I blog bilingually, which is why I get so many questions about what I do to teach my little ones Spanish. I’m not a language teacher nor an expert in bilingual education, but I am a mom with bilingual kids. So I have one straightforward answer and some ideas you can try with your own kids.
Before I get to that, though, let me say this: while kids’ brains are specially wired to acquire language, it still takes time and commitment. So be encouraging, be a cheerleader, and be very patient.
Ok, so here’s my answer: Keep it fun! No really, I mean it. If language learning feels like an extra chore, you’ll get resistance, guaranteed. I know I’m not the only mom who feels this way, too. Rest assured, I’ve had many discussions over the years with other bilingual moms who’ve told me the same. There’s too much to learn to waste time with resistance. Resistance behavior is a signal to change tactics! It takes thought and work to keep it fun, but it’s supremely important.
With that said, here are 9 ways I’m teaching my kids a new language.
Throw a party! 1 of 9
What's more fun than a party? If you want your kids to learn Spanish, start your journey with a Mexican fiesta or tango dance party. First, you'll establish from the beginning that learning a language is going to be fun; second, they'll likely remember more vocabulary and cultural details when they're having fun; and third, they'll look forward to more fun language activities in the future.
Now, throw another!
Printing Fun 2 of 9
Create your own visual aids with modern technology. Take photos of family relations like aunts, uncles, and grandparents with a smartphone or tablet. Use an app to label the photos. Then print them directly to a mobile printer. You can do this as well with items in the kitchen, dining room, garage, living room and bedroom, and you can make a collage, too. Also, make fun labels to identify items around the house like chairs, sofas, bookcases, and plates. I created a treasure hunt recently for a group of boys and added Spanish to a number of the clues.
Car Games 3 of 9
For reasons I can't really explain, my kids resist less when we play language games in the car. Here's a link to an article I wrote about some of the fun games we play. One of our favorites is called "Te vendo una gallina," where players must add a new word to an ever-growing list and then repeat them back in the same order. Bring your Spanish-English dictionary in case someone has a question.
Bilingual Books 4 of 9
Introduce kids to bilingual books early and often. When you get an early start with this, kids see reading a story in two languages as perfectly normal. (Bonus: You'll get an extra thrill the first time your child tells you the translations have slightly different meanings. It means they're getting it!)
Music 5 of 9
Music is the perfect way to introduce kids to Spanish (or any other language!). Play music in the background at home and try different genres to find the rhythms your kids like most. Find lyrics on your smartphone or tablet and print them straight from your device to a mobile printer so kids can follow along. Most of all, keep them awash in words and music.
Games 6 of 9
My boys love playing loterÃa, a bingo-like game that our family traditionally plays on Mexican Independence Day. Look for it at Mexican markets in your area. They also enjoy Spanish Monopoly. They always play long after I've mortgaged my last property.
Travel 7 of 9
Explore! Of course, full language and cultural immersion are the quickest ways to learn language, but pulling stakes and moving to another country is not always an option.
There are rich pockets of culture all over the country where language and traditions from around the Spanish-speaking world are preserved and shared. If you are fortunate enough to travel to one of these places, or another Spanish-speaking country, snap photos with your phone or tablet and send your favorites to your mobile printer at home to use for vocabulary practice and conversation starters when you return.
Movies 8 of 9
If your kids have a favorite movie they've watched several times, try playing it in Spanish the next time. Also, Disney often creates videos featuring songs from popular Disney movies sung in different languages. My boys both enjoy and are fascinated by these. This one of Frozen's Let It Go has had over 18,000,000 hits on YouTube and includes 25 different languages.
Playgroups 9 of 9
Play is the best way to learn. Playing with kids who speak Spanish or are learning to speak Spanish is a great way to learn language naturally while having tons of fun. The focus isn't on the language, but on the fun. The learning comes naturally.
Keep it Fun!
Silvia cooks yummy Mexican food, plays with her kids, and takes pictures at MamaLatinaTips.com. Read Silvia’s Disney Adventures in Español at Disneylandiaaldia.com. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, and Facebook.