Posted on December 13, 2006

Bilingual Toys Taking Off

Keiko Morris, Newsday, Dec. 12, 2006

Ian Hede, at 20 months, plays in two languages.

Sometimes he and his mother, Marcela Hede, solve a simple puzzle of shapes — the words for those shapes written in English and Spanish for his mother to read aloud. And sometimes, he finds his amusement in his LeapFrog letter reader, which, with the simple push of a letter, offers Ian the sound of the letter in Spanish and a catchy little tune.

“We made the decision as a couple to raise him bilingual because we thought it would be a great asset,” said Marcela Hede, 36, an East Northport resident who is originally from Colombia. Her husband, Neil Hede, is American. “We have this mentality that we are citizens of the world,” she said. “We like the fact that we can communicate in different languages and with different people and meet people of different cultures.”

As it turns out, the Hedes are not the only ones looking for toys that will help develop dual language skills. Industry experts say that the demand for such playthings has been growing in the past five years and toy companies, in an attempt to cater to a lucrative market, have boosted the number of such toys. Toys “R” Us identified bilingual toys as the second of its top five hottest toy trends for this holiday season.

“From the toy-making perspective, it really acknowledges this growth of our population, and it actually speaks to the economic power of the Hispanic community,” said Chris Byrne, toy expert and contributing editor for the magazine Toy Wishes. “It’s profitable to market high-profile mainstream toys to this community.”

In 2007, Hispanics are expected to surpass African-Americans as the minority group with the most spending power, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. The center estimated that Hispanic buying power will increase by 8.1 percent to reach $863 billion in 2007. And by U.S. Census estimates, the Hispanic population has increased by about 18.6 percent between 2000 and 2005.


During the past three to five years, more emphasis has been placed on bilingual products in the marketplace, said Reyne Rice, a toy trend specialist with the Toy Industry Association. Still, Rice said that, by now, the market should be offering consumers more bilingual toys and games than are available.

Monopoly, The Game of Life, Risk, Scrabble and Candy Land all come in Spanish versions.

Fisher-Price sells a Bilingual Elmo, which sings in both English and Spanish and is supposed to teach children five new Spanish words when they squeeze his tummy. And the new TMX Elmo, one of this season’s top sellers, also has Spanish and French versions.

Amigo Bear is a new Care Bear member, complete with a cell phone and claims to teach numbers, colors and phrases in both English and Spanish. A new version of Baby Alive can be switched from English to Spanish. For a slightly older children, Oregon Scientific has developed a 3D interactive bilingual globe. And LeapFrog has developed a number of bilingual educational toys.


Joseph Ortego, 52, an attorney and Garden City resident whose family is from Spain, said that since his children were young the selection of bilingual toys has greatly expanded, a change he attributes not only to an increasing consumer base but also to a shift in attitude toward immigrant cultures and language. Among his generation of first- and second-generation children of immigrants, Ortego said there was an emphasis on “English and English only.” That is no longer the general rule.

“What you also have are second- and first-generation people who want to promote bilingual education because it’s a tremendous advantage and they want to instill [their] culture in their children,” said Ortego, who put effort into finding bilingual toys and reading in Spanish to his daughters, now 19 and 15. The family would travel to Spanish-speaking countries once a year. “I guess there’s a different attitude from my generation. There’s no embarrassment of trying to speak another language in public.”

Mark Bonilla, Town of Hempstead clerk, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico, grew up in an era when speaking English was emphasized, often to the detriment of Spanish, in Hispanic immigrant households.