We have gotten in touch with book authors, bloggers, curricula writers, and other important characters that share a passion for raising future generations bilingually. They will bring you a breath of fresh air into the world of Spanish language education through their story, their experience, and their advice.
The BEST Spanish advice comes from families that have spent their efforts figuring out what works for them and their families, adjusting, and continuing to move forward. The best advice is that that comes from real-life experience and involvement with the language for many years in the past.
Last week we interviewed Rachel from Seven in All and Wheredyoulearnthat, thank you to those who read the interview and provided feedback via Instagram or Facebook. Especially thanks to those who messaged us with questions that you would like to see us asking our guest! This is a collective effort so keep the comments coming!
But we are eager to present our next guest, so without further ado, here she is:
Jenna is a bilingual teacher and mom passionate about helping families raise bilingual kids. She has teaching experience in dual language immersion programs (Spanish and English) in three different states, has a Master’s degree as an elementary reading specialist, and is raising her own three children bilingually. Jenna shares bilingual parenting tips, language learning ideas, and fun Spanish resources for families on her website, Bilingual Balance.
Jenna, thank you so much for taking the time and chatting with us today. I know working moms have limited time so I appreciate having you here.
Why don’t we start talking about your heritage. What is your background?
I grew up in an English-speaking family in the United States, with relatives originally from several European countries. I’m a Midwest girl and have lived most of my life in Iowa and Minnesota. My parents instilled in me a love for learning and an appreciation of my own cultural background – among many other things. But people often ask me how I learned Spanish! When I was able to take my first Spanish class in high school, I absolutely fell in love with the language and learning about different cultures around the world! Hosting a foreign exchange student, going on a Spanish language trip to Central America, and studying abroad in Mexico all helped solidify my decision to pursue a career in bilingual education. And as a teacher, I had the amazing opportunity to work with students, families, and teachers from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, and beyond. I love Spanish and feel blessed that learning a second language has allowed me to raise my own three kids bilingually!
WOW, you’ve had such wonderful connection and experiences related with the Spanish language! So neat. I love it that Spanish learning is not limited to any type of background and whoever wants to go for it can pursue it. Your kids are lucky!
Why is bilingualism important to you (your family)?
Bilingualism is so much more than two languages! Teaching my kids both Spanish and English, for me, means helping my kids become positive and kind global citizens. I want them to be able to build relationships with more people around the world, learn about other cultures, and respect and appreciate diversity. It’s making a new friend because you speak their language, value someone else’s cultural background, and connect with more people. Bilingualism is a lifelong gift that I choose to prioritize every day for my children!
I love that. One time at the bus stop, there was an older lady that only spoke Spanish, and she wanted to get off the bus but the driver didn’t hear her. My daughter turned to me and said “momma, that lady asked the driver to stop here but he didn’t hear her”…so I got up and helped her…such heartwarming experience.
Raising global citizens is vital. Teaching our kids respect, open mindedness, empathy, a sense of community, will help shape a new generations with a little bit more kindness and grace for others. So important
What are/were your favorite tools when you are/were teaching your kids a second language?
Books, books, and more books! They’re my very favorite tool to help kids learn the language. We plan regular trips to the library for new Spanish books and have built our own Spanish home library as well. Through books, we dive into new vocabulary, connect and talk together, and can read about any topic that interests my kids! Books are also an excellent tool to focus on literacy skills and try to develop a lifelong love of reading and learning. After books, we love to use Spanish music, Spanish language TV programs, and Spanish podcasts or audiobooks. Games, puzzles, and playtime also help me make Spanish language learning fun at our house!
That is so true, books are just such wonderful learning tool in general.
Since you hold a Master’s degree as an elementary reading specialist, how do you use your expertise in reading to help your kids become good readers in Spanish?
That’s a tough one because it’s important to remember that learning to read starts with a foundation in pre-literacy skills (in any language). Starting to lay down the building blocks for reading can begin at birth! We spent a lot of time talking and interacting in Spanish at home to develop my kids’ oral language skills. I had short, silly songs I sang to my babies for daily routines – like going for a walk in the stroller or changing diapers!
My kids probably got sick of all the songs, poems, and little rhymes in both languages – but it expanded their phonological awareness (or ability to recognize and manipulate different sounds in words). We also read aloud and still have dedicated book time every day – learning concepts of print (how to hold a book, how to turn pages, that we read left to right), developing new vocabulary, and starting to understand that letters have sounds that make up the words we say and read.
From word play to syllable songs, fun reading games and plenty of quality reading material, I’ve used a variety of resources and strategies to support them as they’ve gained independence in reading. But most important for me has been trying to instill in them a lifelong love for reading!
I love this! It’s so important to not only teach such foundational concept but a passion and interests as well. Here at our house our favorite is to play active and/or board games that would support our reading skills! The kids love it, and honestly, it feel less than work for me as the educator. So, I’ll take it!
