7 Ways to Turn Your Home into a Spanish-Immersion Oasis
We are delighted to welcome back Paul Mains to write for Speekee this week! An article Paul authored for us recently – A Guided Tour of Spanish Dialects Across the Globe – has been shared hundreds of times across social media, so we’re looking forward to Paul’s insightful thoughts on Spanish language immersion in today’s piece.
Paul writes on behalf of Language Trainers, a language tutoring service offering personalized course packages to individuals and groups. If you’re considering Spanish courses in London or any other city, check out their offerings on their website, where you’ll also find free language-learning resources like Spanish listening tests. Feel free to visit their Facebook page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
7 Ways to Turn Your Home into a Spanish-Immersion Oasis
There’s no doubt that childhood is the best time to learn a foreign language: children’s brains are growing and flexible, and have the seemingly magical ability to soak up linguistic information like a sponge. Of course, the best way for children to learn a language is to live in a place where that language is spoken. That way, they’ll be using the language to communicate, and their skills will increase rapidly.
But it’s not necessary to live in a Spanish-speaking country in order to improve your child’s Spanish skills, and raise a future bilingual global citizen. Indeed, there are several strategies you can employ to optimize your home for learning Spanish.
Crucially, this depends not only on exposure to Spanish, but also engagement with the language. After all, language is inherently communicative, so children must actively use the language in context in order to maximize their learning potential. As bilingual expert Cheryl Sánchez notes, “the reason for learning a language … is not to know it but to use it.”
Read on for some tips about how to transform your home into an environment ideal for Spanish learning, in which children actively engage with the language, rather than passively observe it.
1: Put labels around the house
A quick and effective way to memorize the names of everyday objects while improving reading skills is to make Spanish-language labels for items around your house. You can make your own using Post-It notes, or purchase professionally produced labels like FlashSticks, which come complete with memory aids and pronunciation. And once you’ve created the labels, make sure to actually use them — grab a snack from the heladera, not the refrigerator; don’t read a book from the bookshelf, but rather a libro from the estantería.
2: Watch Spanish-language movies — and discuss them afterwards
Children learn best when they’re having fun, and watching movies is an excellent way to sneak in some language practice while being entertained. As an added bonus, movies are an especially useful way to learn language, as they show how people actually use the language in real-life scenarios. Watch movies with Spanish-language subtitles to get some reading practice, too. After watching the movie, have a conversation about it (in Spanish, if possible!), recalling specific quotes, so that the vocabulary learned in the film really sticks.
Family-friendly Spanish film recommendation: Las Aventuras de Tadeo Jones
3: Use the language in authentic settings
Kids learn best when they can see the real-life applications of knowing another language. Thus, when possible, take your child to places where they can use Spanish in the real world. For instance, dine at a Spanish restaurant, and try your hand at ordering off the menu and talking to the waitstaff in Spanish. If possible, take your child to a Mexican cooking class or an Argentine dance class, where you’ll be able to learn and utilize the language in context.
4: Read children’s books and comics together
For several reasons, children’s books and comics are excellent for language practice. First, they use simple language, which is ideal for learners. Second, their plots especially cater to young ones, so children will be entertained and motivated to understand the plot. Third, they typically contain ample illustrations, which can guide you if you get lost. In addition to providing a great bonding experience, reading aloud to your child emphasizes the communicative aspect of language, and thus is particularly effective in improving language skills.
Mariana Llanos is a bilingual author of children’s books whom we highly recommend.
5: Listen to Spanish-language music — and sing along to it
Music is a great way to both improve language skills and expand your child’s cultural horizons. The Spanish language has a rich musical legacy, and Spanish-language music is both wildly popular and widely available. Therefore, it’s easy to find music to listen to around the house. Create Spanish-only playlists on your iPod, and listen to Spanish radio stations. Let music serve as a cultural liaison: explore the music of Argentina or other Spanish-speaking countries, and talk with your child about how it differs from other countries’ music. And don’t forget to sing along — that way, you’ll get in some valuable speaking practice, too!
Family-friendly Spanish song recommendation: Noche de Ronda (Agustín Lara)
All the Spanish songs from Speekee series 1 are available here on iTunes – loved by children (and some adults too!)
6: Be social — both online and offline
At its core, the purpose of language is to communicate with others, and children pick up vocabulary remarkably fast when they’re using the language to talk to friends. If possible, try to arrange a Spanish-language playdate with other like-minded families, so that your children have chance to really use the skills they’ve been practicing at home.
When this isn’t possible, the Internet offers several resources that can of use. Websites like Conversation Exchange allow you to find a native-speaking conversation partner in your area, or even a long-distance penpal if there’s nobody nearby. And, of course, Speekee, which affords children the opportunity of Spanish-language interaction with peers in an online setting, also highlight the importance of communication in learning a language. By combining learning languages with making friends, it’s sure to push your child’s Spanish skills into overdrive.
7: Schedule Spanish into your routine
A sure-fire way to nurture your child’s Spanish skills is to incorporate Spanish into your routine. Between school, work, and other commitments, this can be hard to do, so really make an effort to set aside some time for Spanish every day (or at least every week). For instance, make Friday nights your family’s Mexican dinner night, in which you cook a Mexican dish and speak only in Spanish. Watch a Spanish-language movie together every Sunday, or read a Spanish-language book together for 15 minutes every night before bed. This way, you’ll be constantly engaging with the language, thus creating an optimal environment for language learning.
Indeed, the key to learning Spanish is not just having access to the language around the house — it involves actually utilizing the language in real-life contexts. Children can learn languages stunningly fast, but only if they feel like there’s a reason to do so.
With the above tips, you’ll be giving your child a reason to learn Spanish: they’ll learn new things, connect with a new culture, and make new friends, all while developing invaluable language skills. Though it requires some time and effort, it’s worth it in the end: bilingualism expands our worldview and connects us with different people; it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.
What are your favorite ways to practice Spanish around the house? Let us know — leave a comment!
Note from Jim: Another highly entertaining and informative read. Thank you Paul!
See you next time readers,
Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee®, home of the most comprehensive Spanish learning program for children ever to appear online
Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain with his two bilingual children. Loves it! More…