Raising bilingual children

A new year is a great excuse for new beginnings. It is an opportunity to think deeply on the past while looking forward to the future.  As another year has gone, I have been reviewing my goals in raising bilingual children and remembering once again why teaching Spanish to my kids is so wonderful to me.

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Raising bilingual children is not as easy as I thought it would be. It requires more hard work, creativity, perseverance and patience than I imagined. However, I think the harder my husband and I work in raising bilingual kids, the luckier my family gets. And let me tell you a few reasons why:

  • Teaching a second language requires me to be more conscious with how precious time is. Not only teaching another language as young as possible is better, but the work itself is an invitation for parents to slow down and value more how precious those earlier years truly are.
  • Teaching my children Spanish connects me with my fondest childhood memories and parts of my identity. Sometimes, when I sing the songs that my mother used to sing to me, my memory is filled with those special childhood days that makes me appreciate more the joy of life and those that have been part of it!
  •  Teaching my children Spanish has allowed them to learn more about their Latino heritage. I enjoy immersing my children in the culture through traditions, art, food, travel and the idiosyncrasies. It is true that language and culture go hand in hand.
  • Teaching my children Spanish allows me to create memories. Because my three children are in different ages, I have used diverse teaching techniques for each of them. The individual time that I get to spend with them has provided me with special opportunities to bond with my kids in different and needed ways.

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My seven-year-old can be considered fully bilingual. She can write, read and speak in Spanish. But I still plan to help her more with the speaking part so her fluency can get better and better. These are the main things I will be doing this year to help her with fluency:

  • Continue speaking Spanish to her all the time.
  • Find opportunities for her to volunteer in a cause where she can serve, grow and speak Spanish.
  • Skype abuelita more often during the week.
  • Re-establish communication with her “best friend” that she made in her last visit to Ecuador.

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We are actually in the bilingual rebellion stage with my four-year-old right now. I have lost some battles, but I am positive we will win the war! :These are the specific things I want to do about this cutie:

  • Set more play dates with her dear friend from church that only speaks Spanish. (bahaha)
  • Keep speaking only Spanish to her and do not force her to do it if she doesn’t want to.
  • Ask her to be my special helper in teaching Spanish to her baby brother.

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My toddler is in this beautiful time where he thinks that everything is a game and giggles. My specific plan for him this year is:

  • -Keep speaking, singing, reading in Spanish to him. (And kissing those chubby cheeks!)

 

What are your bilingual goals for this year?

 

“Whatever you do or dream you can do – begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it”. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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10 Latino Themed Christmas Books for Children

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Reading Christmas books to my children by the lights of the tree is one of my favorite things to do during this beautiful season. It is a tender moment that brings us together and build memories. We read the classic Christmas stories such as  “The Polar Express”, “A Christmas Carol”, “The Nutcracker” and so many more. We also enjoy reading Latino-themed Christmas books. These books teach my children more about the Latino culture and take me back to my own childhood in Ecuador. It is wonderful!

Here I share 10 Latino-themed Christmas books that you should read:

 

A Piñata in a Pine Tree: A Latino Twelve Days of Christmas

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“An award-winning author and a rising star artist have put a festive Latino twist on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” populating it with piñatas in place of partridges, plus burritos bailando (dancing donkeys),lunitas cantando (singing moons), and much more, all displayed in the most vivid colors imaginable. In this version a little girl receives gifts from a secret amiga, whose identity is a sweet surprise at the book’s conclusion. There are things to find and count in Spanish on every page, with pronunciations provided right in the pictures and a glossary and music following the story. This joyous fiesta will warm even the coldest of hearts.”–From Publisher.

 

The Santero’s Miracle: A Bilingual Story

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“In this bilingual story of faith, Don Jacobo has a dream that, in the end, is a reminder that miracles do happen. Jacobo is teaching his visiting grandson Andrés how to become a santero. Christmas is coming, snow is falling in the village, and the two are working on a carving of San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers.

The half-finished carving stands in the living room beside the two oxen and the angel that don Jacobo carved earlier in the month. The snow-covered mountains are beautiful, but the road to the village is impassable. Andrés’s parents will not be able to get to the house for the holiday, and Jacobo’s neighbor Leopoldo is desperately ill but cannot get to the hospital.

