Updated: May 4, 2022
Top Tips To Talk to Your Children In A Second Language: a blog about how you can raise children that can speak more than one language.
The idea of teaching your child a new language can be overwhelming, but it's definitely possible to raise a bilingual child! Look at us: we are two separate families on our own bilingual parenting journeys. The Trawicks have an American dad and Colombian mom. The Cordovas have an American mom and a Mexican-American dad. Needless to say, there's plenty of Spanglish spoken and lots of Google Translate being used in each of our homes😂
To make bilingualism a priority, we have to weave it into our everyday life-- yes the mundane! A good way to start is to find short phrases you already use as you go about your day and say them in the new language you want your child to learn. Learning should be a fun experience, NOT FORCED. Although it does take planning and intentionality, our little ones learn best when things are natural and they flow with ease.
How to Get Started
Here are some tips for how to keep up with it:
Come up with a plan- Get the whole family involved. Have a conversation with your spouse and older children ahead of time about WHY it’s important for your family to be bilingual: future career opportunities & benefits, speaking with family who only speak one language, travel dreams etc. Nothing motivated our kids to practice their Spanish more than when we were planning our trip to a Spanish-speaking country!
Be flexible- Don't worry about not being a native speaker. You'll get better with practice, and your kids will learn from you. Mixing English with the other language (for us, its Spanglish) IS OKAY! Keep it simple, it does NOT have to be perfect.
Try labeling- Yes, that's right, like we see in classrooms. Those common objects you refer to throughout the day (the door, the bathroom, the bedroom, table, chairs etc…) write the words in the language you are introducing.
Mix it up! Don't just practice the langaue when you speak; read books, listen to music, try cooking a new dish from that country--your likely to find some words or food names specific to that language! Sharing the new language in a variety of ways helps to keep it interesting for your kids and for you.
Do you only have books in English? We like to give the Spanish translation to a word or two on each page so our kids learn new words. Some practice is better than none, right? Are you a native speaker of the language? Go ahead and translate the whole book!
Be consistent! Spoken language is a habit… if you do it every day, they will too!
Exposure- The more exposure our children get, the easier it'll be for them to pick things up. If you can, spend time with friends who speak the target langauge, or even better, try to enroll them in an immersion program that teaches in their second language! If you're in Northern Va and you've got preschoolers, of course we recommend Angelitos Preschool...but we are obviously biased 😉
5 MORE Tips When Implementing a Bilingual Home Environment:
Set up a fun Spanish music playlist for car rides, dance breaks etc. We've created one on Spotify that we use at home and in our classrom! Check it out here.
Watch one of your favorite family movies in Spanish. Since you all are familiar with the dialogue, you will start to understand some of the Spanish translations!
Teach kids how to make requests with good manners in Spanglish--yes Spanglish!-- so they can practice Spanish throughout the day.
Ex: “Mami, puedo play outside por favor?” (Mommy, can I play outside
Designate a time of day–or even a full day–where all shows, movies, and songs will be in the target language. (Example: Spanish Saturdays or mornings in Spanish.) A lot of streaming networks allow you change the language...which means you don't have to feel guilty about that extra hour of TV😜 We also have several playlists on our Angelitos YouTube channel with some of our favorite learning and movement videos in Spanish!
Some Things You Can Do RIGHT NOW!
Of course learning a new language takes time, but we all have to start somewhere, right?! Here are some simple things that you can do THIS WEEK to encourage and support the target language at home.
*All of our examples are in Spanish, because that is our target language. However, you could easily apply all of these tips to any language! (Thanks, Google Translate😁)
5 Labels for Your Home:
La puerta (the door)
La silla (the chair)
La mesa (the table)
El baño (the bathroom)
La refri (the fridge) OR el congelador (the freezer)
5 Phrases For You to Use Throughout the Day:
Buenos días / Buenas noches (Good morning / Good night)
Te amo (I love you)
Venga OR Ven aqui (Come here)
Lavese las manos (Wash your hands)
A comer (Time to eat)
5 Terms of Endearment for Your Little One (or anyone you love!):
Mi amor (My love)
Papito/Mamita (Little boy / Little girl)
Mis niños (My children)
Mijo/Mija (My son / My daughter)
5 Songs/Nursery Rhymes to Sing Together:
Sana, sana colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanará mañana! (For boo-boos)
Los Pollitos Dicen
La Vaca Lola
La Araña Pequeñita (Itsy Bitsy Spider)
Estrellita (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star)
*You can find all of theses songs on our Angelitos Playlist titled "Canciones Favoritas" .
5 Easy Phrases for Kids to learn
Tengo hambre (I’m hungry)
Me pasa…/ Me da (Pass me…/ Give me…)
Puedo… / Puedo tener…? (Can I… / Can I have…?)
Si, porfavor (Yesn please)
No, gracias (No, thank you)
This week, try one new thing from each category...and give yourself a break on the weekend.😉 Remember, we don’t want to overwhelm our children (or ourselves!). It's better if it can be seamlessly incorporated throughout the day. Whenever a child says something in the target language, remember to give praise and reinforcement, even if it wasn't pronounced properly or if the accent was "American". Acknowledging their effort and willingness to try will definitly give them reassurance and confidence to keep trying. Raising bilingual children can be a lot of work, but it’s worth it!
Follow our social media accounts @AngelitosEducation for more tips on how to make the process easier and more fun for both you and your little ones! If you have any questions or want more advice, be sure to contact us; we love hearing from our readers!
Yesica Trawick and Nicole Cordova are the founders of the nonprofit organization Angelitos Spanish Immersion Education, Inc. and the Co-Directors for Angelitos Preschool, in Woodbridge, Virginia.