11.25.2013

teaching your child Spanish as a non-native speaker



When I found out I was pregnant, I was clueless about a lot of baby-related things. Sleep schedules, stroller selection, and cloth diapering systems made my eyes glaze over like when my sister used to explain calculus to me. One of the few things I was sure about, though, was that I wanted to teach my baby Spanish. As a Spanish teacher, I figured it would be a natural extension of the job I was already doing. I had already poured hours of research into being a creative and knowledgeable Spanish teacher, and I wanted to put that preparation to good use.

Naturally, I turned to Google for additional information. Now, maybe my googling skills are subpar, but if not, the amount of material on the internet specifically for non-native speakers teaching their children a second language is shockingly dismal. There is a bounty of information for 2 native speakers of a minority language living in the majority culture. The resources for one parent one language are ubiquitous. But very few materials exist for a proficient, albeit non-native, speaker to teach their children a second language.

My goal is to find like-minded parents and more resources on this topic. The information is out there, but it will take some digging. Ever since Pip and I started this journey, I have been on the hunt for practical and relevant ways to incorporate Spanish into our daily routine. Here is what I have found and learned so far:

  1. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. I love reading up on new topics and skills, but sometimes I get a bit lost in the research. At some point, I have to remind myself to just jump in and test it myself, even if that means I don't have a perfect game plan. I would much rather teach my child some Spanish than none at all because I took so much time to figure out how that I eventually gave up.
  2. Sing, Sing, Sing! On Spanglish Baby I found a list of great children's songs and cds in the tiendita. I picked one to buy on iTunes, and have immersed myself in committing those songs to memory. I sing them to Pip in the car, during diaper changes, in the bath, while we are waiting at doctor appointments, and on walks. She has grown particularly fond of Hola Don Pepito. It makes her laugh every time she hears it. She also loves Pin Pon, Que Llueva, and Arroz Con Leche. 
  3. Read aloud. I was really lucky and had a book-themed baby shower, so I received a few children's books in Spanish as gifts. I also had a few on hand from my teaching days. The good news is that most libraries have a small Spanish section where you can find board books and children's books to avoid spending tons of money and growing your collection of "stuff." Not only will you get a lot of repetition of new vocabulary words, colors, numbers, alphabet, and animal, but you will get to practice your pronunciation, too!
  4. Learn baby talk in Spanish. I think it's safe to say that in my college study abroad experiences I learned little to no baby-related vocabulary. I definitely had to turn to the forums on Word Reference to find words for pacifier, crib, high chair, etc. The challenge here is that many words are colloquial, or change from family to family. I just picked the most academic word, or the one I would be most comfortable using in public. 
  5. Ask questions. Especially during babyhood, it's not important to use really complex language structures. I don't use those structures in English with Pip, so why would I in Spanish? Just learn how to ask a few questions you will use all the time: Are you hungry? Are you tired? All done? How are you? What do you want?
  6. Narrate. When you go for walks or are out in public, point out objects, buildings, or animals and talk about the color, size, and number. Keep it simple. Tell them how they are feeling. If Pip is smiling, I just say "Estás muy feliz." If she's near tears, "Estás triste," and so on. 
  7. Find native speakers in your area. This is a tough one. You may be really lucky to live in an area where native speakers are plentiful. If that's the case, see if there is a play group, a mom's group, story time at the library, a Bible study, etc. Check MeetUp or look on bulletin boards at the local library. 


I am by no means an expert, and I am always looking for more resources, tips, and ways to incorporate more Spanish whenever I can. It does take some discipline, but all things worth doing do!

Do you have any experience using Spanish with a baby? What did I miss?

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