Then comes Jacobo’s dream; San Isidro is plowing with the two oxen and the angel is helping. “But we don’t plow ’til April,” don Jacobo muses upon awakening. “What does it mean?” The night had been bitterly cold and don Jacobo must bundle up to go to the barn to feed his cows and chickens. As he steps outside, he can hardly believe his eyes. The snow-packed road is clear. Rudolfo Anaya’s story of the power of faith, hope, and love will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.”–From Publisher

The Christmas Gift / El regalo de Navidad

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“With honesty and rare grace, award-winning author Francisco Jiménez shares his most poignant Christmas memory in this remarkable book. Illustrated with paintings full of strength and warmth, written in spare bilingual text, this simple story celebrates the true spirit of Christmas, and illuminates how children do indeed draw strength from the bonds of their families.”–From Amazon

 

La Nochebuena South of the Border

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“A sombrero-wearing Santa is making his rounds through the Mexican desert in James Rice’s latest twist of a holiday tale. The text appears side-by-side in English and Spanish.” — From the Publisher

 

The Night of Las Posadas

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“Tomie dePaola’s glorious paintings are as luminous as the farolitos that light up on the Plaza in Santa Fe for the procession of Las Posadas, the tradition in which Mary and Joseph go from door to door seeking shelter at the inn on Christmas Eve.This year Sister Angie, who is always in charge of the clebration, has to stay home with the flu, and Lupe and Roberto, who are to play Mary and Joseph, get caught in a snowstorm. But a man and a woman no one knows arrive in time to take their place in the procession and then mysteriously disappear at the end before they can be thanked.That night we witness a Christian miracle, for when Sister Angie goes to the cathedral and kneels before the statue of Mary and Joseph, wet footprints from the snow lead up to the statue.” –From Amazon

 

La Noche Buena: A Christmas Story

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“Inspired by his own childhood experiences, a professional storyteller offers a mouthwatering view of a Christmas Eve celebration in Miami’s Little Havana and the preparations leading up to it. Young Nina’s happy to be visiting her abuela for the holiday and meeting her father’s side of the family, but she can’t imagine Christmas without snow and her familiar cousins up north. Three days in the kitchen with the women and carrying big jars of marinade to the men outside where the pig is roasting changes her outlook—as does being sent to pick baskets full of limes, lemons, avocados, and mangoes from nearby trees; joining crowds of relatives and neighbors around tables groaning with food; hugging everyone in church at the midnight Misa del Gallo; then dancing beneath the stars until the sun rises on Christmas Day. Dominguez illustrates it all in creamy acrylics—visually downplaying the pig and also relegating wrapped gifts and decorated trees to a single glimpse in the penultimate scene. A memorable celebration, equally suited to reading alone or aloud, and rich in joyful, intimate family feeling.” –From Booklist

 

The Legend of the Poinsettia

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“In Mexico, the poinsettia is called flor de la Nochebuenao flower of the Holy Night. At Christmastime, the flower blooms and flourishes, the quite exquisite red stars lighting up the countryside. This Mexican legend tells how the poinsettia came to be, through a little girl’s unselfish gift to the Christ Child. Beloved Newbery honor-winning author and Caldecott honor-winning illustrator Tomie dePaola has embraced the legend using his own special feeling for Christmas. His glorious paintings capture not only the brilliant colors of Mexico and its art, but also the excitement of the children preparing for Christmas and the hope of Lucida, who comes to see what makes a gift truly beautiful.” –from Amazon

 

Feliz Nochebuena, Feliz Navidad: Christmas Feasts of the Hispanic Caribbean

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“Delicious recipes, colorful history, and family stories show how Christmas has been celebrated in the Hispanic Caribbean. This collaborative effort by Maricel Presilla and her illustrator father captures the light, feel, and smells of the Christmases they celebrated in their homeland and now recreate in the U.S.” –From Amazon

El mejor regalo del mundo: la leyenda de la Vieja Belén (Bilingual Edition)

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“Renowned Latina author Julia Alvarez recreates the legend of the Dominican folk character La Vieja Belen in this delighful bilingual rhyming story, beautifully illustrated by Dominican artist Ruddy Nuñez. Alvarez’s retelling keeps the magic of the traditional account while contributing a down-to-earth, timely moral: “Of all the gifts you can give, your time is the best.”–From Publisher

 

Arturo and the Navidad Birds

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“It’s time for Arturo and his Central American grandmother, Abue Rosa, to decorate their Christmas tree. Abue Rosa shares with him the family history of each ornament as it is hung. But what happens when Arturo plays with—and breaks—a glass bird? Young readers will find out in this touching, bilingual picture book.”

 

 

¡Viva Quito!

When I was younger I always looked forward to spend my school breaks in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The history, the traditions, the scenery and the people made Quito a special place.

