Supercharge Your Spanish Lessons at Home with Bedtime Stories
What is it about stories that’s so magical? Whether you’re curling up with a good book, watching a movie, or listening to your friend who manages to turn even her most average shopping trip into a hilarious adventure—you can’t help but get drawn into a good story. In fact, it’s in our DNA. Humans have been telling each other stories since we first learned the art of speech and gathered together around the fire to describe the events of our world.
But what has all this got to do with learning Spanish? One of the reasons I’m so obsessed with stories is because they are an educator’s secret weapon. Their special magnetism proves time and again that when we’re drawn into a story, we no longer notice what else is going on; and that every type of person is equally likely to get “lost in the story,” as they say. And that means that stories are a great way to learn without realising it.
Look at it this way—have you ever smuggled veggies into your kid’s pasta sauce? I do it all the time. This storytelling tactic is the same. You set yourself up for story time, and then boom! You slip in some Spanish.
Are you ready to give it a try? Here are three easy ways to start.
1. Bedtime Story with a Catchphrase
I know that making up your own bedtime story may feel intimidating, but it’s pretty simple once you know the formula.
For any story, all you need are 3 main elements:
- a character
- something they struggle against
- a resolution at the end
While picking a character is more straightforward, you’ll want to spend some time considering the type of struggle they are up against. It could be about how they achieve their desire to get to a certain place, how they learn to do something they thought impossible, or craft an evil character or scenario that stands in the way of reaching their dream. Finally, you’ll need some sort of satisfying resolution at the end.
Now here’s the magic part.
You invent one catchphrase in Spanish that you are going to use in the story, one with new words that you want your kids to learn.
Let’s make it something silly like: Hay un pollo sentado en tu cabeza.
We get everyone comfy, settled down in story mode, and we begin.
It’s an English story just like all the rest. The story of a little boy or girl who had to go somewhere and everyone kept saying to them: Hay un pollo sentado en tu cabeza. The character in the story doesn’t realize what everyone is looking at, until suddenly, you reveal the meaning: they’ve got a chicken on their head! Or you can switch it round, and have your character say the one phrase again and again until someone understands. Maybe it’s a big scary monster that runs around scaring everyone saying Soy un monstruo. Tengo hambre. Me encanta comer pimientos. But of course, finally, someone realizes that the monster is a vegetarian and there’s no need to be afraid.
2. Role Play with the Spanish Doll
This is another fun one! You begin playing with your favorite dolls or figures while one of the dolls only speaks in Spanish. This could be a special doll or figure that only ever speaks Spanish, or you could just decide on a particular toy for this game. Then you play any one of your kids’ normal games, whether it’s pretending to make something, having a tea party, or doing some kind of race or rescue. But you play the Spanish character, and the character only speaks Spanish. Keep it nice and simple at the start so that it’s not overwhelming—the goal is, of course, to make it fun. You could even give the doll a fun catchphrase too, like ¡bailemos amigos!
The real challenge is to do it consistently. It may be tough to maintain momentum, but that’s the beauty of such a simple tool as spontaneous role play. Whenever you see the doll lying around, you can pick it up and start speaking some Spanish. This is also super helpful if your kids are reluctant to speak Spanish with you. Maybe they only speak it at school or with one parent, but this way, you’ll get them talking to the doll!
3. Bilingual Bedtime Stories
The final way to supercharge your children’s Spanish learning is by reading Spanish or bilingual storybooks. You have three main options:
- Books that are 100% Spanish
- Bilingual Spanish-English side by side books
- Mixed Spanish-English books
100% Spanish Books
Reading books that are 100% in Spanish is perfect for very young kids, or even while you are pregnant (kids can hear your and your partners’ voices while they’re still inside). Here, the words wash over them and they start to familiarize themselves with the beautiful sounds of the Spanish language. As your kids get older, if they can speak well, then Spanish stories are a great way to increase vocabulary. The one downside to consider is if you or your child are just beginning to learn Spanish, then immersive books may be a bit too daunting (unless they are super simple).
Books with Side by Side Text
The second option you have are books that have the text in both languages, side by side. Bilingual texts like this are readily available with all sorts of different stories. And there’s lots of ways to use them. Perhaps as a family effort, one parent, grandparent, or relative reads the Spanish sections and another family member reads the English. As the kids’ Spanish skills improve, and as they start to read by themselves, their curiosity to learn on their own will be satiated by having both texts side by side.
But again, for those kids that are just learning Spanish, this level of a full book is just too advanced. And that’s where the third method comes in.
Mixed Spanish-English Books
Stories that mix both English and the second language are excellent for inspiring new learners and delighting kids who already have a handle on both languages. As a children’s author myself, I decided to create mixed language books to offer more of this enjoyable experience to your little ones. I simply wasn’t satisfied with either of the other two book options and so I wrote and published a wonderful book called The Fabulous Lost and Found Book and the Little Mouse Who Spoke Spanish.
The little mouse is a character in this fun-filled story who only speaks Spanish. She’s lost something precious and the two cute Frogs have to figure out what it is. But they don’t speak Spanish. Hilarity ensues as your child is introduced to a steady and entertaining stream of 50 Spanish words!
It’s a really fun way to learn without realizing it.
Let Me Know What You Think!
So there we have it. Three ways to use stories to help your kids learn Spanish. I really hope these have been helpful. I love hearing about new ideas so please do share your tips and suggestions in the comments.
Want more great Spanish tips and tricks for you and your family? Check out these posts!
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- Supercharge Your Spanish Lessons at Home with Bedtime Stories - July 21, 2020