“Oh, I would love for my kids to learn Spanish. Your kids are so lucky!”
I hear this one often. Really, ask anyone if they’d like their kids to speak a second language and the answer will be YES. Of course we would. As with anything worthwhile, though, there are a million excuses as to why it’s not happening.
We barely remember high school Spanish. I took German. We can’t afford a tutor. There’s not time to squeeze it in. I have no idea where to start.
Don’t let excuses like this stop you from starting while your kids are young. The goals can be simple: exposure, fun, some new songs and new words. I am not trying to guilt you into more classes and worksheets for your little ones!– in fact, I think most preschools and schools push academics way too early. With most subjects it’s actually better to delay and let the brain and body develop a bit more.
Language, however, is different. Language is like music: the earlier the better. Beginning early attunes the ear to new sounds, hard-wires the brain differently, and sets words and patterns into the long-term memory. It is one of those few things where the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to learn. Most students in the U.S. show up to their foreign language class in high school with zero practice– and what could be their most enjoyable, practical subject becomes something they are scared of and forget two years later. (Rabbit trail: Many Classical schools start Latin, which is grammar-based, first. I really think students should begin a spoken language before Latin, as young as possible, as Charlotte Mason suggests. Just as English is learned naturally, little ears can absorb a second language quickly.) It’s never too late, either: learning a foreign language has amazing effects on adults as well.
Before I share my ideas, here are some don’ts.
- DON’T worry about sounding perfect. Learning a language for adults can feel awkward, but set a relaxed, fun tone anyway.
- DON’T give up if you miss a week or two. Those songs and words stay in little minds longer than we think.
- DON’T make perfection the goal. Do what you can. A little bit every day is great.
So, where to start? Here are some simple, easy ideas to start Spanish together at home without spending money!
1. Learn Songs
If you only take one thing away from this post, it should be this one: learn and sing songs in Spanish. Songs are the BEST way for non-fluent parents and children to learn, and will keep sounds and phrases in the long-term memory longer than any App or game could. I have lists of songs on YouTube by theme, and recommend these CDs:
You can know zero Spanish yourself, and still learn words, pronunciation, and phrases along with your kids. It’s much more important for children to know the sounds of the language than how to read it (Spanish phonetics are far easier than in English) and this is the very best way for them to develop an ear for the language. If you learn one song a month, you will have over 10 songs memorized in a year. Watch them together, and sing them in the car or as part of bedtime.
2. Play Games.
I love games! Learning Spanish with young kids should be a pleasant, successful experience, not stressful. I like using picture cards so English isn’t even part of the game. Play Bingo, Go Fish, or Memory. I have some game sets by theme for sale here, or free download here, but you could easily make your own as well. Just make a set of picture cards and a set of cards with words in Spanish, and you are ready to go. If you feel uncomfortable saying the words in Spanish, practice your pronunciation at Lingo Hut, or cue up the words at SpanishDict. My students always love Bingo and it can be as simple as printing out a blank bingo, and having your kids draw all the words you are learning.
3. Go By Topic
It can be overwhelming not knowing where to start. Choose a theme that interests you (food, colors, animals) and learn the words that go with it. It’s okay if you only do 3 or 4 topics a year! Learning some greetings, numbers 1-10, colors, and some foods would be a fantastic year. I have boards by topic on Pinterest so you can find links, activities, printables, and more by theme. Lingo Hut is a free site where you can search by topic, and at Quizlet you can make study lists and hear the pronunciation.
4. Read Books.
Invest in a few good bilingual books or check them out from the library. My top recommendations would be El mejor libro de palabras by Richard Scarry and ¡Pío Peep! for original poetry and song lyrics in Spanish.
So many words and illustrations in this wonderful book! I also recommend getting books with very simple text, and ones you know by heart in English. I have a board for books in Spanish as well if you need ideas.
5. Specific Language Times.
Pick a certain time during the week (maybe dinnertime on Thursday nights), where the whole family is specifically trying to practice what they’re learning. It could mean saying please, pass me, and thank you in Spanish, and using the food terms you know. Don’t wait to use Spanish because you aren’t fluent! Use what you know.
6. Use Props.
Kids learn best when using real objects. If you are learning fruit, practice with the real thing. Another way to use props is to get a new stuffed animal or puppet, and introduce it as a Spanish-speaking ________. As part of your school routine, you could pull the animal or puppet out and practice some phrases and greetings, which sets the habit of daily language practice. This can sometimes help with a resistant learner or shy student who would rather act out speaking Spanish than speaking it directly.
7. Get Online.
Use free apps and websites to learn and practice. DuoLingo App is more for older students who can read. It’s perfect for busy adults, in case you want to stay one step ahead of the kids! I think this is the best one out there. I have also put together a giant list of videos, websites, and online resources for both children.
8. Use My Units.
So far I have created three units in a series I names Español in the Jungle (I set the characters and stories in the Amazon rainforest). All are free, and Unit 1 begins with the very basics, and is a little bare-bones, but by Unit 3 there are 20 pages of vocabulary, games, printables, and scripts. I designed these for parents (homeschoolers or families supplementing school) who are not native speakers, but remember a bit of high school Spanish or are willing to do a little prep of their own. Remember, speaking a foreign language is good for us adults too!
I also have a Preschool Spanish Series with plenty of links and freebies, based on the song Los pollitos dicen.
9. Make a Notebook
Let your kids make notebooks where they store what they’re learning, if they’re old enough. Use a composition notebook or three-ring binder and record new words and activities so it’s all together. I also have a Blank Pictionary and Illustrated Words Book that you can purchase to create personalized illustrated dictionaries.
I hope this helps! It takes some work to get a Spanish routine going in your family, but I can promise you it’s something you won’t regret. Enjoy learning together!