Mar 02

Learning Language through Movies

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

It's Friday afternoon, or a weekend day, and what to do with the children? Depending on your parenting philosophy on "screen time," consider a movie in a foreign language.

If your child is on the younger side, you can decide if the goal is to have a more "passive" movie experience, such as playing with toys while having the television on, with either an "original version" of a movie on, or a "dubbed" one. Do you want "Toy Story" in Spanish or Mandarin Chinese?

On the other hand, if your child is older and/or more proficient, then it might be a day to announce, "We are watching Peter Pan in Spanish!" Either something the children have seen (so they can follow along more confidently) or something new. Finding suitable foreign movies for children may seem daunting at times, but the rewards are great: "a-ha moments" when you see your child following along; gaining a real sense of life outside of the U.S., being exposed to different cinematic styles; learning idiosyncratic expressions; continuing on life's language journey. It's fun; it's thought-provoking.

Who is going to help you? YOU!

Look around the Internet. Talk to your librarian. Query your friends and acquaintances if any are language buffs, foreign language speakers or travelers. Any film fanatics out there? Do not be shy asking around; just caveat it with "My child is learning Mandarin Chinese and I am looking for a movie. Can you recommend one?" Aside from your librarian, consider YouTube, Netflix, Apple TV, Roku, etc.

NEXT, if it is a foreign movie, preview for visual content at minimum. THEN, you decide if it is acceptable. Perhaps it is a good idea to have a short talk before the movie starts about how movies are chosen/produced in different countries to cover yourself as All-Knowing Parent.

NYC International Children's Film Festival

If you happen to live in a major cosmopolitan area, a children's foreign film festival is a good option! This is like manna from the sky: serving up to you movies that "should" have children's themes. New York City is having its International Children's Film Festival this year from February 27th – March 22nd. Grab a friend and make it a family play date! At the time of press, it appears the movies are presented in English, however it is an excellent starting point to search for the original versions. For more info see

Sometimes, arguably, you do not have to push the "target language" all the time, but expose your child to other cultures. For example, consider the Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, who has made many films, such as "Spirited Away," etc. For a discussion thread on French movies, see On the right side, there is a "Best of" series of tabs; scroll down and you will find "French Films That Are Not Freaky."

Any advice on Spanish or Mandarin Chinese films for children? I plan on starting my review with the children's film festival!

Feb 18

Part III: Chinese New Year & Children

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

This is Part III of a 4-part series on Chinese New Year to share special family memories of a good friend, who is from Shanghai, China. Please be sure to read the Introduction, Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve, and Part II: Chinese New Year & Family Time.

New Clothes for Children

Children receive new clothes to wear on Day 1 of the 15-day Chinese New Year Celebration. I do not envy the shopping frenzy, if it is anything like that in the U.S.!

The Red Envelope!

As you may know, the color red is a harbinger of good luck. The "Hong Bao" or "Red Envelope" containing money is given to children during Chinese New Year.

Red Envelope

Who: Now, you may be thinking alongside me, "until what age do I have to subsidize my child/children's unchecked spending?" My source explained that there is no hard and fast rule. The upper limit for children to receive such presents can be high school, or depending on the family, until the child is married!

Variation: Companies in China, even American ones, quickly learn that Employers or Department heads are also expected to give "Hong Bao" to their employees.

Why: I also wondered why money was given, instead of gifts. I was told that money was traditionally viewed as a way for children to "get out of trouble" or "overcome difficulties" with their newly-received coins and bills.

How Much : this all depends on many factors, such as the family finances, the age of the child, the closeness between the relatives, and the occasion. Children can buy what they wish, or they may independently choose to save it to pay for a larger expense, such as school tuition.

Fireworks to Bring Wealth

On Day 5 of the 15-day Chinese New Year Celebration, people light firecrackers because they believe that the sound will bring the God of Wealth [Cai Shen] to their homes. He apparently looks like a very distinguished scholar-warrior with a long beard... not at all like "Rich Uncle Pennybags" from the U.S. Monopoly game or "Daddy Warbucks" from the "Annie" comic strip and movies.

Certain traditions have to evolve, and this explosive one has as well. In the last several years, authorities have been concerned about the possible spread of fire, not to mention bodily harm. Consequently, the firecrackers have been relegated to the outlying areas of the city, where there is more space for this, fun. The same rule applies to fireworks. Luckily, the God of Wealth is apparently all--seeing, as he will find your home. So, some families will judiciously "divide" the fireworks display between Day 1 and Day 5 to "cover their bases" between beasts and budget, so to speak.

