only study our subject area, but how to best TEACH that subject, educational psychology, and human behavior. We need to know how our students’ brains work so that we can tailor our teaching to help him or her learn. No, not everyone can teach, but everyone can learn.
Much of our day is spent eating, preparing and cleaning up after meals, and sleeping. By nature Sofía has gotten into a routine that repeats itself all day long. She wakes up, eats, plays, and sleeps. Every day I try to give her physical activities that will help her develop age-appropriate fine and gross motor skills, read books, and provide her with a language rich environment. (Which means I am narrating what I am doing and talking to her constantly.) I also subscribe to two websites that kind of give me a heads-up on developmental goals as they approach. http://www.babycenter.com/ and http://www.whattoexpcect.com/ . It sounds like it the day is easy, but it is not. I suppose if I were not to interact with her constantly and put her in front of the television, then it would be easier, but I do not. As my husband says, “It is exhausting!”