How to Teach Your Child Spanish
Being bilingual in today’s world is not only a perk but a serious advantage. One might even consider it a necessity! As parents doing our best, of course, we want to impart this linguistic talent to our children. Spanish is an especially popular language choice with more than 500 million speakers worldwide. However, what if you only speak English? What if you learned Spanish years ago in high school, and now you’ve forgotten how to pronounce everything? There are so many questions that arise when we want to teach Spanish to our children but are limited by our language capabilities. The internet is full of overwhelming amounts of information about how to teach this foreign language at home, whether we speak it or not, and the sheer volume of resources can be daunting to sift through. In this article, I will boil down the excess into manageable chunks to explain the what, the why, and the how of teaching your child Spanish at home.
How to Learn
First, let’s imagine this: you are building a house. Before the house can be constructed piece by piece, you must first lay down a solid foundation. In this analogy, our understanding of how to learn Spanish is the foundation, and the pieces of the house are the strategies explained in detail below. To understand how our children learn a foreign language, we will turn it over to linguist Stephen Krashen who developed a useful theory on how children experience language learning:
The result of language acquisition … is subconscious. We are generally not consciously aware of the rules of the languages we have acquired. Instead, we have a ‘feel’ for the correctness. Grammatical sentences ‘sound’ right, or ‘feel’ right, and errors feel wrong, even if we do not consciously know what rule was violated. (Krashen 10)
While we may think of language learning as all the grammar, vocabulary, and drills, it’s, in fact, more effective to use the language in a meaningful way. The interaction itself is what grabs our attention and holds it at a very deep level. Children subconsciously learn the rules of their native language. In order to maximize the learning potential for acquiring a second language, it would be wise to use the same method. Let’s look at these two opposing examples:
(1) The teacher stands in front of the students, pointing to a list of new Spanish vocabulary words on the board. He asks the students to write the words in their notebooks: agua, arena, lodo, polvo. The students are then instructed to look up the definition of each word in the dictionary, make flashcards, and memorize their meanings.
(2) Students gather in a circle. The teacher reveals a sensory table with four different textures, each with its own label. She asks the students to touch each substance while saying its name: agua, arena, lodo, polvo. They will immediately associate the tactile sense of each substance (water, sand, mud, dust) with its Spanish name.
In each example, the students are learning. The question is – how are they learning? Number one shows memorization and number two shows a combination of associative memory and subconscious acquisition. Although both examples lead to learning, the second method will be more effective with longer-lasting results since it is made meaningful by the experience.
Children, especially toddlers or younger, are much quicker to imitate words, phrases, or song lyrics when they acquire it instead of learning it – when they experience it instead of memorizing it. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most effective strategies you can use at home to improve language learning!
Strategies for Success
1. Learn along with your child
Your kids need a compelling reason to learn a second language. As soon as they understand that it will increase interaction time with you, they will be extra motivated to engage. Brush up on your skills or start from scratch – it’s going to be a rewarding ride! Enroll in an online class at Homeschool Spanish Academy (the first class is free!) or check out our blog to review your best options. You will want to make sure your pronunciation skills are in good shape as you begin your learning journey with your child.
2. Set up a daily schedule for language learning
A 10 to 30-minute daily routine that is set at the same time is necessary for the best results. Children thrive in learning environments where they understand what to expect. Depending on their ages, they will need to start with shorter time frames and then slowly increase their stamina over a period of a few weeks or more. Create a routine that suits you and your child by dividing the time up into experiences that encourage learning. For example:
5 minutes – a fun song with a meaningful dance
10 minutes – color a picture and practice pronunciation with an activity
10 minutes – play a game to reinforce new vocabulary
5 minutes – a fun song with meaningful dance again
3. Choose your themes
Focusing on specific topics, or themes, helps you and your child focus on related information and makes learning easier. By building mental bridges between similar ideas in a theme, you are more likely to create meaningful memories. Spanish themes you might like to include will revolve around a central theme. For instance, the theme could be “On the Beach” and for 2 to 4 weeks you discuss different sub-topics using vocabulary (warm weather, what you bring to the beach, what you see on a beach), phrases and verbs (vamos a la playa, me gusta nadar), and play beach-related games (toss a beach ball and say new words or phrases, sing songs about hot weather, or fill up a kiddie pool!). Organize your themes into a notebook and jot down new ideas as you move through the year of learning.
