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Is it better to grow up bilingual?

Book cover of
Book cover of "Bilingual Is Better."
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For years immigrants were told that the best way for their children to succeed was to leave behind their heritage language and speak only English. But what if this advice was wrong?

What if the truth was that all children in America, regardless of their cultural background, would actually benefit from learning two languages?

A Martinez speaks with Roxana Soto, co-author of the new book, "Bilingual is Better"

Interview Highlights:

In your book you say there's a revolution about bilingual parenting. What do you mean by that?
"It's called retro-culturization, and its a need to go back to the roots and a need to connect to your heritage, realizing that you can be bilingual and you can still be American and its ok for you to speak Spanish and be
Latino, and there's an amazing amount of studies that have been done on the benefits to our brains of being bilingual, including being better multitaskers, being able to concentrate better. Our brains are more flexible when we're bilingual being better readers. It actually offsets the onset of Alzheimer's. It makes you more money when you become a professional, that's in my case at least, and the benefits are endless, it's like why not?"

I got the sense that as much as your book is for kids, it's for parents as well?:
"Its definitely for the parents because that's where it starts. The ideal thing when you're trying to raise a bilingual child is that you begin as early as possible, and that means when you're pregnant. its definitely a guide for the parents on how to do it, some of the methods to do it, some of the pitfalls that you can find, some of the myths, because there are a lot of myths around this topic. So its definitely for the parents to figure out the best way to do this."

In terms of talking to your child when its in the womb, is it as easy as putting a headset on your belly?
"You don't even have to do that. If you were having a conversation, going about your day speaking spanish. I have two children, I have been pregnant twice, and I used to talk to my babies in the belly. Just saying 'hola' '¿cómo estás?' The brain is amazing, they start already recognizing not only the voice of their mother, but also the tone and the language that the mother's speaking in."

Some people think bilingual parenting can slow the kid down…any truth to that?:
"No. Totally incorrect. There are several myths and that's one of the most common ones. There's the idea that they may get confused and that's where that comes from. That's not true, like I said before the human brain is such an amazing and powerful machine. We are really capable of learning not only two, but more than two languages from birth. The reality is that there are so many myths that have been perpetrated for such a long time, but that's definitely not true."

How do parents get started?
"The best thing to do is to make sure you're making it fun. The minute it becomes an obligation it becomes a thing that they have to do, children will turn away from that. So the best way to do that is music for example. Music is an amazing way of introducing your child to Spanish and exposing your child to Spanish because it's fun. What child doesn't like music and doesn't like getting up and dancing to music? You don't have to do children's music you can do pop music…the thing with music is it's repetitive … The other way, nowadays with apps on mobile devices and tablets, kids love that and the thing is they don't realize they're learning, and expanding their vocabulary, but they are. The final and the best way to do it is really reading."

What if kids don't react when you speak to them in their second language?
"Continue to speak in Spanish … If you are the main source of Spanish, you really need to stick to that. I understand that there's frustration, you're trying to talk to them they're not talking back, but you keep at it. That's what I was talking about with consistency, right?"