Texting Hebrew and the Bilingual Child

I confess, I text my 7 and 10 year olds in Hebrew at bedtime. It began as a game, but when I got texts in return in Hebrew, I realized I was onto something. My kids study Hebrew and Spanish, but mostly because I want them to; not because they’ve asked to.  They take classes 2-4 hours each week, but I’m always looking for fun ways to reinforce Spanish and Hebrew in their daily lives so they want to keep learning too.

As parents, we want our children to be competitive in this global, multi-lingual world, and we know that knowledge of multiple languages can be an asset personally and professionally.  The ability to communicate not only in foreign countries but also with those who speak the language here is a gift that opens the door to more people and experiences.  There are developmental and cognitive advantages to bilingualism too. Research studies show bilingual children are better at switching tasks. In addition, it’s found that bilingualism may help with shielding against dementia. For those of us who tried to learn a second language, but didn’t succeed, what went wrong for us? And how do we fix this for our children?

Good sense tells us that one hour of instruction weekly is not enough. Multiple hours of instruction, activities, social hours and cultural experiences are important too.  Parent behavior matters too. When we try, if not, use, the target language, our kids see speaking the language as relevant for “us” and not just for them. Attending regular activities in an ethnic center where the language is in use can make the difference between proficient and “not proficient” speakers; even children of expats where the language may be spoken at home.

So, how do you fill your lives with these hours of instruction, social hours and cultural experiences?  It’s easy!

There are ample opportunities in your communities for parents who want to develop a bilingual child.  Public libraries offer Foreign Language Story Times and there are Foreign Language playgroups listed as Meet Ups.  Many preschools offer immersion programs with songs, art, dance and games are great while kids are young and able to hear the distinctions in sounds and pronunciation. Grade school kids have private school options, but there are also dual-language public charter schools nation-wide and you may even have a Hebrew Language Charter School near you.

We took the logistics and mix of programs needed to develop proficiency to heart in the Tarbuton, Israeli Cultural Center where we offer language instruction at our Center and on some public school campuses with both weekday and week-end hours. Kishkushim, our Hebrew speaking playgroup, free Hebrew story times, Jewish holiday celebrations, and dance and singing performing groups all encourage younger sibling and parent participation in Israeli cultural activities. Parents study Hebrew in our Ulpan and practice their Hebrew with friends at Café v’Ivrit. Or if they are fluent Hebrew speakers in our Israeli Book club or other social groups.

If you are interested in how we created our Center and would like to hear more, contact us at info@tarbuton.org.  We’d be happy to share what we can with you so you can create a bit of Israel in your neck of the woods as well.

Jennie Starr, an avid “texter” and runner, is the Founder and Director of the Tarbuton Israeli Cultural Center in San Diego. She advocates for Kavod Elementary, a Hebrew Language Charter School, introduced Hebrew classes in Del Mar and Solana Beach public schools and serves on the Del Mar Public School District DELAC Board, planning for English language support (ESL), and encouraging families to maintain their Heritage language skills too.  Jennie has coached 8-15 yr olds in Girls on the Run and enjoys running Marathons and Half Marathons as time permits. She lives in Del Mar, CA with her husband and two children.

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