Feliz Navidad: Why the Holidays Are the Perfect Time to Boost Your Bilingualism

by multilingualmania on December 22, 2010

in Bilingualism

waiting for christmas - IMGP1888

Last year I moved from the Midwest to Mexico, so this will be my second Christmas far from sweet home Chicago, though I can’t say I’m shedding any tears for missing the miles of holiday lines, the gift-buying mania or the endless versions of “Jingle Bells” following me everywhere I go. (I will miss my mother’s green bean casserole, though, which I can’t say is quite as popular south of the border.) Truthfully, before heading down here, I was so bored and burned out by all the holiday hubbub that I was ready to swear off Christmas completely. Then I moved and Mexico rescued the month of December for me with its weeks of colorful festivals, incredible food, and lively music.

Whether or not you’re religious, experiencing holiday traditions in another culture is a feast for the senses and an excellent way to nurture and maintain your bilingualism. When I first arrived in Chiapas, I treated each procession, mass, or family dinner as an opportunity to learn about another culture as well as a chance to expand my vocabulary and hone my grammar through conversation. It worked like a charm. I got a crash course in Chiapanecan Catholicism and learned at least a dozen new words while chatting with my neighbors in Spanish about the virgin of Guadalupe and the custom of downing twelve grapes on New Year’s Eve.

But it turns out I didn’t really have to leave home to do it. Much to my chagrin, I realized too late about the hundreds of Mexican holiday festivities that go down in my ‘hood each year. (Where was I, exactly? Under a rock? Chicago has the second largest Mexican American population in the country!) And Chicago is just one of hundreds of cities that host holiday events honoring a range of different cultural traditions from German Christkindl markets to Jewish festivals of lights, so I encourage you not to make the same mistake I did! If you’re looking to boost your bilingualism, are down on the holiday season, or both: why not try celebrating in your second (or third, or fourth, etc.) language this year? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

• Listen to holiday music in your second language. Pay attention to traditional melodies and compare the lyrics. If your family goes caroling, consider adding a bilingual piece to your repertoire.
• Cook a holiday dish from a country that speaks your second language, preferably using a bilingual recipe so you can practice using any ingredient names you don’t recognize.
• Attend a Christmas mass or Chanukah service in your second language. If you have friends who attend services in this language regularly, ask if they wouldn’t mind you tagging along.
• If your family celebrates Christmas, have your children write a letter to Santa in their second language. Follow it up with a bilingual reply from Mr. Claus on Christmas morning.
• Spread some multilingual holiday cheer and volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter in a neighborhood where the population speaks your second language.
• Study the Christmas, Chanukah, or New Years traditions in a country that speaks your second language and incorporate at least one into your own festivities.

As for me, I am looking forward to brewing my own batch of ponche navideño (Christmas punch), a hot beverage made with fruit, cinnamon, and Brandy, for my Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) dinner. Maybe I’ll even show off a few of the carols I learned last year. How are you going to celebrate the holiday season in your second language?

About the Author: Rachael Kay Albers is a freelance writer, English teacher, and theater facilitator working to educate and empower indigenous women in Central America. In her spare time, she loves to maintain and improve her bilingualism by reading novels and watching movies in Spanish.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: