(Photo via Carissa Rogers, Flickr CC)
Happy Friday, friends! Today marks the first chapter of a new and expanded version of Family Fridays.
I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of our communities, both near and far, in our raising our children in more than one language. You know, the whole “it-takes-a-village” notion. We can’t do this thing called bilingual parenting without the support of our neighbors, schools, places of worship, and other members of our world. So, starting this Friday, I’d like to expand the Family Fridays series to include other members of our bilingual family, other than our immediate spouses/partners and children.
Today, specifically, I’d like to introduce you to Greg Sanchez, also known as “Pablo Español,” bilingual singer-songwriter of children’s music. Not only does he share with us today the vision behind his company, but he also speaks about the challenges and joys of raising his two sons in two languages.
Be encouraged, friends.
Let’s start with you, Pablo. Can you tell my readers a bit about yourself, your background, where you’re from
I grew up in the most non-Hispanic place of all, south Mississippi, the son of a Mexico-City-born music professor. My grandmother, from the state of Tabasco, was also part of my upbringing. I had always felt different from other Southerners because of my name and some of our idiosyncrasies in my family, and wondered how much of that might be attributable to something loosely called “Mexican culture.”
When I moved to Atlanta, I started befriending some bilingual locals who tweaked my high-school-class language skills. I worked at a Catholic mission in the area, teaching various topics in awful Spanish and asked the obreros to correct me and teach me as a kind of intercambio. In 1998, a few months later, my wife presented at a conference in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and I became the de facto guide/interpreter.
After that trip I sold my business and got my teaching certification in Spanish from Kennesaw State University. I taught for the majority of my career at North Springs High School in Fulton County, GA.
¡La música!/The music!
How was “Pablo Español” born? Why children’s music?
When the internet was first growing, I became aware of how to download lyrics to songs, specifically, the songs of Thalia and Ricky Martin. I would listen to those songs until I could use the phrases in them in conversation, and much later I taught them to my children, and noticed that they too could regurgitate certain chunks of songs in conversation with me. This idea of “meaningful chunks,” that we improve in a language at first by having an inventory of phrases that we don’t have to think about, but can just spit out when they are (and sometime aren’t) needed, intrigues me to this day.
“Pablo Español” as a class is just the beginning of my dream. One day, I want to see millions of children in the US beginning to learn Spanish (or what ever language) at least 10 years before they begin to learn it now. Their brains are so less fossilized at that time in their lives, it seems to me a waste not to do it.
What is the mission, or vision, behind “Pablo Español?”
To change the country!
My premise is that I can create a series of resources that use repetition and comprehensible input to build a Novice-High level of proficiency via an internet-based children’s show. When little kids watch a show, they watch it over and over again, until they’ve made it part of them. I see an opportunity there to build some proficiency via YouTube. If enough kids start communicating in some useful Spanish all over the USA, because they watched and re-watched “Pablo Español,” then I think we might see some parents putting pressure to change priorities. I’m not a young man anymore, and I see this as my chance to make a difference.
Can you walk us through your creative process of writing and composing songs?
Backward design is the key. I take the final objective that I want the kids to produce, and I write lyrics that support it. With the Pablo classes, the lyrics usually include big doses of “yo quiero,” “yo necesito,” or “me gusta” (I want, need, and like, respectively). That is what a three- or four-year-old into, his likes and needs. If I can get them to say those in Spanish, ¡chévere!
Your website says that you use “song, rhythm, and routine” to teach toddlers and their parents Spanish. Talk to us about how those three elements have helped people learn a second language.
To me, it’s about creating “sticky” words and phrases, which are then used when learners are motivated and paying attention. Repetition, structure, and primacy/recency all lend themselves to this stickiness (I wrote an article about stickiness and primacy/recency on my blog).
A song or story that repeats a line over and again (“That’s not my lion/train/puppy,” “I do not like green eggs and ham” etc.) is an example of repetition. Rhythm may come with music, but doesn’t have to (“Oh, Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine…” is a lyric from my school years that a whole generation remembers!). Routine means that a teacher uses certain phrases to begin, end, and transition students in a class, and those phrases become very sticky compared to others. My wife still remembers how to say “Open your book to page…” in French because her French teacher made it part of her routine.
Ser bilingüe/Being bilingual:
Tell us a little bit about your own bilingual journey.
Every parent wants something for his/her child that the parent lacked. I felt isolated from the vast majority of my family because I couldn’t speak Spanish, and I decided long before my children were born that I would do my best to give them the gift of being able to reach out to cousins when the time came. I still don’t know if I’ve been successful, but my own kids know dozens of songs and have been read to all their lives in Spanish. Further, they’ve watched quite a few shows for children in Spanish repeatedly, too. I hope one day they can spend some time immersed in the culture(s) and shore up the foundation that they have. I call myself the “remolcador,” or tugboat. I can only go so far with them, but I’ll pull and pull!
Can you paint us a picture of your daily life now in terms of language use. Which languages do you use, when, with whom, for what, etc.?
I speak Spanish first thing every day to awaken my kids and get them ready for school. I only speak Spanish with them throughout my day except when I’m angry or very rushed, since it is a second language to me. They respond to me primarily in English, however, a battle that I began to lose once both of them started school. I yearn to have some travel in order for them to see why I’m doing this or, alternatively, to have someone come into the house to speak with them to augment my efforts, but it’s just not possible right now. This summer I hope to build their reading in Spanish into summer’s activities.
You mention on your website that you raised your two sons bilingually. Can you tell us a bit about:
- Your family’s language policy
Papá has spoken 90% Spanish since the day they were born. Mom speaks English, and is from the US. We don’t break down days or tasks into language choices, as others do. I also try to play music in Spanish when we do chores. I try to read to my second grader one Spanish story every morning before he gets on the bus.
- Challenges you’ve faced
Videos of my first son when he was a toddler and an only child are a bit painful to watch, because he spoke so much Spanish back then. Once he went to school, and I mean, like, the first DAY, I felt the earth move and I could no longer influence him as much, or I was not consistent enough in doing so. His younger brother also spoke a good bit of Spanish while in the high chair, but school and brother have ensured that Spanish doesn’t come out too much.
- What you’ve learned as a bilingual parent
I wish I’d been more stubborn about insisting that they speak. They speak here and there now, and in “chunks,” but can’t hold their own and don’t have pride in their ability to speak the language.
- Benefits of a bilingual home
I am giving my children an opportunity to be part of another culture. After watching “Selena” with Jennifer Lopez, they started self-identifying as “Mexican American.” Other than their names, they would little reason to do so if I had not so actively chosen to surround them with Latin themes and artifacts. The younger one speaks less to me in Spanish but has memorized about one and a half albums of the Gypsy Kings and quite a bit of Maná. He sings with a Flamenco lilt in his voice, which tickles me and makes me think he’ll have a broader view of music than if he hadn’t done and seen these things. He also actively picks up the Spanish books that I’ve read to him and his brother for years and reads them to himself!
Thanks to Greg for sharing his passion for bilingualism and music! Are you a parent raising your children in more than language? I’d love to help you share your story here on the blog. Contact me!