Music in the target language has always played an important part in my efforts to nurture bilingual children, first with my students and now with my own kids. When I’m not singing to them, or with them, I’m regularly playing music in the background to increase exposure in the minority language, even when I’m not in the room. (See How the Power of Music Nurtures Bilingual Ability for more on the use of background music.)
So when my family recently added a third language to our journey—Spanish—I naturally wanted to find some kid-friendly music in this language that would appeal to them. As it turns out, the lively bilingual music made by Nathalia, whose songs are often performed in a smooth, alternating blend of Spanish and English, has been so catchy that I’ve played her two albums over and over again—even when my kids aren’t around.
Bright, bouncy songs
Nathalia was born and raised in Colombia, then moved to the United States in 1999 to attend the Berklee College of Music. Her work as a music therapist and early childhood music educator inspired her to use music to nurture the Spanish side of her own two children. The songs she began writing eventually led to her first album From Here to There, in 2012. This was followed by her second album in 2014, titled Dream a Little.
Her albums employ a variety of musical styles, and the bright, bouncy songs, performed by Nathalia and her talented band, can be happily enjoyed by both children and adults. I’ve listened to “Los Planetas,” the first song on the album Dream a Little, dozens of times and it remains just as fun and catchy as the first time I heard it!
Balance of English
Because my children and I are beginners in Spanish, the songs that use a mixture of Spanish and English are the most accessible to us. (One day we’ll hopefully understand the songs that are completely in Spanish, too!) From the point of view of language exposure, the beauty of these bilingual songs is in the balance of English lyrics, which provides us with enough familiar context to understand the songs to a comfortable degree…and then begin to grasp some of the Spanish, too.
In fact, I’ve heard my kids not only singing along to the English words, but singing some of the Spanish words as well. They may not understand all these words yet, but it’s clear that they do comprehend certain parts (particularly Spanish words that are similar in English) and their understanding will only grow over time as their language level rises. Meanwhile, even when comprehension is limited, simply singing along serves as useful practice for pronunciation and accent in the new target language. And if they enjoy the music, their positive feelings toward Spanish will get a boost, too!
Effective language exposure
For families seeking to support their children’s Spanish side, Nathalia’s music is ideal. Not only is the music itself well-made fun for both kids and parents, the bilingual nature of her work serves as an effective source of language exposure. Children who already have some background in Spanish will especially enjoy and benefit from these albums, but as my family shows, even beginners will find the songs appealing and gain useful language exposure in the process.
Nathalia’s lively music is an open and welcoming door to Spanish, leading to joyful listening and greater bilingual ability. I’m really pleased to have found her music and I recommend it very highly.
Interview with Nathalia: “You don’t have to be a musician to sing to your children”
Nathalia was kind enough to respond, via email, to my questions about her personal experience, both as a musician of bilingual music and as a mother of two bilingual children. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Nathalia!
How did you become involved in creating bilingual music for children?
I became involved in creating bilingual music when my daughter was born. I had only been living in the United States for a couple of years by this time, and as a new mom I felt overwhelmed with emotions. I missed my Colombian family and traditions more than ever. My way of reconnecting to my culture and wanting my daughter to experience it was by making up songs in Spanish and dancing with her. I was also working as a music therapist and early childhood music educator at the time, so songwriting was something I did all the time.
When my daughter entered the preschool stage, I was teaching music in her preschool and decided to incorporate Spanish into the music program. Movement songs in Spanish were a great way to start, it was easy for children to associate words with the actions in the song. It became a little harder when I began to write songs that told a story. As I sang in Spanish, I found myself trying to find rhyming words in English to be able to teach them what the song was about. I began making sure that my songs were almost entirely bilingual, incorporating both English and Spanish so no extra explanation would be needed, and through repetition children will be able to associate and link words from both languages. The response of teachers, parents, and children was very positive, and inspired me to record my first album.
What have been the joys and challenges of making and sharing your music?
There are several aspects of making music that are wonderful. It starts with simple melodies and stories inspired by my children or students that spark ideas for new songs. The creative process that is involved afterwards is a lot of fun, especially when I collaborate with family members. My husband, Brian McLaughlin, and my brother, Shafik Palis, are both incredibly talented musicians who help make my songs come to life. Ultimately hearing the final product reinforces our teamwork, and it’s an amazing sense of achievement. Once the album is out there, it brings me so much joy to see kids singing and dancing along to my music. What started as a personal project to enhance my children’s bilingual education became something bigger, and it’s been a wonderful journey.
