How To Teach Your Child Spanish If You Don’t Speak It
Not much more is needed to convince a parent that learning a second language should be on their child’s “To Do” list; however, even though learning a language for a child is relatively easier than it is for an adult, it still takes hard work, dedication and above all consistency is key. The learner must be consistently exposed to the language in their daily lives to be able to gain fluency.
Bob: “Thank you very much.”
Ms. Kawasaki: “My name is Kawasaki. Nice to meet you.”
Bob: “I’ve heard of you. Thank you.”
– Bill Murray in Lost In Translation
Due to my position as an American living in Spain, and on the way to having a bilingual child, I get told from my American friends, who are also parents, that they too would love their child to speak two languages like my son. But how can they go about it if they don’t speak another language? I thought I’d write this blog to help those who have the deep desire for their children to learn a second language, but yet do not speak one themselves, and I thought I’d focus on learning Spanish for a few reasons. The first one being, as a mom living in Spain, I am able to recommend quite a few resources. The second one, being the fact that many of the people I have come into contact with mention Spanish is their target language. Thirdly, as one of the founders of Kids’ Club Spanish School, I can talk with some authority on the subject. And finally, Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in the world so I understand that it would be of interest to many of the readers.
– Rita Mae Brown
You can’t build much of anything without a foundation, and the same goes for language skills. Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking are the four skills that need to be consistently practiced in order to build fluency in a language and the resources given below will help your child practice these skills.
1. Foundation Skill for Listening for Spanish for Children
There are some great resources to help your child practice their listening skills in Spanish. Nowadays, our children, who are known as “Digital Natives”, a term used to describe children who have grown up after the widespread adoption of digital technology, really thrive at learning when their yearning for media rich content is met. This is one of the reasons why Youtube, and other streaming services, are great tools to take advantage of when learning Spanish.
Our children love cartoons and they love watching streaming videos. Putting these two things together create a great way to start their Spanish language learning journey. Many of us put a cap on computer time for our children but yet we are usually pressured by them to allow them to have more time. A great way to encourage them to be consistent with listening to Spanish is to allow them more computer time, as long as they watch a cartoon online in Spanish for children. Of course, this has to come with a structured plan for learning so I am going to detail this below.
Also, while watching the cartoon, they should pick out a few words they want to learn. For example, if they are seeing a cat who is chasing a mouse who dropped their cheese, maybe they want to learn how to say cat, mouse, chase and cheese in Spanish. These are words that they will be hearing in the cartoon so it would be good for your child to recognize them. Together, you can look up these words on different translating sites such as Word Reference. These words will stay with them as they continue to hear them throughout the next episodes.
In this activity your child is getting great listening practice and learning vocabulary. This is actually the way your child learned a lot of their native language so why not use it as a resource for them to pick up Spanish?
If you have Netflix you can also put on your child’s favorite cartoons in Spanish by changing the language. Here Netflix language settings is a link to some instructions to change the audio or even search for shows that were created originally in Spanish.
2. Foundation Skill for Reading Spanish for Children
The obvious answer to building this foundation skill is by having your child read books in Spanish for children. This is a great way for them to expand their vocabulary and internalize the language they have already learned. However, it can be very difficult to get a young child to start reading in a language they don’t yet speak so below I am going to give you some great resources for texts for young learners of a second language.
A great way to ease into reading in Spanish for kids is to start with some dual language books that are written in both languages. This way your child doesn’t get frustrated by too many words they can’t understand. Little Linguist has some great title suggestions. Reading is great because many parents read to their children before going to bed. With this method all you would have to do is substitute the nightly reading sessions with these Spanish books. Reading them together would be a great way to learn the language.
One Third Stories are stories for 4-9 year olds, mostly written in English but that gradually introduce Spanish vocabulary and sentences. Once a month you get a story box that contains a book, activities and games that teach a variety of Spanish words. The pack is quite complete.
Here is a great review of some books that are great for young learners who are absolute beginners to the Spanish language. Spanish-books-for-kids-baby-toddler-child-teen.
– George R. R. Martin
Reading and listening are “input” components of language learning and are all about absorbing language that has already been produced. In a way, you are a consumer of the language. However, in order to communicate well in a second language, you need to be able to create the language and communicate it to others.
Writing is considered an “output” component to language learning. When writing, your child will be the one producing the language. They will take the time to think about their words, look up words they need to communicate their ideas and therefore add words to their repertoire. This takes their language learning from a passive role (listening and reading already produced language), to a more active role by being the ones that actually produce it. This will improve their Spanish language learning exponentially.
In the very beginning it may be hard to get your child to actually be able to write something as their vocabulary will be very limited. However, using the list of vocabulary they have accumulated by watching cartoons and reading books, you can assign them, in the beginning, very simple writing tasks. Let’s take the cat, mouse, cheese and chase vocabulary that they hypothetically learned watching cartoons. You could assign a writing task where they draw a picture of the scene of the cat chasing the mouse with the cheese and simply have them write the sentence in Spanish for “A cat chases a mouse eating cheese”. Just getting them to write the words to vocabulary they have learned is a great way for them to produce the language. Drawing pictures to go along with it taps into children’s desire to be creative. Little by little they will have a larger pool of resources to pull from in order to do their writing tasks. It could also be fun to sit with them while they are writing and look up words together in a dual language dictionary.
– Federico Fellini
Speaking is another “output” component of the language. It might be a bit difficult to introduce this component into your child’s language learning journey if you do not speak the language yourself. There are a variety of things you can do to try and get your child to output the language in a conversational way. For example, after your child has learned the word for shoes in Spanish, zapatos, it could be a good idea to no longer use the English word “shoes” anymore in your daily conversations but to substitute it with “zapatos”. This can be done with any and all vocabulary and sentence structures learned. Instead of asking your child to tie their shoes, you can ask them to “tie their zapatos”.
Even though the above can be a really fun way to incorporate Spanish in your every day lives, and really reinforce what has been learned, your child will eventually need to have more advanced conversations. How can you go about providing this for them if you do not speak the language? Here are a few options.
Join social groups for Spanish speaking parents and arrange play dates so your children can play together using Spanish. If you don’t speak the language you want your child to learn, finding exposure to that language is a priority. Try to find people who speak your target language. There are many groups on social media these days. Providing your child with opportunities to speak Spanish can be as easy as searching for a Spanish parents’ group and arranging meet-ups so your children can play together.
Another really great way to get your child speaking is by hiring a Spanish speaking nanny or Au Pair. There are many different websites, for example http://aupair.com/, that can help you look for young people living abroad who want to travel to the United States to learn English and who are willing to be Au Pairs for families in order to do this. Your family could host an Au Pair from Spain, for example, with the exchange that they take care of your child during the day speaking only in Spanish. Evenings and weekends the Au Pair can be free to roam your city to meet friends and practice their English. On top of having a Spanish tutor for your child you will receive flexible, affordable, live-in child care. Who could want more?
Many parents understand what learning a second language can bring to their child but are overwhelmed by how to go about providing learning opportunities when they themselves do not speak Spanish. I hope this blog has helped you see that it isn’t as hard as it seems to provide these opportunities. What is important is having dedication and consistency in your approach. Making sure your child is consistently exposed to Spanish in their daily lives is not as hard as it may seem!
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