Immersion, and the road to growing up bilingual
We grew up on El Chavo del Ocho, Chespirito, La Guereja, La Chilindrina, Doña Florinda, El Botija, Ñoño, even La India Maria and Cantinflas, at times. There was something about those characters that connected to our reality. Living in los estados unidos with very Mexican parents, traveling every summer to Mexico in whatever car or truck we had at the time that could make it all the way there and back, celebrating quinceañeras and not Sweet 16’s, and just living in two cultures and two languages, going back and forth constantly between one and the other.
Where Little House on the Prairie shared some of our values most of the time, we understood completely everything our Spanish-speaking characters were feeling and living all of the time. When La India Maria would run around discovering new things, everything from ordering a cheese hamburger to accidentally ending up in an English only night club and being forced onto the dance floor, we identified with her initial shock, curiosity and subsequent inevitable mishaps. It was like she was validating all of our stupid mistakes and adventures like nobody else in the mainstream media was doing at the time. The apartment complex El Chavo and Chespirito lived in was our apartment complex. We knew the nosy neighbor, the snotty kid, the spoiled one, the chubby one – I think that was me – and all the rest of this lovable, and very colorful, cast of characters.
We’d gone so far as to cast our own fantasy vecindad from the real characters we lived with in our 27-unit little apartment complex. It was fun, and it was something we could all enjoy as a family, watching those all Spanish-language sitcoms and movies. Which got me thinking… maybe that’s why it was so easy for us to maintain so much of the Spanish-language over the years despite never having taken any ESL classes? I mean, while we were being entertained, we were also being immersed in the nuances, the subtleties of the language, and our culture. We learned the humoristic timing, the colloquial references, the slang words, and so many other things that I probably still can’t even point out today.
In a way it created a deeper bond between all of us. These shows were something that were ours. That even though we never had cable television, we could embrace as something unique and cool we actually did have access to.
Where now shows like Dora the Explorer and Maya and Miguel embrace bilingualism almost exclusively, I think there is a lot to be said for full Spanish-language shows that immerse our children not only in the language, but also in the culture. I’m sure there are some studies out there somewhere that can speak more scientifically on the matter, but I’m just going on my own personal experience. My testimony, LOL! So while you can still catch Chespirito and El Chavo reruns every once in a while on TV, or always on the internet, I was pretty excited to learn about two new characters created by a personal friend of mine who were now coincidentally calling Marcelo Gomez Bolaños as a joke. I’m talking about La Muñequita Lala and El Abuelito Nicolas, both of who are aiming to become YouTube stars, or at the very least teach a little bit more of the Spanish-language and culture to our kids.
Muñequita Lala sings children’s songs in Spanish on her YouTube channel, most of which you’ll probably remember from your own childhood – I did kind of abruptly after I started watching a couple of the videos – and can also be found on Facebook…. El Abuelito Nicolas, meanwhile, tells classic stories like “The Three Little Pigs in Spanish,” and what do you know, he’s also got a space on Facebook for viewers to connect with him. I’m telling you, Chespirito would have been huge on YouTube, LOL! Now that we’ve all accepted the fact that being bilingual in any two languages is a positive, if you choose for that other language learned, besides English, to be Spanish, I say give immersion a chance… and what better way to do that than with a little twist on something our parents generation did so well, entertainment!
The producers of Muñequita Lala and El Abuelito Nicolas, while good friends, did not provide any compensation for this write up. These are all my personal opinions.