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One of the best weeks  to visit Quito is in early December when the city commemorates its foundation and the main streets are adorned with red and blue flags and banners. The foundation date is on December 6th but celebrations in Quito start nearly 10 days early in the Plaza de Toros where internationally acclaimed “toreros”  bring a traditional show for quiteños.

However, my most favorite Fiestas de Quito celebration is riding la chiva which is an open-sided colorful truck with wooden benches that take people around the main sites of the city with a live band playing traditional music on the top of the chiva. Everyone can sing, dance and shout “¡Viva Quito!” during the two hour ride.  The chiva stops when it arrives to the historical center and people can continue the party in the street since bands are found in almost every neighborhood.

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Fiestas de Quito are a great opportunity to visit its historical sites and touristic attractions.  My favorite places to visit in Quito or near the city are:

Palacio de Candorelet and Plaza de Independencia

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La Ronda

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El Teleférico

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Centro Histórico

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Monumento a la Mitad del Mundo and Museum of Intiñan

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El Panecillo

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Cathedrals and old churches such as Iglesia de la Compañía, Basílica, San Francisco, La Merced, etc)

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Other neat places to visit are: Plaza Foch, Guápulo, Tren Ecuador, Parque Itchímbia, Parque Metropolitano, La Capilla del Hombre, La Casa del Alabado, Casa de la Cultura, Museo de Casa Sucre and other museums. Finally, I highly recommend to take a bike tour in the countryside. The scenary is breathtaking and you may see lots of alpacas, llamas and wild horses. Make sure to stop by at the flower markets, crafts markets and small bakeries!!!

 

Getting a real Christmas tree for first time

The best time of the year can’t officially start without a Christmas tree and my kids know it. They were especially concerned this year because they still remember that fatal January evening when I got rid of our fake Christmas tree of many years. That sucker took so much space from our downstairs closet. I think I was done with the inconvenience and… with fake trees!

“We will have a real tree next Christmas!” I shouted that evening to all the little humans that belong to my kingdom.  So 10 months later, that is exactly what we did; we went shopping for a Christmas tree, a real tree.  In Ecuador, people use beautiful fake trees to decorate their homes so having a “real” Christmas tree in my living room was definitely a new thing. We were excited to to go to a local Christmas tree farm for first time.

After a five minute search, everyone in the family agreed that the hidden tree in a corner of the lot was “the one.” It was tall and bushy, exactly how we dreamed it.

“Do you know how old is this tree?” I asked the friendly man that was helping us.

“It is definitely a 9-10 year old tree.” he said without seeming concerned.

My heart sank.

My memory immediately took me to all those “Save the Amazon forest” campaigns that I heard for many years at school.  I was trying to get in terms with what I was doing when the man interrupted my thoughts saying:”Don’t worry! We plant two more trees for every tree that we cut!” That and seeing all the families around us having a great time looking for their “one” made me feel better!

My girls were excited to decorate the tree with their flashy dollar store ornaments while  the toddler was taking the same ornaments down. Oh Christmas tree! Oh Christmas tree! I think we have a new Christmas tradition!

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Christmas in Ecuador

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Christmas in Ecuador can most easily be described by one word: Warm. Not just the weather in December is one of the warmest of the year, but the Christmas celebrations and traditions bring family and friends closer together and strength faith.

The Christmas season in this predominantly Catholic country is  a mix of religious and family celebrations and start before December with masses, novenas, seasonal activities and Christmas lights and decorations. The pesebre (quite elaborate displays of the traditional scenes of the Nativity) and the Christmas tree may be the most important symbols of the Ecuadorean Christmas and perfectly display the combination of traditional and modern during the season.

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Photo Source

There are many more practices and traditions that make the Christmas season in Ecuador a special one for locals and visitors.

Novena

Novena is a Catholic tradition that helps devotees to prepare for the birth of Christ. Families and friends get together for nine days to pray, read bible verses and sing villancicos around the pesebre. Novena starts on the 15th of December and ends on Christmas Eve.

Amigo secreto 

Amigo secreto is a tradition similar to Secret Santa where people exchange presents. Although there are many ways to do it, the most popular version consists of sending anonymous gifts to a specific person inside the group (that has been previously assigned by a drawing.) The final present exchange takes place on Christmas Eve when the true identity of the secret giver is revealed.