4. Use props and TPR
Props are broadly defined as “serving a means of assistance,” and in this case, they are assisting you to bring the lesson to life. You use toys and gadgets to grab your child’s attention and excite their inner desire to play. A squishy toy frog is a whole other world compared to a simple picture. If you’re trying to encourage subconscious learning then you will want to stimulate the child’s senses and – again – give them a reason to learn.
Along the same line of props is TPR, which stands for Total Physical Response. This is a method used by language teachers to help students understand new words by using physical movement. We parents do this automatically when teaching our babies to speak our native language, so this should come naturally! TPR means to use your body to show the meaning of words while teaching them and then have your child imitate the movement and the word or phrase. For example, you can rub your hands over your eyes in a sleepy motion when teaching the phrase Tengo sueño (I am tired). Have your child repeat it and use the same motion. It’s important to be consistent when choosing movements for whichever words or phrases you’re teaching.
5. Combine learning and play
Learning is much more effective when it is fun! While teaching your child Spanish, keep in mind that it shouldn’t feel like homework or a chore. You can combine learning and play easily by using songs, dances, toys, and lots of physical activity. One excellent idea is to use a Spanish-only puppet! Find a funny puppet at a thrift store and give it a Spanish name together. Tell your child that this puppet only speaks Spanish so anytime they communicate together (you are the puppet, of course!), your child has to try really hard to remember the vocabulary they’ve learned.
6. Add Spanish to established routines
Your morning and bedtime routines are goldmines for language learning! Take advantage of the daily repetition in these activities and gradually add new Spanish words and phrases to them. While brushing your teeth, you say, “¡Me cepillo los dientes!” as your child repeats. Point to your teeth and say again, dientes so your child can repeat. While changing into pajamas, repeat, “Me pongo el pijama!” and hold up the clothes and say together “pijama.” The key to this is repetition and association of name to object or phrase to action. This is a guaranteed way to teach new vocabulary.
7. Try family ‘Spanish time’ once a week
Everyone in the family can get in on the action by setting up a weekly time that the whole family practices Spanish together. A good time might be once a week during dinner or a Spanish game night. Everyone tries to communicate as best they can for 10 minutes (or as long as they can manage) using only the Spanish they’ve learned!
8. Collect new vocabulary words in a Libro de Palabras
While you are teaching new words to your children, it will be helpful to have an organized place for them to store it all (since unfortunately it won’t all be stored in their heads!). Reuse an old binder or pick up a notebook and use it as a home for vocabulary. By calling it a “libro de palabras” you will easily teach your child two words – libro and palabras. Have your child glue down colored pictures of objects and their names on it that he or she colored, cut, and practiced. Then, every week, have a time when you both can sit down together and simply look through them as a review.
9. Seek out community support
We’ve all heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” but it’s also the case with teaching a new language to a child! A great way to gather ideas and resources, ask questions, voice concerns, and vent when you need it to those who understand (we’ve all been there!) is by joining a like-minded group. You can look for meetups in your area for parents teaching bilingual children, join groups online by searching Google or Facebook, or ask around at your child’s school to see if any other parents are teaching their children Spanish.
10. Try out Spanish learning videos
While videos aren’t the same as having a live teacher, they do have a place! Let’s use the “On the Beach” theme as an example here, also. If this were a theme in your house and you already learned some songs, vocabulary, and a few of the sub-topics had already been explored, then it would be helpful to use a video. The video should make use of some of the words and phrases you covered. Use this as a review. You could pick out one or two new words to focus on as a learning goal while watching the video to extend it or ignore the new vocabulary and just use it as a review. If you’re looking for some great videos with a specific topic or for video lessons, check out our YouTube Channel, Spanish Academy TV!
11. Enroll your child in online Spanish classes
The ultimate support in your quest to your child Spanish is to enlist the help of a native Spanish teacher. This is an extremely efficient way to give your child the gift of bilingualism. Sign up your child today with a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy, where they will start speaking Spanish immediately! By using an online classroom to provide the bulk of instruction and experience, you can focus on supplying the boost at home using the ideas listed above. If your child is too young for online classes, consider taking the class yourself to improve your Spanish and share the talent with your child. It’s a win-win!
You Can Do It!
Teaching a foreign language to your child is certainly a challenge, but with the right tools and a positive attitude, you can do it! Take advantage of this list of ideas while you gather your resources and make your teaching plan or schedule your free class with Homeschool Spanish Academy today. We would love to help you achieve your language goals. No matter how you choose to teach your child Spanish, remember how great of a parent you are for helping your child to master a foreign language. ¡Buen trabajo!