Friday, July 22, 2011


There are a zillion reasons it's important to me for Leo to learn Spanish.  Being bilingual is good for your brain, allows you to communicate with a wider range of people, facilitates travel, and opens up opportunities professionally.  I want him to be able to have conversations with his aunts and uncles and cousins.  I want him to have an easier understanding of etymology. I want him to have a base if he chooses to learn another romance language.  I could go on and on.

Being bilingual has been such an advantage and a blessing to me; I really want to share that with Leo.

(Of course my Abuela might tell a different story if she were still around.  She would tell you about the time I pretended I couldn't understand her in front of my friends when she came to pick me up at school.  I'd been teased and called a Mexican dog and a wetback, so my reaction was to deny and reject that part of my life.  I loudly and pointedly said, "WHAT?  I can't can't understand you.  Speak English!  I don't understand."  Well, my Abuela was a no nonsense kind of woman and with a very stern, "Ni que 'GUAT?' ni que nada" she gave me a look that had me immediately slink back into obedience.)

I'm so grateful to my mom for teaching me Spanish.  I know she worked very hard to make sure I learned the language despite being surrounded by English speakers.  Of course my mom had some advantages that I don't have - her mother (my abuela) lived with us for half the year and only spoke Spanish (well, that's not entirely true.  She could say a few words in English: Thank you, SevenUp, and HelloHowAreYou) which forced me to use my Spanish.  Spanish was her first language so it came easier to her than English (as evidenced by her tendency to default to Spanish when scolding me).  And also, she is/was a flight attendant making travel back and forth to Mexico 1-3 times a year very affordable.  I was lucky enough to spend my summers there which did wonders for my language development as well as my culture absorption.   

My challenges in passing the Spanish language on to Leo are that while I'm fluent in Spanish, it doesn't come as naturally as English and my vocabulary is stunted in comparison, I'm the only Spanish speaker in our household and we are tight on money making scraping together airfare to visit Mexico a medium-large sacrifice.  That said, I (with jb's full support) am doing my best to prioritize teaching Leo Spanish.  I'm kind of winging it and not sure I'll succeed, but here is my current plan of action:

I try to speak mostly in Spanish when Leo and I have one-on-one time.  I try to narrate everything I do, push myself to use Spanish as much as possible and skype with family in Mexico.  Also my mother and siblings do their best to also use Spanish with talking with Leo and even jb and her side of the family reinforce Leo's Spanish.

We have several books in Spanish that we've purchased here or in Mexico and of course we take advantage of the selection of books in Spanish at our local libraries.  Still, there aren't nearly as many books in Spanish as there are in English at our disposal, so often I just make up a translation of whichever book I'm reading as I go.  It's not always easy since sentence structure can really vary from one language to another, not to mention that it highlights my limited vocabulary - but it usually works out.  I've had to look up several word that I didn't know in Spanish after saying "una de esas cosas" or "algo que no se como se llama" a few times - and it turns out some things don't have common or obvious translations - like jellybeans or peekaboo - so I get creative or simplify. 

I sing songs from my childhood and am learning new ones - and again, sometimes I'll just make one up.  Leo is a very forgiving fan and loves whatever I sing even if it doesn't rhyme and is out of tune.  I've been caught off guard by some of the sexist, racist, and morbid undertones (and sometimes overtones) of some the lyrics of songs I grew up with - so I've had to re-evaluate a few old favorites.  Yikes!

I try to make a game of it as much as I can.  For example he loves pointing to things as I name them.  We also have a few toys that count and sing the alphabet in Spanish.  I usually have an aversion to noisy toys, but our house rule is that we will consider an exception as long as it speaks Spanish. 

Screen Time:
Screen time is tricky because I support the AAP position of no TV for toddlers under two.  Still, I make some exceptions for limited commercial-free time in Spanish.  I'd say Leo averages about 30-60 mins a week combined.  Here are some of the resources we use:
  • Cable On Demand: has children's shows in Spanish with no commercials.  He has seen Plaza Sesamo, Barney and Wiggles.
  • Plaza Sesamo YouTube channel: great for when I don't want him to watch a full show, but a three minute song/skit really hits the spot.
  • Baby First TV:  Putting aside my issues that there is an entire channel for babies - they have an iphone app with clips in Spanish that have come in handy on roadtrips. 
  • Other Iphone Apps: Leo's favorite is Peekaboo Barn.
  • Salsa: an educational program used in schools that has a couple episodes available online

What's missing:  I'd love to meet Spanish speakers locally and hang out so that Leo can hear organic conversations happen around him more often and have Spanish speaking peers as he grows.  I'd love to get to Mexico at least once a year for a minimum of two weeks.  And I'd love to improve my own skills as much as possible in order to be the best teacher I can be.

So far I think we are on track.  I'd say his language 60% English and 40% Spanish (not including signing or his fluency in jibberish, of course).  Some words he will only say in Spanish (Agua, Pañal, Gato, Naranja) and some only in English (Apple, Dog, Ball, Book).  Can't say I blame him for the English words: Ball vs. Pelota or Apple vs. Manzana seems like an easy choice.  I'm hoping we can keep it up.  Here he is showing off his recognition of body parts:

I'd love to hear what other families are doing to teach a second language to their kids.  Like I said, I'm winging it and would love guidance and suggestions!


  1. I love the video! Is there a spanish immersion school in Philly? MAybe they could steer you toward more social events with Spanish speakers.

  2. It is totally important. What will work well is one of you speak in spanish, and the other english. I live in quebec right now, and my daycare group is from 18 months- 2 years old. I am always amazed how well the speak and understand. its crazy. some of the parents who do speak both languages do that at home. one speaks each language. At first they may not understand, but they will, and quick. Sometimes mine answer in french still to me but understand everything i ask in english. People who come to work with us are so amazed by the 4 years of children who have been with me. and everyday i am amazed by these kids.

    so great job!

  3. Oh wow! That will be such a great thing to have in his life. Brilliant. I love how you are incorporating it into every day : ). Perfect. He is such a cutie!

  4. I am so disappointed I let my boys Spanish slide. When we came back from Spain, he was 3 and only spoke Spanish with just a few english words thrown in. Within a year he preferred english and would answer me in english when I spoke to him in Spanish. Then the kids at his kinder told him he spoke funny, and he decided there would be no more spanish. And I let it fade out. I regret it all the time, as now I'm going to have to teach him all over again!!

    Keep it up, it can be hard work but it is so worth it!!

  5. Love it! Are there ways you can connect with other Spanish-speakers? A meet-up group? An immersion pre-school? So great for you AND for Leo!