Christmas Parades and processionals

There are several Christmas parades and processionals in the country. “Pase del Nino” is a parade that celebrates the birth of Jesus. The largest one is in Cuenca,  the “Pase del Nino Viajero” parade illustrates scenes of the Nativity story with music, dance, animals and colorful displays. “El nino” is carried in a special float for several city blocks till it reaches the Cathedral de la Inmaculada where it is taken inside for religious services.

Misa de gallo

On Christmas Eve, Catholic families attend the traditional Christmas mass where the birth of Jesus is celebrated. They often bring their ceramic figurines of the Christ child  from their pesebre so the priest can bless them. The traditional time to start Misa de Gallo is at midnight but for safety concerns, the time has moved to early evening hours.

Noche buena

On Christmas Eve, families get together and enjoy the cena de nochebuena (the big family dinner). The exchange of presents are usually at midnight when “El Nino Jesus” or “Papa Noel” (Santa) have brought the gifts. After kids are put to bed, adults stayed up all night dancing and drinking.

Cena de Nochebuena

The 24th of December dinner traditionally includes turkey, ham along with many side dishes. The most popular is arroz navideño (christmas rice) a yellow rice mix with small slices of ham, almonds, raisins, green olives,etc. Other sides consist of relleno de pavo (a mix of meats, fresh and dry fruits, nuts and wine,) ensalada waldorf (a salad made of apples, celery and walnuts, dressed in mayonnaise, ensalada rusa (this salad has potatoes, carrots, apples, celery, onions, peas and dressed in mayonnaise).

Ronpope, an eggnog-like drink is usually served in the Cena de Nochebuena. “Tronco navideño, a chocolate cake is also very popular on this ocassion.  And can’t forget about the delicious pan de pascua or panettone and pristiños.

December 25th

Christmas Day is more a day to relax, sleep in and recover from the festivities of the night before. Some families go to morning mass and others visit local touristic attractions or attend a smaller party. December 25th is more a day to rest and charge energies for the next event coming up: end-of-the-year celebrations.

January 6th.

Many countries in the world celebrate King’s Day on this day, however, this is not a big event in Ecuador. It is only the date where the Christmas season is over and decorations, lights, tree and pesebre need to be put away.

Ñaña and other Quechua words

Quechua is the language of several indigenous ethnic groups in Ecuador and other neighbor countries.  There is a significant amount of words from Quechua in the Spanish language that are widely used in all Latin American and reflect wonderfully our mestizaje. These words have survived more than 500 years since the colonization and most of them are related to animals (llama, vicuñacóndor, puma  etc), agriculture (papa, choclo, chirimolla, etc) and name given to places (Chimborazo, Tungurahua, etc)

There are other Quechua words used in the Ecuadorian Spanish. They are more often heard in the highland/mountain areas of the country like Quito. Some of these words are: cushqui (money), locro (a soup made of potatoes and cheese), guambra (a child), taita (dad), mucha (kiss), guagua (baby) and many more. However, there is one particular Quechua word that I think all Ecuadorians know and use it no matter the area where they live.

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Ñaña which means sister in Quechua is hermana in Spanish. I think some of us in Ecuador feel that the Quechua word ñaña expresses better the deep affection and bonding that true sisterhood brings than its equivalent word in Spanish, hermana. 

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And for those that have brothers, do not fret. We Ecuadorians got you covered! There is also the masculine version for ñaña.  We just changed the last vowel to an O and tadaa: ñaño.  So, if an Ecuadorian ever calls you: ñaña (if you are female) or ñaño (if you are a male), feel free to do a flip because you have been considered a true friend. Chances are that they will invite you to eat un arroz con menestra or locro. Yum!

18 Popular Latino Christmas Songs

During this time of the year in Latin America, Christmas songs or “villancicos” are sung by children in the schools and heard on the radio, television and sometimes even in the streets. I love listening to the Christmas music I grew up with. They bring so many memories of my childhood in Ecuador and stir strong emotions that can transport me back in time. 

Hope you enjoy 18 popular villancicos of Latin America!

1. Noche de paz

2. Hoy es Navidad

3. Mi burrito sabanero

4. Los peces en el río

5. Campanas de Belén

6. Ya viene el niñito

7. Claveles y rosas

8. Dulce Jesus mío

9. Entre paja y el heno

10. Ven a cantar que ya llegó la Navidad

11. Canción para la Navidad

12. Feliz Navidad

13. Canción de Navidad

14. Óyelo, escúchalo

15. Rodolfo el reno

16. El Niño del tambor/ Tamborilero

17. Navidad feliz  (Jingle Bells)

18. Santa Claus llegó a la ciudad