In terms of challenges, I think overcoming that initial feeling of vulnerability when you first begin to create music can be difficult. Then comes the challenge of wanting to create something even better for the second album and others to come. The main challenge now is the marketing and business aspect. As an independent artist it isn’t always easy getting your name out there. From building and maintaining a website, to putting together a press kit, and trying to book shows, there isn’t a day that goes by that we (my husband and I) aren’t working on something that has to do with the project. Writing the music seems easy in comparison to the process of submitting your music to be reviewed, knocking on multiple doors, and sending out countless emails all while balancing jobs and parenting. Most of the time, we don’t even get responses from those we try to contact. As discouraging as this can be sometimes, we continuously remind one another that we have something special, and we just keep at it.
What are your plans and hopes for the future, professionally?
I hope to continue writing and recording music, making each album better! I’d like to create a bigger following and book tours. I would also like to make more music videos, a children’s book based on one or more of my songs and a bilingual music app.
Personally, you’re also raising two bilingual children of your own. Could you tell us about your bilingual journey so far?
I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been easy. Trying to be consistent with speaking Spanish and having them respond in Spanish has been a major challenge. Sometimes I would use a song to remind them of a word in Spanish that they were struggling with. Skyping often with my family at home and trying to travel to Colombia as much as possible is something we try to do as well. I am constantly asking my Spanish-speaking friends to just speak Spanish to my children, and anytime we can put a movie on in Spanish, we do. My husband has been incredibly supportive. He speaks as much as he can to them in Spanish, and reminds me to do the same.
How does your music play a part in your own efforts to raise bilingual children?
Music plays a major role in raising my children bilingual, but not just my music. I really enjoy exposing them to all kinds of Latin music. It leads to discussions about different music styles, instrumentation, and traditions. Music has been my tool in teaching my children about my hometown, Barranquilla, our carnaval, the history of Colombia, the origin of costumes and folkloric dances, etc. My music is just a fun way to interact with them and another outlet of resources to learn from.
What advice would you give parents on making use of music to support their children’s bilingual development?
I think the more tools we have as bilingual educators, the easier it becomes. We all remember lullabies when we were young, nursery rhymes and those hand-clapping games. I would tell parents to incorporate as much of these as possible at home; it really helps with learning some of the basics. Remember, you don’t have to be a musician to sing to your children. Also, you can find music in your language and play it often, incorporating it in your daily life. The key is finding music that parents can enjoy and don’t mind listening to over and over again.
Visit Nathalia’s website for much more on this rising star of bilingual children’s music!
The winners of the giveaway are in! Lulu, Roy, and I each chose a name, at random, from the big, crazy clown hat. The three winners are…
Carolina in the U.S.
Marta in Germany
Maria in the U.S.
Congratulations! And thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway. Nathalia and I enjoyed reading about your efforts to promote the language development of your children through music. Keep singing and dancing!
To enter the giveaway and have a chance to win your choice of Nathalia’s albums, just follow these three simple steps. (Spanish doesn’t have to be your minority language to enter!)
1. First, please share this post with others via social media. Let’s help spread Nathalia’s music to an even wider audience! Use the sharing buttons on this page or simply copy and paste this link…
2. Leave a comment below with the following information. (And please proofread your comment, before submission, to check that the information is complete.)
2. Your children’s ages (Example: Girl, 10 and Boy, 7)
3. Your two (or more) languages (Example: Japanese, English, and Spanish)
4. Describe how you use music with your kids to promote the minority language (Example: I play music in the background; I sing songs with my kids; and I’ve built up a nice collection of CDs, including a number of musicals and movie soundtracks. Sometimes, around the house, we’ll even playfully communicate to each other by singing everything like opera singers!)
3. All entries must be submitted by the morning of Sunday, February 22 (Japan time). On that day, the comments will be printed out and cut apart to serve as entry slips for the drawing. The slips will be placed into a big, crazy clown hat and my kids and I will each pick one winner, at random, while singing to Nathalia’s music at the top of our lungs. I will then contact the three winners and update this post with the results.
I won’t respond to your comments here, but I do look forward to reading them. (I bet Nathalia will, too!) Thank you for entering the giveaway, and for sharing Nathalia’s music with others!