This post is Part III of a 4-part series on Chinese New Year:

Chinese New Year Introduction »
Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve »
Part II: Chinese New Year & Family Time »
Part III: Chinese New Year & Kids »
Part IV: The Lantern Festival »

+ Plus Download our FREE gift:
A Printable Chinese Zodiac Placemat! »

Jan 27

Learning Language Through Cooking

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

One weekend, or during a Snow Day (like today!), how about cooking a dish with your child? Depending on your child's interests, you can borrow or purchase a book specifically geared towards "cooking with children" or you can find a recipe to try and give it a go!

Book: Cocina Sana para Niños Book: Emeril's There's a Chef in My Family!

In our house, on "my" side of the cookbook area, I have "Emeril's There's a Chef in My Family!: Recipes to Get Everybody Cooking" cookbook. Hmmm. I also have a cookbook in Spanish called "Cocina Sana para Niños" of Parragon Books. Both are standard recipes, one in English, one in Spanish. Perhaps you would like to look into "ethnic" cookbooks, for further inspiration.

At Jump Immersion, cooking is another way to practice and round out your child's Spanish or Mandarin. Even if you do not speak the "Target Language" (or "TL") this can be your child's opportunity to school you. It is clear that, more than toys or gadgets, our children want to spend time with us, their parents. Put two or more people together in the kitchen, cast worries or judgments aside, and focus on cooking and on the process or the results--something delicious to delight in.

Cooking with Kids

Do not fret. A one-hour activity such as cooking, in Spanish or Mandarin, is a marvelous way to expand your child's vocabulary (not to mention math skills with fractions or science skills following steps & observing). You will be adding words such as "mix," "add," "combine," "smell," "taste," "savor," etc. This low-key activity is taking place at the kitchen table, the heart of the home. With older children, this can be a neutral ground to listen to them and perhaps even get them talking about their day, their interests, their worries. To this day, I have fond memories of watching my grandmother cook, and later on, helping her with her signature recipes. This added vocabulary helped broaden my Spanish quite a bit.

Once you have made your recipe, ask others how they make it. Or better yet, ask your child to ask a friend/acquaintance that speaks the "TL" how they make it and discuss any differences. Easy conversation starters also include where the person finds their ingredients or special spice mixtures.

Enjoy!, ¡Buen Provecho! and Xiang Shou!

Jan 22

Visit Your Local Museum... in Spanish or Mandarin!

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

[NOTE: Be sure to also check out "Museums Flex Their Multilingual, Multicultural Muscles" an article by The New York Times 3/16/15 published after this post.]

There is no denying it, we are squarely in Winter. There are times for unbridled outdoor play and there are times to explore the nearest city and its cultural offerings. Consider a visit to the local or the major museum in your Spanish or Mandarin!

For more proficient language learners

Option A: Many museums have pre-recorded audio tours in several languages, such as Spanish, Mandarin, and others.
Option B: Check out podcasts. Our family once used one for the grown-ups during a one-hour tour of The Louvre. (Thank you, Rick Steves!)

Some museums may even have docent-led tours in these languages. One such example is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tours are monthly, but it can be scheduled as a family trip. (Click the image above for free kids' guides from the Met!)

Family Museum Tour Idea

Another interesting option is to find/hire an art teacher to customize or highlight a particular museum's offerings for your family. Look around: any friends with art degrees, or any "target language" teachers with an interest in art? One such company is Art Smart, a NYC-based provider of museum & gallery tours for families and groups. (I did not look into their pricing, but this idea definitively "has legs.")

Further Tips

No matter who the "leader" is, I would humbly advise a "highlights" type tour, perhaps 6-10 pieces, to review and discuss, depending on the age and interest level. (See if you can find any fun worksheets online, in English or another language, ahead of time, to whet the children's artistic appetite.) Talk to the art "leader" to see if a scavenger hunt for clues can be done, to keep up the kids' interest level, in small, quiet groups.

Good luck!

Jan 15

Volunteer in Your Child's Classroom this Year!

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

Take a moment to review, in a non-judgmental fashion, how involved you have been this school year at your child's school. If you can swing it, I urge you to consider volunteering for a half hour in your child's classroom.

For Young Children

For youngsters, you can read the class a story. Perhaps a story about friendship near Valentine's Day or a Dr. Seuss story* for National Dr. Seuss Day on March 2nd.

