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A bilingual toy boom

Many of the latest, hottest offerings speak English and Spanish

Fisher-Price's wildly successful "Dora the Explorer" line has helped increase the popularity of bilingual toys. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

LOS ANGELES -- Odra Heitmann hauled the heavy package labeled "Dora's Talking Kitchen" off a Toys "R" Us shelf.

Splashed on the box was a promo: "Says Phrases in English and Spanish!"

That sealed the deal for Heitmann, who scooped it up as a gift for her 1-year-old niece Ashley.

"I made a big mistake by not teaching my kids Spanish," said Heitmann, 37, recently at the Burbank, Calif., store. "I'm not going to make the same mistake with my niece."

Spurred by a growing immigrant population in the United States and a push to teach children foreign languages earlier , toymakers and consumers are going bilingual.

For the first time, Hispanics -- the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the country at 42.7 million -- will flex more spending power than any other minority group in the United States, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business.

Hispanics' disposable income will swell to $863.1 billion this year, up 8.1 percent from 2006, the center estimates.

Spanish-English bilingual toys have become especially popular in the last few years, thanks in part to Fisher-Price's wildly successful "Dora the Explorer" product line, based on the Nickelodeon cartoon about Dora Marquez, a 7-year-old bilingual Hispanic girl.

"There's been a shift in the culture, where speaking two languages is more popular," said Reyne Rice, a trend specialist with the Toy Industry Association. "And now, second- and even first-generation Americans are saying, 'No, we're proud of our heritage, and we want our kids to embrace our language."'