Guest post by Leonie Misquitta, PhD, Program Director for the Division of Extramural Programs, NLM.
The NLM Division of Extramural Programs funds many exciting programs through its G08 resource grants. The purpose of G08 grants is to make informational and digital resources available to improve health. One such project that was funded by this grant is a culturally relevant mobile app called Háblame Bebé, which was recently featured in an NLM funding spotlight.
Háblame Bebé emphasizes the message that parents are their baby’s first and best teachers, regardless of what language they speak. The Háblame Bebé team, led by linguist Dr. Melissa Baralt, nurse Dr. Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, and psychologist Dr. Natalie Brito, developed a mobile phone application that seeks to change conceptions about bilingualism and to promote using the baby’s home language, Spanish, alongside the mainstream societal language, English.
Háblame Bebé was designed with input from parents, teachers, the community, and health data. It is a free, bilingual parent coaching app that supports Hispanic parents in promoting their child’s bilingualism, supporting early brain development and monitoring developmental milestones, and encouraging sociolinguistic pride, or the pride in being Hispanic and speaking Spanish.
At the heart of the Háblame Bebé app is the hashtag #enraicémonos, or the message of “let’s get in touch with, let’s be proud of our roots.” This hashtag was suggested by the first group of families that used the app. The team found that early language environments of low-income Hispanic children were negatively affected when their Spanish-speaking parents and caregivers had experienced linguistic racism, assimilation pressure, or misinformed advice such as “speak English only” with their child.
Bilingualism confers considerable cognitive, academic, and socioemotional benefits for young children, as well as the family unit. In fact, research shows that children whose native Spanish-speaking parents speak only Spanish at home learn English better compared to children who are exposed to their parents’ non-native English at home. However, families need support in promoting bilingual language development for their infants and toddlers, and this must start with the health information they receive.
The Háblame Bebé phone app is free to download and features over a hundred new videos and resources for Hispanic parents as well connects them with their local public library system. In south Florida, the widely popular app has been downloaded onto all of Miami-Dade Public Library System’s 7,000 tablets for free use by parents. It is also being used by nurse home visitors and first-time mothers in the federally funded Nurse-Family Partnership.
Additionally, developers of the app were able to create a content management system that allows them to continue building resources to the app after the funding period ends so the information stays current.
Háblame Bebé has led to significant changes in Hispanic parent-child interactions in their home language, Spanish, and because it is a free technology, it has been enormously successful in connecting with hard-to-reach families and changing conceptions about bilingualism.
Dr. Misquitta directs a portfolio of Data Science, Biomedical and Translational Informatics Awards for the NLM Extramural Program. She also serves as the Project Scientist for the common fund Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program and the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C) program. She is a NIH COSWD 21st Century Scholars Program alumni and strongly believes in scientific and workforce equity and diversity. For over two decades, she has been active in many cross-disciplinary HHS-wide initiatives, where she continues to work towards building a talent pool of interdisciplinary investigators that is practical and sustainable.