Learning a new language is a long, long journey. Talking from my own experience, I started learning English in Mexico when I was 5 years old, and by 23 when I moved to the USA it still took me a while to speak the language well. Probably you are also still learning new words in your native language.
I recommend you to be patient, to understand it’s a process. Just remember the long way it’s been since your kids’ first words and how much they speak now! Let’s take baby steps every day.
What can parents do at home to support their learning? The goals can be simple: exposure, fun, simple new phrases. Here are our teachers’ top ten tips.
1. Play games in Spanish
Who doesn’t love games? Learning Spanish by playing with your kids can be a pleasant and enjoyable experience for you as well!
Play Simon says, The Floor is Lava, Catch or Hide-and-Seek, all of that using words in Spanish. Or if playing indoors, you can get a Bilingual Memory, or download our free printable Lotería game, or use the board games you already have and say the few words you know in Spanish. Let’s say, when you play Uno, you can say the numbers or colors in Spanish. Or you can even play bilingual Scrabble allowing words in both languages!
In other words, get them to learn English in the same way they are learning their first language. If you feel uncomfortable saying the words in Spanish, you can check out the pronunciation in Google Translate.
2. Tune in to a Spanish music playlist or radio station and leave it on in the background.
I, someone who learned English singing pop hits from the ‘90s, can’t stress this enough: Songs are the best way for parents and children to learn Spanish together. After a few listens to a song, we quickly start to hum, sing along to the chorus and eventually put together more and more words.
There’s no need to limit the music to children’s songs, you can also tune in to songs that you can enjoy listening to while you’re in the car or making dinner. Spanish has a huge variety of genres that go beyond mariachi, salsa or reggaeton: pop, rock, jazz, ska, boleros, tango, reggae, flamenco, trova… there’s always a Spanish song for a mood!
3. Add Spanish to established routines.
Your morning and bedtime routines are prime times 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 a name to object or phrase to action. This is a guaranteed way to teach new vocabulary.
4. Learn through books
You can add a few Spanish books to your home library, for either regular learning time or even better, to the bedtime routine. Young children won’t question the language that you are reading to them, and this gives you a great opportunity to sneak in some extra Spanish time positively and memorably.
For starters, the vocabulary books where you point out the words and say the word out loud. You can add later illustrated storybooks, a great way to develop language as every page is supported by visual clues. The language is simplified, repetitive, it widens vocabulary and encourages children to ask questions about character and plot.
5. Learn Spanish through movies and shows
Utilize that screen time for Spanish time! Set your audio or subtitles to Spanish on Disney+ or Netflix, and set up a family movie night, or let your kids watch their favorites in Spanish. Children at the beginning won’t like watching the whole movie in a language they don’t understand the full thing, so you can start suggesting to play all the songs in Spanish, with spoken parts in English. And next time they watch the same movie (because, well, who doesn’t like watching Frozen II five times a week?) gradually you can be adding more screen time in Spanish.
6. Find Spanish resources online
In many of our classes, we use Rockalingua, a great education platform with songs, videos and games to learn Spanish. If you’re already enrolled in our Toc Toc classes, you have free access to Rockalingua as well! If you don’t have your access, reach us out to send it to you 😉
Duolingo is a great supplemental app for older students who can read, or in case you want to stay one step ahead.
7. Follow our favorite YouTube Channels
I know, opening YouTube is like going down a rabbit hole and suddenly -oops! 3 hours went by. If that’s going to happen, it better be in Spanish! Here are our favorite channels:
Nick Jr. Latinoamérica, Nick Jr. España
Disney Latinoamérica, Disney España
Smile and Learn en Español
8. Study Spanish yourself!
To build a positive attitude towards learning, and towards Spanish as a language, the best place to start is with yourself. If you send your child to a Spanish class, why not join one too? If there’s a lack of time to join a structured class, try apps like Duolingo or Busuu, where you can learn Spanish little by little at your own pace.
9. Ask your child to teach you Spanish.
This is linked to the previous point. But here, your kid is the teacher! And by doing so, they learn better. This method is called simply Learning By Teaching, it requires your child to explain the new information to you correctly in a lesson format and have you respond as the student. This boosts your kids’ understanding of the lesson, you’ll also be learning some Spanish, and you can also have some bonding time!
Don’t worry if your child makes mistakes or doesn’t start speaking in Spanish immediately. The brain needs to go through a process of decoding and pattern-finding during the language-learning process. Language production usually starts after a long period of listening and thinking.
Trust this is a long process, and be happy and encouraging with every small step your kid and your family are taking in this language journey!