HOW TO TEACH YOUR CHILD SPANISH - BABY, TODDLER, KID, TWEEN
TEACH YOUR BABY SPANISH AT HOME
Teaching infants and toddlers a second language is much easier than learning as an adult because the brain is wired to learn langauges then. I think most miss the hidden opportunity of starting early in the womb as soon as the fetus can hear, as that is when it all starts.
This first video shows our Mozart at 4 days old learning Spanish from her father, again at 18 months one very early morning on a summer vacation at a Santa Barbara ranch, reading Spanish at 7 in Spain and today at 12 ( in Asia).
”One free lunch
in the world is to learn another language in early childhood.” Pinker - MIT Linguist
MONOLINGUALS CAN RAISE MULTILINGUALS
Despite being raised as a trilingual from birth, Mozart was always a very verbal kid and began bilingual talking at 6 months, ( and walking) spoke 200 words before a year and knew 50 songs before 2 ( all 3 languages) when I stopped counting. Surprising to us, her Spanish was even stronger than her English at first. One of her first words was "biblioteca" ( library).
I want monolingual parents to know that there are opportunites everywhere to help and my husband had very limited Spanish (he'd mostly learned in adulthood for a trip to Europe). We didn't really know this could be done, until we did it. YES! Monolingual parents can raise a fluent multilingual kid.
"Babies are wired for language. The earlier they're introduced to a second language, the easier it will be for them to pick it up. When these children get to school age, they tend to have superior
reading and writing skills in both languages, as well as better
analytical and academic skills" Dr. Steiner M.D.
We each read the same book to her daily ( his in Spanish) and it was obvious well before 5 months pregnant that she was excited by the Spanish sounds she heard less often and mostly from a male voice.
In fact, we used it to get a better look at her ultra
sound when we wanted to know what her sex was around 5 months. She
always did happy kicks at the sound of Spanish and that trick allowed us
to see that she was a girl ( as she was first sitting in a position
where the doctors could not tell).
"These little ones had been listening to their mother's voice in the
womb, and particularly her vowels for ten weeks. The mother has first
dibs on influencing the child's brain." Patricia Kuhl
START AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE AND KEEP GOING
An important key is to start language learning as early as possible, but also to keep it up for many years as kids can lose languages ( if not used) as quickly as they pick them up. I can't tell you how many kids I have seen who talked pretty good Spanish at 3, but had totally lost it by 5. I've even known kids who lost their native tongues at 12 because they moved to an area where it was not spoken.
It does become harder once they are in school and exposed to the dominant language more as the natural tendency is to go with the dominant language and drop the minority language. The parents that do best are ones that make sure the child is always talking back in Spanish or the minority language, not just understanding it and answering back in English.
LANGUAGE IMMERSION AND TRAVEL
Travel and language immersion where the language is dominant is a great help for sure, especially for monolingual parents. BUT it will only be a help if this is your goal and you are consistent and focused on language. There are millions of expats and travelers living for years or decades in foreign lands who never learn another language ( or very, very little of it).
Language immersion won't work unless YOU work it and make it a priority. I have known a ton of fluent native speakers who are biligual or more, but failed to raise their children as bilinguals, even when they wanted to.
Mozart was already very fluent in Spanish before we started to travel outside
of California when she was 5, but time in a school in Spain and an all Spanish
environment helped greatly with her reading and writing. You can find ways to immerse in Spanish while in America, but it takes some effort. Raising a fluent multilingual child who speaks, reads and writes 3 languages and plays 2 instruments is MUCH different than imagining this before they are born. Truthfully, these were great aspirations of my youth, ( giving languages,travel,books and music to my future child) but like most things in parenting, the flesh and blood reality can be a rude awakening.
This is a long term commitment and will take daily work on it for many years..... BUT absolutely worth it. Life will throw you some curve balls, but just keep that focus until complete.
Spanish is a heritage language for us because Mozart's great grandmother came from Spain and her grandparents on her father's side only spoke Spanish until they went to school. The tendency in the fifties was to assimilate, so they did not ever speak Spanish in the home and their children did not learn it except a little exposure when around their grandmother.
Bilingual babies were lost that generation and the family flow turned monolingual English, but we are grateful we pick it up again as this allows Mozart to have a much deeper connection to her Spanish roots and understanding the culture as part of her. She feels as connected to Spain and Europe as she does America and California.
And she will be able to pass on the Spanish and Chinese to her children and generations to come because she has learned first hand the advantages of being a multilingual global citizen and the responsibility to pass this gift on.