Learning Spanish in Spain

May 13, 2013

American kid playing outside of her school in Spain

Is immersion the easiest way to learn a language? Raising a bilingual or trilingual kid with travel can  greatly help the process. I've written a series on how to raise a biilingual or multilingual child ( something that is very rare in America with monolingual parents like us) with tips about language learning at home or abroad.

”One free lunch in the world is to learn another language in early childhood.” Pinker - MIT Linguist

learning in 3 languages and friends in 3 languages

Growing up bilingual and then trilingual, ( and deeply triliterate as well)  has been amazing for our 12 year old. We've almost completed our Mandarin goals and she wants to learn French next. We can't wait for that and also to spend more time in Spain, Provence and all of Europe again ( maybe more in Tahiti too). Our ultimate family adventure gives us many homes to return to with friends waiting.

There are many extra advantages of becoming a bilingual or trilingual from birth, so we started when she was in the womb with both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. It's definitely been worth the effort for our global kid.

Learning Spanish in Spain in a 4th grade classroom


Proper bilingual or trilingual reading and writing is a much more complicated process, especially if neither parent is fluent in the secondary languages. Without using local foreign school dips, added to our homeschooling, ( or worldschooling as we call it)  I doubt if we could have easily raised such a fluent triliterate kiddo.

Mozart was already very fluent in verbal Spanish before we arrived in Spain when she was five, but she was not reading in Spanish, though she was an advanced reader in English. She was even beginning to fall behind a bit in her Spanish as her English ( in an all English country) got stronger and stronger. We found out that this is typical for all bilingual kids after about age four as they succumb to the dominant languge ( even when the parents are native speakers of the 2nd language).

typical primary school in Spain where our American kid went to school

Foreign local schools are a fantastic way to become multi-literate and multilingual while deeply immersing  in a culture. it's really been an awesome experience! In 20-20 hind sight we see it was one of our smartest decisions on our non-stop-almost-8-year world tour.  We also spent lots of time in Barcelona with Spanish ( only) speaking friends and all around Spain, so that reinforced the language as well as understanding various accents.

Locals consider her a native speaker, but deep fluency doesn't come quickly and there was a reason we spent those four years and she completed the first 4  grades in Spain. We continue with her Spanish and keeping in touch with Spanish speaking friends even in Asia and as we travel the world. We won't leave Asia until she is reading and writing Mandarin at a 6th grade level.

She was barely six when she started her first day of school in Spain. We're monolinguals who have worked hard to raise her as a very fluent trilingual /triliterate from birth, but her Spanish was becoming more receptive because she was living in an English dominated society in California. Now she is as fluent as a native speaker and still  enjoys reading and talking in Spanish daily.

Learning Spanish in Spain - kids having fun at school

We are eclectic unschoolers and mostly do child led learning, but decided to put her into a local school in Spain for five months for several years to immerse deeply in the language, literature and culture. It was also a way to give her consistent friends and a base as we travel the world.

The school in Spain that we went to was very flexible. We traveled Europe by campervan for 7 months and then got a  rental apartment in sunny Adnalusia for the winter, and put her in school for just 5 months. We usually arrived in late November and left in late April. The hours were relaxed, just 9am to 2pm and sometimes we'd take time off for short trips.

Learning Spanish in Spain means participating in festivals like 3 Kings

This allowed us to also participate fully with local traditions and festivals like Three Kings at ChristmasSemana Santa and Carnival which became part of us. Also time for learning Flameco starting at six and being part of an ancient village ( while skipping the summer heat of Spain).


Not everyone can spend the time that we did ( over 4 years with the school dips) on our world trip, but long term immersion travel can be arranged in various ways for most people who want to make this happen. Some do home exchanges, sometimes just moms and kids go, some dedicate a year and some do it over the summer.
first day of school in Spain for an American kid - making friends easily

I encourage every one who is raising a bilingual or more child, to find a way to do long term immersion as it will make a huge difference and doesn't have to be expensive since slow travel can cost less than staying at home.

