Top 10 Strategies for Implementing Spanish at Home
My daughter, who just turned four, recently had a burst of words and phrases – but they are all in English!
While I'm excited by my daughter's language development, as a bilingual mom, I felt a bit like a failure when her most recent burst of words and phrases were all in English. My daughter is very imaginative – she lives in her head and really never requires me to play alongside her. Even when she invites me to play, it's more like parallel play, as she quickly enters into her own dialogue. Although this has been my biggest challenge when it comes to teaching her Spanish, it's also what I love most about her.
Reflecting on my job as the parent in charge of Spanish, I knew that the teaching strategies I implemented with my son were not all going to work with my daughter. I realized I needed to reevaluate and implement new methods that were more in line with how my daughter learns so she can continue building her Spanish vocabulary. Here are the 10 rules I have followed with both my children – and expanded on to meet the needs of mi hija.
My Spanish Rules:
1. Spanish Only
I am the Spanish-speaking parent and never break from that role. All my language, when directed at the kids, is always in Spanish.
2. Play in Spanish
I am always looking for ways to interact in Spanish. Since play is really something my daughter does alone, I look to gardening, cooking, painting, and shopping as activities we do together in Spanish.
3. Media in Spanish
I do limit screen time, but I really enjoy having my coffee sola in the morning. So I turn on the TV and choose a show that is available in Spanish. Some of our favorite shows are Octonauts, Zoobabu, Beat Bugs, Maya the Bee, Curious George, and Cat in the Hat. All of them are available in Spanish on Netflix.
4. Read in Spanish
As the Spanish-speaking parent, I'm responsible for reading books in Spanish. I look for age-appropriate books, but I also consider Spanish comprehension level. Beginner books I started with include books by Eric Carle, Dr Seuss, and Sandra Boynton, and the classic Goodnight Moon. I also came across Lil' Libros recently, which offers great first-word bilingual books for starting on your Spanish Journey. I am now using these toddler books with my eldest to teach him how to read in Spanish.
5. Create Spanish Dialogue
I ask questions with “¿Quieres x o y?” This sentence structure provides my kids with options that they just need to repeat. That way they don’t have to search for the Spanish word and there's no need for them to respond in English. Language recall happens after much repetition. After enough repetition, they will eventually recall the words in Spanish.
6. Games in Spanish
I always look for games we can play in Spanish. A favorite in our house is something we call "The Animal Game." One player thinks of an animal and provides hints in Spanish. The other players must guess the animal name in Spanish. (Head over to our Animal category in our MamaLingua App for iPhone or Android for animal names and phrases you can use to help you play this game). Instead of "Duck, Duck Goose," we play “Pato, Pato, Ganso.” Instead of "Simon Says" we play “Simón Dice.” Instead of "I Spy" we play “Veo, Veo.” You get the idea!
7. Music in Spanish
My daughter loves music, so I am always looking for catchy songs in Spanish. We really enjoy 123 Andrés and Nathalia Music, both bilingual artists who promote bilingual language acquisition through Spanish and English music. Our favorite songs are Salta! Salta! by 123Andrés and Qué Llueva by Nathalia Music. Both of their albums are wonderful! Music is such a great way to pick up words and phrases in a different language, as its rhythmic nature helps with recall and language acquisition (Read here for the Top Five Reasons Music Helps with Language-Learning.) Music is also fun and it's a great way to act a little crazy with your kiddos!
8. Make Spanish-Speaking Friends
I have friends and babysitters who speak to their children in Spanish or who only speak Spanish. Having my children interact with other people in Spanish has made them realize it's not only their "Loca Mami" who speaks Spanish. It also keeps me motivated. Finding my tribe has been the most important component in keeping my promise. Finding like-minded people has not only kept me on track, it's given me the community I need to continue improving my own fluency.
9. Go Places Where Spanish is Spoken
I like to take my children where we can hear and speak Spanish. Whether it's a Latin market, a Mexican restaurant, or a bilingual event, these outings give my children a sense of pride that they are able to communicate in Spanish – and in a way that their father can't. (Yet!) In addition, they have begun to have a better understanding of the real world they live in, rather than just their (mostly) monolingual bubble.
10. Don’t Get Upset When They Use English
I don't ignore my children if they use English words. Instead, I help them say it in Spanish, because sometimes they just don't have the vocabulary. I dedicate time each day for them to practice Spanish with me – usually in the evening when they tell me about their day. I also make sure I praise them when they do use their Spanish. I feel it's important to acknowledge their efforts because, speaking from experience, staying dedicated to speaking in a minority language is challenging!