Episode 50: My father’s personal experience raising bilingual children and his lessons learned

On this episode of the Bilingual Avenue podcast, I interview my father, José Hennig!  We talk about his own language journey, our transition to our new community in the United States and his lessons learned from his experience raising three bilingual children.  It’s an emotional interview for me while full of great advice for other parents facing a transition.

Also for anyone interested in using your smart phone to document your little ones’ journey, check out some useful gadgets and accessories at Shutterplex.com 

Episode #47 Quick Guide

On this episode my father, José, shares with us:

  • How his language journey started when he was just 11 years old and my grandfather signed him up for English courses;
  • How his English skills landed him his first job at IBM even before he graduated college;
  • Why he wanted my siblings and I to learn more languages and specifically why he preferred that our second language to be English;
  • How once we moved to the United States my parents’ language focus switched to preserving Spanish as our heritage language;
  • How it was important that we speak Spanish at home in part so that my youngest brother could maintain his Spanish skills;
  • The  uncertainty he felt before I started high school knowing that I was not yet fluent in English;
  • How committed he and my mother were to making sure they provided me with the necessary support to help me get through my first year of high school;
  • Some of the ways my parents helped me transition into an English only high school including enrolling me in summer school,  working with my teachers to identify helpful books to learn English and visiting the local library for additional resources;
  • Why they found the International Baccalaureate program appealing as a high school option;
  • How he conveyed to the program director that my parents were willing to go the extra mile to support me and help me achieve the goals of the program;
  • My brother’s language journey including his struggles early on transitioning to his new school;
  • What he would have done differently to help my brother have a smoother transition and the advice he would like to give other parents in a similar situation including:
    • Strive to understand the experiences the child will likely face when enrolling in a school that conducts its instruction in a language that the child does not yet speak;
    • Work with the school staff to get a better sense of these experiences;
    • Reach out to other parents with children in your child’s classroom so they can meet before school starts;
    • Meet with your child’s classroom teachers before the child starts school;
    • Work with the school staff to explore the possibility of spending time in the classroom  with your child in the early transition days;
    • Introduce the child to the daily school schedule gradually;
    • Set up play dates with other classmates;
  • How my parents managed to encourage my brother, José Jr, to keep up with his Spanish;
  • How my brother took it upon himself to keep up with his language and cultural connection to Spanish and Venezuela;
  • How my parents tried to infuse culture into our family time including playing traditional music and providing traditional Venezuelan food;
  • A proud parenting moment that proved to him that all the hard work was worth it;
  • How he still pushes us, his children, to always improve our Spanish skills including:
    • Always speaking Spanish to us;
    • Providing book suggestions that we will likely find interesting;
    • Emailing us frequently with lyrics and poems in Spanish;
    • Encouraging us to listen to old school Spanish ballads;

Once we hop on the Autobahn at Bilingual Avenue, my father shares –

Favorite Resource: Music and conversations around the dinner table in Spanish;

Best Advice Received: The minute that you see an opening to infuse your child with another language, go for it!

Great Family Habit: Not giving into speaking English even though it was easier but rather working hard to preserve our heritage language

Children’s book in Spanish: Tio Tigre and Tio Conejo

Best Advice to Others: If you have the opportunity to provide your child with a second language while maintaining their first, take the opportunity to do so.


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