Shortly after getting home from our visit to Mexico over the holidays, Angelica and I went back to her beloved storytime at the local library. It occurred to me to ask if they might have any interest in starting a Spanish storytime--since to my disappointment, I could only find two places in the whole city that offered children's storytime in other languages. Even though they have been unequivocally positive in their response on the matter, it seems like it's already taking too long to get it off the ground. This past week, I brought up the subject again to the woman in charge of the children's programs at the library, and she got visibly excited. "Oh, it's you? Yes, I think it's a great idea! In fact, I was a Spanish minor in college." So then I asked her why no one had started something similar already and she said: "out of fear".
Out of fear? Fear of what? Turns out that I think she meant fear of not speaking the language well, since she went on to tell me how she wishes she could remember enough Spanish to do it herself. I didn't follow up on the subject, though, as she was already on to telling me about her brother who married a girl from Chile....telling her story. So I let her continue, and of course told her some of mine.
Every time we go to Mexico I buy books in Spanish for Angelica. I also go scavenger-hunting at the bookstores when we're home for the "good ones". Most of them are translated from familiar stories like Buenas noches, luna (Goodnight Moon) and I especially love stumbling upon a Dr. Suess story. Who couldn't love a title such as Huevos verdes con jamón (Green Eggs and Ham) or Hay un molillo en mi bolsillo (There's a Wocket in my Pocket) I mean, did you know that "wocket" in Spanish is a molillo? I sure didn't. What's a wocket anyway? Or a molillo? I don't know, but it's fun stuff. Both the English and Spanish books rhyme but with different sounds and rhythms. Cool, right?! Until the day I found the "treasure" of The Cat in the Hat as a bilingual book. I was sooo excited until (after I had bought it and brought it home), I realized that it didn't even rhyme in Spanish. What was the point of translating it, then? Since then, I've always been more than a little wary of "bilingual" books...
Playing scavenger hunt at the bookstore to find the "good ones" has always been a treat for me, ever since I was a child and our annual family travels always dictated a detour toward a bookstore excursion. My brother and I would always get to pick out a brand-new book of our choice, and it was a delight to me. Books were by far my favorite gifts, which were also tokens of love, from Mom and Dad. I remember being disappointed one year when my grandma wanted to buy me new clothes and my heart sank, since I would have prefered a book any day to a new sweater.
It's obvious to me that I'm trying to transfer this childhood joy to my daughter. Not only that, but also to share with her stories in Spanish, too, or in another language, like German--even though I don't speak it myself--since I recently had the opportunity to go to a German storytime with her. What a delight it is for small children to naturally acquire new words in another language through hearing stories and singing songs. It's so natural, I see it more and more every day as Angelica loves to repeat phrases from her current favorite books. Hearing a story in Spanish or French or German is completely uncomplicated and natural to her. I know I've said it before, but it's we adults that make learning a language complicated. But children have the natural capacity to soak it all up without giving it a second thought.
So with all of the opportunities for toddlers to experience new things, what's so radically different about a Spanish or German storytime than a gymboree or music or signing class? The goal is to expose them to new things so that they can find what they enjoy and are good at, and if foreign language isn't part of that curriculum during their early years it will never be a natural or easy endeavor for them as young adults. Is it just fear of introducing something new?
If it is, I'm going to keep pushing against it. I will be that salmon swimming upstream, because it's that important to me. And hopefully there will be a new Spanish storytime soon at our local library!!