Green Eggs and Ham book in Spanish Green Eggs and Ham book in Chinese

This is a wonderful time to actually get inside the classroom, see the student dynamic, and see how much of the "Target Language" (or "TL") your child is willing to speak... on that day. Don't speak the TL? Read the story in English, and ask another parent to stand with you to serve as “interpreter” if the teacher is having difficulty translating the story on the spot. Or have each of the two parents read a page, in an animated fashion, to keep the children engaged.

Watch out for the quality of some of the translations of the Dr. Seuss books; a few have caught my eye over the years as linguistically...awkward. But Seuss is surely a challenge to translate!

For Older Children

Is your child older? Dust off your talents and areas of expertise and ask the teacher if you can do a simple presentation on your favorite topic (in English or the TL) for ~15 minutes with Q&A afterward. (It would be wise to email the presentation to the teacher ahead of time for time management, etc.)


  1. Law & Order
    I once did a slide show with fun "clip art" on the legal profession for preschoolers, and then had them take a stand on a position ("More Recess Time") and had two teams argue each side. A plastic hammer or a gavel was a resounding close to the "oral arguments." I was the advisor/cheerleader; the teacher played the Judge.
  2. Pick a Country
    Another visit, I spotlighted some key facts about Cuba--music, food, notable animals, etc. Again, I used the "clip art" to signal key words to the Cuban song, "Guantanamera." This really helped the children learn the first two verses.
  3. Culture Cooking
    Or, if you like to cook and the teacher approves it, bring in a typical dish (bought at a deli or home-made) to discuss. From my Latin roots, how about empanadas (pasties or turnovers), arepas (a corn meal savory thick "bread") or black beans and rice? This will definitively score as a conversation topic at the dinner table that night!

Dec 23

Last Minute Holiday Shopping? Children's Magazines in Spanish!

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

Although we all have our moments of trying to "Keep Up with the Joneses" in this materialistic society, how about this idea for holiday gifts? (Remember, we have Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and...depending on your background, Three Kings Day.) While browsing at the local Barnes & Noble, I came across two children's magazines in Spanish. What a surprise! Check out:

Iguana, Revista para Niños, ¡Lee - Descubre - Disfruta!
("Read - Discover - Enjoy")

From their website  they say that this magazine is geared towards children aged 7-12 that "grew up speaking Spanish" (my translation: are rather proficient). They add that topics range from history, geography, science, technology, language arts to math. Prices vary, depending if you request print, digital or both. About $18-51 dollars.

Iguana, Revista para Niños, magazine adybug en Español magazine

Ladybug en Español

Another children's magazine, for the younger set, from the same company. From their website they say that this magazine is geared towards 3-6 year olds.


These magazines are being discontinued in January 2015, so if you are interested, look for them at the local B&N before they sell out!

Dec 19

Passing My Culture to My Children: Three Kings Day

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

My family grew up in Cuba; I grew up in South Florida and struggled to maintain my Spanish. Now, with my own children, one of my most fervent wishes is to pass my Spanish language and culture to my children.

One such idea is Three Kings Day. In the Christian tradition, this is the day that the Three Wise Men (a.k.a. the "Magi") arrived to see the baby Jesus. This coincides with Epiphany, the Christian feast day, which is on January 6th.

In Cuba, in the 1940s, Three Kings Day was the day that children received all of their presents. Christmas was not really celebrated with gifts, and Christmas Eve (or "Noche Buena" was celebrated with a big feast with family and friends). The tradition is that children would put some grass (or in northern New Jersey climates, some dry grass or twigs/leaves, nothing fancy here) in a shoe box under their beds. The grass was for the camels to eat, that carried the Wise Men.

free coloring page

Trivia: What are the names of the Wise Men? Answer: Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar.
They are the ones that bring the gifts to the children.

How this plays out in our home:

In our house, the "Wise Men" bring a few token gifts, e.g. a book, a shirt, a DVD, to the little ones. In the days leading up to January 6th, we may even entertain a stick puppet "play" about the Wise Men as an indoor, creative activity, or ask the children to write a letter or color a picture for the Wise Men (sneaky writing practice). This tradition is a win-win scenario: the kids get a few more little gifts (perhaps use the post holiday sales or go to the local discount store) and I receive the immense satisfaction that our cultural heritage is practiced, enjoyed and is perceived as "cool" by the children...

Download Full-size Coloring Page
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