Education

How To Teach Your Kids Spanish

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 8 minute read

An old children’s tale from Uruguay provides a striking example of the benefits of bilingualism; A slim cat stood for hours waiting for the mouse to walk out from behind the hole, so he could grab him. He wasn’t making any headway. 

One fat cat strolled by, asked what the problem was, and then offered to help the other, skinnier cat out. He had the skinny cat first move out of the way so he wouldn’t be noticed, and then he did the same. 

Then, he yowled, Woof, woof. The mouse thought it was safe to wander outside after the dog chased the cat away, but it was quickly captured and devoured by the gluttonous feline. 

As you can see, the chubby cat said, it’s to your advantage to be bilingual. Although the Summer Institute of Linguistics reports that 67% of youngsters around the world are multilingual, just 17% of Americans claim to be able to speak a language other than English. 

American culture has always been receptive to minority languages because we are a nation founded on immigration, yet most minority languages only survive for a few generations before being displaced by English. Only a handful of languages are taught to a small percentage of students for a short period of time in today’s American classrooms.

Spanish is the best second language for North Americans.

Some Americans are resistant to the idea of learning a new language because they believe that only English should be spoken. However, this perspective fails to take into account the realities of living in the United States and the rest of the globe. 

As of July 2011, the estimated Hispanic population was 52 million, making persons of Hispanic ancestry the largest ethnic or racial minority in the United States. 

In 2010, Hispanics made up 16.7% of the U.S. population; by 2050, they are projected to account for 30% of the total population (132.8 million). For the foreseeable future, the Spanish language will be spoken here and throughout the world.

More than 400 million people in North, Central, and South America are able to communicate fluently in Spanish, making it one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world. Its use in North America predates the establishment of the United States and the arrival of the English language. 

New Mexico’s border towns and mountain villages have maintained a Spanish-speaking population for centuries. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens who were born on the island of Puerto Rico, where the Spanish language is their native tongue. Only Chinese and Hindi have more native speakers, yet Spanish is the most spoken language in the world.

Advantages of Spanish Learning

There’s no need to give up English in favor of Spanish; rather, it’s a great way to add another dimension to your communication repertoire. Nancy Rhodes, director of language education at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC, claims there are several advantages to learning a second language. 

Due to the global nature of today’s society, many parents see the value in their children learning more than one language. There has been a strong grassroots movement in favor of expanding preschools’ multilingual education programs.

There are several positive outcomes you might expect from your child’s exposure to a second language.

  • Know the World and Its Peoples. Today’s human civilization has created a global village. In the same way that what happens in Atlanta or Detroit can have an impact on people in Boston, so can what happens in Beijing, Brussels, or Bogota. Learning a new language expands your horizons of possibility and helps you connect with people no matter how far apart you may be.
  • Hone your ability to think outside the box. A study implies that bilingual children’s cognitive abilities benefit from the ongoing mental stimulation provided by knowing two languages, much as that provided by playing a game or puzzle. Children who are bilingual or multilingual are more likely to be successful in school and in life than their monolingual peers.
  • Do the Adult Thing and Get a Job. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Mexico is both the second largest market for American exports ($124 billion in July 2012) and the third largest market for American imports ($162.9 billion in July 2012), trailing only China and Canada. While we are Mexico’s largest trading partner for all goods, they are our main trading partner for agricultural products. United States exports are expanding rapidly, and it is doing so in part because of its proximity to Latin American countries, the majority of whose citizens speak Spanish. Job searchers who are fluent in a businessperson’s native language have a significant advantage in the competition for open positions. In recent years, governments across Latin America have announced plans for massive infrastructure projects including new dams, motorways, and airports, which have attracted some of the largest construction companies in the United States to the region. Additionally, several countries are placing an emphasis on the medical and pharmaceutical industries, and tourism between the countries will continue to expand.
  • To postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Recent research published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences found that the beginning of dementia symptoms was significantly later in bilinguals compared to monolinguals.

How to Teach Your Children Spanish

The Preschool Kids

The best method could be to follow a child’s lead and learn the language in the same way; by listening, then by practicing what you heard through repetition or oral communication. Children acquire a wide vocabulary and reading/writing/grammar skills gradually. 

Genetics gives us the ability to associate sounds with things, activities, and concepts, and we can create up to 40 different sounds right from the get-go. These capacities working together are what made modern language possible.