Reading in 3 languages adds to life


If you can't right now, here are the key tips for creating an immersion environment no matter where you are:

• One parent only talking in the other language

• Playing music in the other language/s

• Reading books outloud  in the other language/s

• Watching TV/movies  in the other language/s

• Playing tapes of the  parent who speaks the language when they are away

• Making sure she was always responding back, not just understanding

• Helping her know how to respond if needed

• Reading and writing daily when the child is old enough

• Have friends talk to her only in the other language/s

Learning Spanish in Spain kids school books

What else would you like to know about learning Spanish in Spain? Have you done any immersion travel?

This post was part of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival in May.

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The biggest challenge I can see is really the long term visa - it doesn't seem worth it to get your kids settled into school for less than 4-5 months. We are homeschoolers so it's easy to forget that kids everywhere in the world switch schools when their family moves, etc. so I would think schools are generally pretty accepting of new students. What is your take, Jeanne?

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Danielle for bringing this over from our long conversation on our fb group.

We did get a long stay visa ( big pain) before we left for Spain, but there are other ways. You can do the 3 months thing between 2 countries ( maybe pick up 2 languages), or maybe have one parent get a 6 month student visa. ( I think that one can be gotten in Spain at top uni).

Friends of ours have done both of those. The Cal family that did the student visa got it just for the dad in Salmanca and put their 2 kids in primary school no problem and the mom worked with her office in Ca while in Spain.

So various possibilities.

It is also a bit hard to register if you speak no Spanish ...( they usually speak no English..not even the principal or teachers) ...but I know one family from Scotland who managed that.

I also know a family that put their 6th grade child in local school in France without any problem and they were just on a tourist visa. They waaaaay overstayed but had no problem.

I wouldn't suggest that route, but I have seen it done.

I think every school might be different like it is at home. BUT we found Spain MUCH easier than Malaysia and China.

A lot depends on how the gov't deals with schools. In Spain they allow anyone in the school even illegal immigrants, but Malaysia doesn't do that ( it would probably be flooded with poor nations nearby).

Since the Spain schools get money from the govt for each kid, they are real open ...or so it was for us and our village. Perhaps if you are in an area where there are more kids than the school can handle in parts of Spain it might be more of a challenge...I don't know.

Some of it one just has to learn on the ground by doing.

Min Kim

I beleive that is one of the best way to learn fluent Spanish. I can also recommend Mexico for people from North and South America because Europe is pretty far away for them.

Coco and Nelson

We are starting a monolingual parents to bilingual baby journey ourselves. I so far have been teaching him through my own learning with the OPOL approach (I learn by speaking with him, reading to him, and studying out loud while he is awake and to myself while he sleeps). I love the idea of "immersion dips." I had thought about spending summers in Francophone countries, but I hadn't thought about popping him in local schools.

I am glad to see monolinguals who have had such success! It certainly is no easy process, but seems so worth it to me.


We are planning a year abroad in Spain with our kids. I have been researching places to live and local schools. Where in Costa Del Sol did you live and the name of the school? thank you and we frequently flollow your wonderful blog.


Hello from Mesa, Colorado! I just want to say thank you so much for your wonderful journeys, insights and inspiration. I stumbled across your blog years ago and just today finally remembered the name. My 7 year old daughter spent 3 years in a Spanish/English school in Colorado USA and we began homeschooling this January. We are ready to take the leap of faith and travel with our 4 and 7 year olds! I know that we must do some serious Spanish immersion and I believe we are also headed to Spain. Are there any schools you can recommend in the country? I believe we'll be going North. Thank you!!


Jeanne @soultravelers3

Hi Amri, Sorry about the delay, we've been traveling and swamped.

Schools are best done on the ground when there...just stopping by and asking.

Like everywhere the schools will vary, so getting into a crowded school will likely be harder than a non-crowded one.

I think the law in Spain is they have to take all children and I think every school gets funding for each child ( or was like that when we were there).

Thus, they usually good with taking children in and Spaniards love children, so a warm environment for the kids.

Good luck! It is easier than it seems before going! ;)


Do you think we'll have trouble enrolling kids in Spain without school records or immunization records? (Homeschooled and not immunized)

Any advice appreciated :)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Hi Rebecca,

Each school is different just like in the US, but we had no problem with no records and with an unvaccinated kid.

We had some school records because she started K at 3, but we didn't use them. We were never asked about immunization records, so didn't mention that ourselves.

Until one day they did them at school for the other kids and we refused. Not a problem. ( Same thing in Asia, traveling and schooling in foreign lands without being vaccinated was never a problem for us).

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