Jose-Luis Orozco: Capturing Kids' Attention In Two Languages For the past 42 years, the Mexican singer and author has been entertaining children with songs he sings in English and Spanish. Orozco's passion revolves around teaching children to be bilingual through music.

Jose-Luis Orozco: Capturing Kids' Attention In Two Languages

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This month, NPR is talking a closer look at the various types of media available to children: TV shows, apps, games, toys - and in this next story, music. For more than 40 years, Jose Luis Orozco has been entertaining children with music he sings in both English and Spanish. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, he's passionate about teaching children to be bilingual through song.


JOSE LUIS OROZCO: (Singing) Buenos dias.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Buenos dias.

OROZCO: (Singing) Como estas?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Como estas?

OROZCO: (Singing) Muy bien, gracias...

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Jose Luis Orozco manages the near impossible: getting hundreds of small children to pay attention.


OROZCO: (Singing) Good morning.

DEL BARCO: He entertains them the old-fashioned way: alone, with his guitar; asking them to sing, dance and clap along, and pretend to make hot chocolate with their hands.


OROZCO: (Singing) Chocolate, chocolate, bate bate chocolate. Chocolate, chocolate, bate bate chocolate. Chocolate, chocolate, bate bate chocolate...

DEL BARCO: The kids count and do the ABC's. They dance the macarena and imitate animals.

OROZCO: These are important tools for children; to help them with oral language development, with literacy, body movement, coordination.

DEL BARCO: Orozco says he wants Latino children to love the music as much as he does.

OROZCO: Many abuelitas, many parents know the songs that they have learned as kids. It's important to tell the parents que les cantan a los ninos. We have a rich tradition, and it's important to pass it on.

DEL BARCO: Orozco was born 65 years ago in Mexico City, and grew up listening to children's musician Cri Cri on the radio. His mother and grandmother sang many of the same tunes he croons today. When he was 7 years old, he joined the Mexico City Boys Choir.

OROZCO: We were the little Mexican ambassadors. I got to see the world. We sang before five different presidents.

DEL BARCO: Here's Orozco's solo in 1959, at the National Theater in Santiago, Chile.


DEL BARCO: Orozco eventually made his way to the San Francisco Bay Area with $50 in his pocket. Back then, in the 1970s, Berkeley's innovative bilingual education programs were blossoming, and Orozco was hired to teach music. He remembers the political fights over the public schools' federally funded programs.

OROZCO: It's been controversial but now, not as much. I'm so happy to visit dual-language schools because there is, you know, an open heart - kids appreciating this diversity, understanding of other cultures, and respect.

DEL BARCO: Orozco left his job as a vice chancellor of the National Hispanic University, to start a publishing company for his recordings and books. His latest project, Carramba Kids, promotes fitness and good eating habits.


OROZCO: (Singing) Ooh la la, ooh la la, le dicen ooh la la. Hands on your waist. Yeah...

DEL BARCO: At an elementary school in Montebello, east of LA, Orozco sang, then talked about Mexican history. And he asked the kids about their futures.

OROZCO: Who wants to be president of the United States? All right. Yes, you can. Si, se puede.


DEL BARCO: Ten-year-old Destiny Duarte, and 9-year-old Natalie Cortez, say Orozco inspired them.

DESTINY DUARTE: My parents will tell me: Sing in Spanish, come on. And I'll be too shy. But he made it really fun.

NATALIE CORTEZ: Every time I would be annoyed by the Spanish music that my mom and dad would play whenever it's a celebration, and I would be really annoyed. And this made me not annoyed. So I loved it.

DEL BARCO: Not annoying - that's high praise from this crowd. Orozco's catchy repertoire left an impression on even the youngest in the audience. After his concert, my 19-month-old daughter, Amaya, sang all the way home.

AMAYA: (Singing) Ooh la la. Ooh la la. Ooh la la...

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.


MONTAGNE: Aw. This is NPR News.

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