Words and noises start to make sense. Babbling “ma, ma, ma” becomes “mama” and “mother” as the child matures.

Children learn by listening, repetition, and observation in their formative years. The cute noises a toddler makes while practicing the language in seemingly random babble are actually imitations of our rhythm, tone, volume, and nonverbal expressions.

The best time to start teaching your child a second language is before they turn 10 years old, and ideally before they turn 5. 

Young children who are exposed to other languages and cultures through media such as books, films, music, and objects are more likely to feel at ease in a world where linguistic and cultural boundaries blur constantly.

There are many ways you can begin teaching your preschooler Spanish at home:

  1. Child songs and other lullabies. Children of a younger age like the rhythm and tune of nursery rhymes and children’s songs even if they don’t fully understand the words. Listening to Sesame Street or a tape of well-known songs like Ten Little Fingers is a great way to introduce the Spanish language and rhythm through the medium of play.
  2. Memoir cassettes. Find a Spanish-language version of your kid’s favorite book. Things like Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer have even been localized. You can either read the translated version aloud to your child or listen to the audiobook together. The vibrant illustrations of Indi Avila’s book Sana Sana, which tell the narrative of a young girl named Lucia, have made it a hit with young readers.
  3. Bingo with Words and Pictures. As it is much simpler to remember a word when paired with a vibrant image, word and picture cards are a simple yet effective technique to acquire and recall vocabulary. A simple method to learn the names of common items in a foreign language is to label pictures with their translations. Then, you may post these cards all throughout the house for repeated exposure or use them as a game to name things around the house and garden. A card reading bao may be hung on the bathroom door, while juguete could be attached to your child’s favorite toy.
  4. Caretakers and Instructors. If your child is interested in learning Spanish, having him or her interact with a native speaker is a terrific first step. Local international students tend to have a better command of the English language, and they might not even charge as much as their out-of-town counterparts. However, you should make sure the instructor you hire is good with kids and enjoys working with them. Not a series of forced classes, but rather a relaxed and enjoyable immersion into the Spanish language is what should be the norm for language acquisition.
  5. The Spanish media (radio or TV). The typical viewer is an older, more discerning adult, much as on American television. A child may become bored and vulnerable to inappropriate content as a result. TVE a la Carta is a website that can help you find kid-friendly shows to watch on TV if you decide to give it a try.

Primary School Students

Teachers are in agreement that it is best to introduce a second language to students in the early grades of primary school so that they can benefit from a longer sequence of lessons and thereby increase the likelihood of achieving actual proficiency. 

Exposing your child to Spanish on a consistent basis from an early age will help them develop a strong foundation in the language. In addition, primary school is a time when kids are more receptive to new ideas and less resistant to experiencing new cultures.

Students in the United States typically don’t get their first taste of a foreign language curriculum until they’re in junior or senior high school, meaning they only have four years to learn the language as opposed to the ten or twelve years required in many nations.

If your child’s school doesn’t provide foreign language education, you can use the Internet, as a wealth of texts, sounds, pictures, and animations are available to anybody with a computer, tablet, or another smartphone. 

Fun and efficient apps for learning Spanish include PlaySay Spanish, Learn Spanish by MindSnacks, and Spanish Speech with Milo. Hello- Hello.com provides free, engaging, and instructive language training for different platforms.

Adolescents

You can help your child improve his or her reading and formal speaking skills by encouraging enrollment in the several specialized classes available to students in junior high and high school.

Schools often include after-school groups where students can practice their foreign languages and learn more about the rich culture of the Spanish-speaking world.

During high school, your child can take advantage of one of the many international exchange options available through International Student Exchange Programs, which can help them develop their language skills even further. 

After finishing university, young men and women can improve their linguistic skills by serving for 27 months in a foreign nation with the Peace Corps, during which time they will be compensated and may be eligible for large cancellation of student loans.

Bottom Line

Studying Spanish is rewarding on several levels; intellectually, culturally, and professionally. Keep in mind that your child will be less likely to stick with learning Spanish if you don’t make it interesting for them.

You should congratulate them on their accomplishments and be ready to offer words of encouragement when they experience a setback.

The end result justifies the effort put into getting there. Prof. emeritus of linguistics at Switzerland’s Neuchâtel University, Francois Grosjean, had this to say; One never regrets knowing numerous languages, but one can surely regret not knowing enough.

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