Des Moines Parent Spotlight: Victor Santos
I am very excited for you to learn about this lovely Des Moines dad, Victor Santos, and his family. The Santos family is a multicultural and multilingual family who came to America and has created their own business, Linguacious. Learn more about Victor’s family, their business and how they are helping children all over our community.
Give us a little background of your family and personal life! How many kids do you have? Have you lived in Des Moines all your life?
We are a multicultural and multilingual family of four: dad (me), mom (Olya), son (Dylan), and daughter (Isabella). I was born in Brazil and moved to the USA at age 27 (I am 35 now), to do my Ph.D. in Language Learning at Iowa State University. I was actually accepted to a Ph.D. program in Hawaii as well but decided to come to Iowa instead and enjoy some of the world-famous midwestern hospitality and lifestyle. Before coming to the USA, I spent two years in Europe (Germany and Holland) doing my master’s degree and meeting some amazing people along the way. My whole studies and career have been dedicated to studying languages and helping others learn them.
My wife, Olya, was born in Ukraine and moved to the USA 16 years ago, to do her MBA. We went on our first date in 2014. In the beginning, I was living in Ames and she was living in West Des Moines, but about two years into the relationship I moved to West Des Moines to be with her.
In 2016, we had our first child, Dylan, who is now 2.5 years old and can already speak English, Russian, and Portuguese at the same level as his peers in the USA, Ukraine/Russia, and Brazil. He is sooo goofy, funny, and talkative, and we think he will be a comedian when he grows up. Seriously, I never thought a 2-year-old could crack me up so much every day! From the day he was born, Dylan has never heard any language but Portuguese from me and Russian from my wife. At 11 months, he started attending daycare, and that’s how he has picked up his English so far.
Just a few days ago, we had our first daughter, Isabella. It took us a long time to decide on her name (as well as Dylan’s) since we needed a name that would work reasonably well in all three languages (feel free to let us know in the comments in case you think we failed miserably!).
My mom and Olya’s parents come to visit about twice every year and are a great addition in our efforts to keep our cultures and languages alive and strong with our kids, as well as our effort to shower both of them with as much love as possible.
What is your business, and what do you do?
We have a family-owned language learning company called Linguacious®, which focuses on teaching basic vocabulary in a large number of foreign languages through fun physical flashcard games. Our focus is on getting kids excited about learning other languages, given the many well-documented cognitive, social, and economic benefits of being able to speak more than one language. In fact, Iowa passed a law in 2018 called the Seal of Biliteracy, through which high school students who show they have knowledge of English and at least one more language (it does not matter which one) will now get an official Iowa Seal of Biliteracy on their high school diploma and be recognized as bilinguals during their graduation ceremony. This is a huge motivation for kids to start learning other languages and I am glad to have been part of the push for that to happen here in Iowa. Down the line, it’s also the plan that kids will be able to automatically get college credit if they have the Seal of Biliteracy. Now we are even talking college savings! 🙂
We actually first developed our flashcards to use with Dylan at home, and after a while, we started getting requests from friends and educators to develop them in other languages and topics, which we were happy to do.
They are the only flashcards currently available that allow kids ages 2+ to practice all four skills (reading, listening, writing, and speaking) while playing fun games, and the only flashcards that include audio by a native speaker of the language on the cards themselves. This is an excellent feature for those parents who may want their kids to learn words in another language but may not speak the language(s) themselves. By simply scanning each card with the Linguacious app, they can hear a native speaker pronounce the word on the spot. We have received some awesome feedback so far from parents and educators, and have been lucky to receive some major awards for our flashcard products. They are currently available in over 20 different languages and in various topics.
We love watching kids learn and use their full potential from a young age, and starting Linguacious® has given us the chance to fulfill this dream of ours through the language angle, at least. Another thing is that, despite having a background in technology, I wanted to develop physical materials instead of digital ones, so that kids could actually interact with each other and with their parents or caretakers, instead of being glued to a screen. There are already too many digital distractions for them, and we wanted to bring back some of the social fun.
Why did you become a small business owner?
