7 Ways That I Teach My Toddler Spanish as a Nonnative Spanish Speaker
Before I became a mother, I knew one thing for certain. My children were going to speak Spanish. Not only were they going to speak Spanish, Spanish was going to be their first language.
Learning languages, Spanish in particular, has been my passion since Spanish 1 class my freshman year of high school. Since then, I have traveled to many countries in Latin America, received my Bachelors and Masters in Spanish and Latin American studies, and currently, I work as a part-time freelance translator.
In 2011, I met my Salvadoran partner Carlos and the language became a full-time gig for me. Together we have grown to learn each other’s languages, but most importantly cultures. From Carlos' culture, I have learned to LOVE diverse food, this was huge for me because I was a rather picky eater. I have a new appreciation for Latin music. I have learned how to dance— well sort of. I have learned new expressions, new behaviors, new values, and the list goes on and on.
I have truly acculturated to this new lifestyle and because of it I feel more well-rounded and I have grown as an individual. I want this for my son and my future children. Even though Lennox was born here, I never want him to forget his Salvadoran roots nor the time and energy I have dedicated to learning Spanish plus the effort I have put in to teach it to him.
Therefore, since Lennox was born on day 1, I have done all I can in my power make sure he speaks Spanish and the learns his Papi’s culture as well. It hasn’t been easy for me whatsoever, especially in times of frustration, when I just want to get my words out as quickly as possible, but it has been SO worth it. It has also been extremely rewarding for me because I have learned a new Spanish that I was never taught in school or learned conversationally. For example, nursery rhymes, onomatopoeia, shapes, among many more. It really is fascinating and that is my motivation for writing this post.
Now you might be thinking, well he eventually needs to learn English. Oh, he will because English is everywhere. It is on the T.V., my family only speaks English, and in September he will start preschool so he will learn it there as well.
Nonetheless, Lennox will know very well that in our house, or with Mami or Papi, he will speak in Spanish only. I know too many people of Latino descent that let Spanish slip away from their children and it truly makes me so sad. Not only should they be proud of their culture and want their children to be bilingual, but also being bilingual is so beneficial for their children.
In her article, K. Lori Hanson, Ph.D. goes into the advantages bilingual children have. Her research shows that bilingual children:
· have sharper brain function.
· Have stronger listening skills.
· Are more creative.
· Have a leg up in the future workplace.
· Are better problem solvers.
· Are more open-minded.
· Will gain new perspectives.
· Have expanded social opportunities.
· Form bonds with extended family.
· Can more easily learn another language.
· Will most likely raise bilingual kids.
I want Lennox to have all of these advantages, and there is no better way to do so then to teach him while he’s young. Research shows that “the best time to learn a new language is between birth and age 7.” That’s why I want Lennox to get a great foundation of Spanish first before being thrown out into the English-speaking world. Below is a list of 7 ways we commit ourselves to building Lennox's Spanish foundation in our home. Enjoy!
1. ¡Español, español, español, all day long!
I mentioned earlier that since Lennox was born I only speak to him in Spanish. This is a lot easier when we are all together as a family as I have always spoken in Spanish with Carlos. When it is just Lennox and me, it is a bit more difficult and oftentimes feels unnatural. Regardless I do it and over time it has gotten a lot easier. Practice makes perfect, they say.
2. Constant communication
Not only do I only talk to Lennox in Spanish, but I make sure I describe my actions when he is near me. If I am doing the dishes, I talk to him about how I scrub the dishes. I open interactive dialogue with him so that he can learn the process and daily routines of life. This is important to do with your children no matter what language you are teaching them. Children are sponges at this age and soak up everything you say to them. This will also allow them to interact with daily chores and help them be more interested in fulfilling these chores when they are older.
3. Technology will not win
If I am going to put all of my efforts into speaking Spanish to Lennox, you best believe that all the technology is going to follow suit. Now that we’re at toddler-tantrum-throwing-times, it is really hard to avoid technology because you know, that's the only time you can sit down for a second, fold the laundry, check your phone, or anything else on your never-ending to-do list. You get my gist.
When we do use technology, it is always in Spanish. One of my favorite go-tos is the YouTube Chanel El Reino Infantíl (The Children's Kingdom). Not only are these children’s videos all in Spanish, but they are quite entertaining. in my opinion, they are among the best-produced children's shows on YouTube and they are my daily saving’s grace. Even I go around singing them all day and not to mention, my Spanish vocabulary has exploded thanks to these entertaining songs. No baby shark, mama shark pointlessness over here. #sorrynotsorry.
Netflix is another amazing resource because almost all of the kids shows have a Spanish audio option. I love showing Lennox the old 1950’s Disney movies and I love even more that they have Spanish voiceovers.
As for phones, Lennox is just starting to use my iPhone. I set my phone to Spanish so that when I download children’s apps, they are in Spanish. PeekabooKids is one of my favorite children’s apps and has really helped Lennox learn his animals.
Early on into my Spanish education, I used to listen to Spanish music all the time. To understand what was being said, I would print out the lyrics and translate them into English. Ever since then, Reggaeton, Cumbia, Bachata, Merengue, and so on, have taken over my headphones. Lennox loooooves music, Reggaeton more than I would like him to, but it is so cute to see him start to sing the words and move his hips. He sure does have Latino blood. Look how he moves those hips!
Lennox has also learned a lot of Spanish and his Salvadoran roots through his food. Check out one of his favorite recipes here: Typical Latin American Shrimp Ceviche
5. Books, Books, Books
I love reading to Lennox and I have spent a pretty penny on buying Spanish books. However, I have gotten a lot of hand-me-down books that are in English. I still utilize these books, but I make up my own story in Spanish and we talk about the pictures instead.
Our favorite book in Spanish is Diós te bendiga y buenas noches By Hanna C. Hall. The pictures are adorable, it talks about bedtime and it has a beautiful rhyme. We actually have turned it into a song that we sing before bed some nights. I would post a video of it but it’s quite embarrassing.
We don’t have a lot of caretakers for Lennox but when we do, one of our requirements is that they speak Spanish so that Lennox can understand them and not become accustomed to speaking English.
7. Playmates and mommy groups
The same goes for playmates, and I am so happy that I have a lot of Spanish-speaking friends with children. Lennox especially benefits from the older kids who speak to him in Spanish since he is at the stage where he imitates everything.
I also know in my town, on the app Meetup, there are a lot of groups that have bilingual meetup sessions. I have not met up with these groups yet but I would love to one day. The library near me also has sessions for young children in Spanish. I have been meaning to check those out as well.
I hope you enjoyed my tips for how I raise Lennox speaking Spanish as a nonnative speaker. If you are interested in raising a bilingual child, stay tuned. I will be writing a lot more posts on raising a bilingual child in the near future. As for these tips, don’t feel discouraged if you yourself do not speak Spanish. Your child has such an amazing learning capacity that even by putting on the shows from El Reino Infantíl or Netflix, you will be surprised how much they will learn. Also, if you are interested in learning yourself, there is no better way than to learn it concurrently with your child.
Have a wonderful day and don’t forget to follow us on social media to see how we live our bicultural life!!