In parallel, how do you use your dual-language teaching experience at home with your kids?
While I don’t homeschool my kids, their Spanish language input has been almost entirely on my shoulders until kindergarten (my husband doesn’t speak Spanish). That’s a lot of responsibility! So our home is absolutely a bilingual “classroom” and I’m always looking for ways to make Spanish fun and meaningful. For us, that looks like having a consistent family language plan (we use a schedule for Spanish and English days during the week). We surround ourselves with the target language through books, music, and environmental print. And we have fun together by playing games, watching shows, cooking, or going on outings together – all in Spanish!
Sounds like you guys also have a lot of fun with the language, that’s fabolous!
What are/were some of the biggest challenges your family faces/faced during the journey of teaching your kids a second language, and how do/did you overcome them?
Finding the right balance of input to meet our own family’s language dynamics and our goals for our kids’ language proficiency has been the biggest challenge. It’s why I named my blog Bilingual Balance! My husband and most of our family don’t speak Spanish, and we live in a community where Spanish is not very prevalent, either. So Spanish has had to become a bit of an obsession of mine! I choose to prioritize it in my parenting and am always searching for fun, interactive ways for my kids to develop the language. A consistent language schedule at home as well as surrounding my kids with engaging Spanish resources, has been incredibly helpful. When my kids started school, we also searched high and low for a dual language program. Our school has been an amazing asset in helping our kids gain exposure and have a need to use the language on a daily basis.
I am glad you guys found a good match for the kids school. I can relate to what you said about feeling isolated based on the region where you live and or the rest of family not necessarily sharing the passion we have for the language and raising bilingual children. I recently started a bilingual hiking group just to keep our journey going during the summer months!…Sometimes you just have to get creative, don’t you?!
Please tell us about your business or what you do for work currently.
I am a full-time mom at the moment but have spent my professional career as a dual language teacher working with bilingual learners. Most of my career was spent in first and second grade because I love teaching reading in both languages. I decided to get my master’s degree as a K-6 elementary reading specialist and spent a year as a literacy intervention specialist for a first-fifth grade bilingual school. Now, I enjoy staying involved in bilingual education through the work I share on my website.
First and second grade is sure a special time.
It is wonderful to see moms using their skill and professional background to bless their own kids at home and other families through informational material and resources. It is a neat collaborative effort!
Share with us about your blog. What is your drive to create content for other families going through the same language journey?
Through my website, I offer recommendations for quality language learning resources, fun activity ideas for teaching kids Spanish, and helpful printable resources. I create fun and interactive resources to use with my own three kids and to share with others raising bilingual kids! You’ll find printable scavenger hunts in both languages, home object labels, daily routines, chore cards, and more. I also create and sell bilingual resources through Teachers Pay Teachers.
Good for you, Jenna. I think parents are in the constant lookout for new resources and fresh ideas to keep moving forward with their kids language learning. We can call ourselves colleagues in this aspect since we also focus our attention on creating educational material for families pursuing bilingual education. Let me ask you…
What is your drive to create the resources you offer to families on your website.
I’ve been creating resources since my first year of teaching about 15 years ago! I create resources to fill a need, make a learning topic more fun or interactive, or to develop an engaging product that is in BOTH English and Spanish.
I really like that. Those are specific goals and I’m sure that helps you stay focused when creating material and offering diverse and helpful material in your shop.
If you could give a piece of advice to families that are considering teaching their kids a second language, what would you tell them?
Bilingual parenting is a marathon, not a sprint! Stay inspired, keep up your daily, consistent efforts, and always keep your language goals for your child in mind. Surround yourselves with Spanish language resources – books, music, games, and activities – to make language learning fun and meaningful. Remember why you’re giving your child the incredible gift of a second language!
This is great advice. It reminded me of a quote from the Book Maximize your Child’s Bilingual Ability by Adam Beck:
It has been a pleasure to chat with you today. It was lovely to learn more about you, your reasons for bilingual education, and your passion for teaching children and equipping families through your blog and digital store.
I hope to have you back sometime soon!
Would you like to provide a gift to our readers?
Yes, of course!I’d love to share my new bilingual daily routine and chore cards with your readers! They are in both English and Spanish and just the right size for parents to create their own routine poster or checklist to help with getting ready in the morning, after-school chores, and more. I hope they can help families add in more Spanish to their everyday moments!
Download Jenna’s cards here:
Thank you for reading Jenna’s interview! We hope you were able to catch glimpses of her story her whys and the things she does to support and nourish her family’s language learning journey!
Next week we will be back with another wonderful interview. This time we will be chatting with award-winning book author, mentor, speaker and podcast host Mrs. Maritere Bellas. Stay tuned!
Jenna’s Website: Bilingual Balance
Jenna’s TpT Store: The Bilingual Balance