We started Linguacious® in mid-2017. It’s been a really fun ride and a very rewarding learning process since neither of us had any experience whatsoever with having our own business. For us, the learning part, together with the feedback we have gotten from users, is what makes it so fun for us. It’s a great feeling to know we are making a good difference and that we are also learning quite a few new things at the same time.
Where is your favorite place to take your children to play indoors?
Recently, we have been going to the Clive library and the Urbandale library quite a bit. I would say that, right now, the Urbandale library is one of our favorite indoor places. Not only for the toys and activities they have but because there are always other great parents around with whom to chat and other kids for Dylan to play together.
We also recently went to this food place in Valley Junction called Big Açaí Bowl and we loved it! Not only do they have great snacks, coffee, and sandwiches, but they also have an excellent area in the back for kids to play at. So far, it’s the best indoor spot in a restaurant we have seen in the Des Moines area and we wish more places would understand that the more opportunities they have for kids to be entertained, the more we parents will be likely to become a frequent customer. As we all here know, by making our kids happy and keeping them entertained, they make us happy and make it easier for us to have a good experience when out with the kids. Isn’t it a great feeling when you can actually enjoy your sandwich instead of having to wolf it down?
Where is your favorite place to take your children to play outdoors?
We really like two parks in the Des Moines//West Des Moines area: Ashby Park (Des Moines), and Wildwood Park (Clive). Ashby has a great wadding pool for the kids to splash around and is surrounded by lots of greenery. It also has a picnic area and great sitting space for parents to watch their kids play. Wildwood has a soccer field, which is great for the kids to run around with less chance to hurt themselves, as well as some public pickleball courts. Don’t tell anyone, but you may actually find me sneaking to the pickleball court sometimes when both Olya and I are there with our kids. Both parks just have a really good vibe and are our favorite spot when it’s not too cold outside.
Parent’s day/night out. Describe your perfect parent only day/night out in Des Moines.
Wow, let me try to remember what those feel like. The perfect night out starts with us knowing that we will have at least 3 hours to enjoy ourselves fully. It will usually start with a walk around the neighborhood where we live, so we can catch up and talk about the many things we sometimes do not have that much time to talk about. Then, we may go out to dinner at Biaggi’s (our favorite restaurant) or another good restaurant, where we can have great food with affordable wine. Then, we will either watch a good comedy show or catch a movie at the cinema.
What are some tips on juggling parenthood, working, and personal life?
Our first tip and one that we try to implement as much as possible is: do not hesitate to elicit help from others. Both Olya and I have very demanding day jobs, apart from working on Linguacious after hours, taking care of the kids, taking care of the house, and much more. Therefore, one thing that has helped us quite a bit is having others help us with some of the tasks we need taken care of. For example, our mothers take a turn coming from Ukraine and Brazil, for a total of about 6 months a year, to help us with the kids. We also have someone who comes over for about an hour, 2-3 times a week, to help us with the dishes, collecting toys, folding laundry, and packing Linguacious® products. All that allows us to have a bit more sanity and time to enjoy life and our kids, especially. If we tried to do everything ourselves, we think that would be a recipe for disaster. We also try to order online from Hy Vee and have it all delivered to our door as often as possible, to save all those minutes of weekly shopping as well. Since we started doing all that, we have noticed that things are somewhat more manageable.
Our second tip: try to optimize things you do. For example, I have my treadmill set up in front of a large monitor and in a way that I can have my laptop on my treadmill as I exercise. I am lucky to be able to work remotely and I am able to both work and exercise at the same time when I am on the treadmill, which is about one hour every morning. When Olya is driving to work, she is always catching up on the news, podcasts, etc. All these little optimization details matters, and contribute to more free time (or time for what really matters) at the end of the day.
What is your number one parenting tip?
Given our multilingual background, this one is an easy one: talk to your kids as much as you can and as often as you can. Are you driving them to school for 20 mins a day? All those 20 mins a day of talking can make the difference between a child that will be a fluent speaker of your minority language and one that will not. Talk about whatever they like and whatever they will be interested in, but talk, talk, talk… (and let them talk too).
Even if English is the only language they are learning, still, try to talk to your kids as much as you can and you will find out what amazingly interesting little beings they can be and the super fun things they can say. Love them through words as well as actions, by giving them your talking time.
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