The New Year is a time for taking stock and setting goals. If you have a child learning Spanish, or are thinking of introducing her to the language, these questions will help you evaluate and create 12 months of successful language learning.
1. Is Spanish a part of your everyday activities?
Daily routines provide the context and repetition that children need to learn language. Whether you are a native speaker or learning the language yourself, make Spanish a part of setting the table, brushing teeth, getting dressed, grocery shopping, doing household chores and bedtime.
2. Do you read to your child in Spanish?
Reading to children is one of the best ways to build vocabulary and language skills. Make reading to your child a part of every day. If you are a language learner, look for books with audio CDs. You can listen to them with your child until you master the pronunciation.
3. Do you have a curriculum or set of age-appropriate materials to use at home?
It is hard to structure and provide consistent input of a minority language. A curriculum or a set of materials to work through makes the task much easier. My children did the Guía Escolar, a supplemental text published by the Mexican government. There are also numerous curricula for non-native speakers. Of course, no program is complete. You will have to supplement the material, but having a base makes the task more manageable.
4. If your child is learning Spanish in school, or taking Spanish lessons, do you reinforce what she is learning at home? Do you introduce Spanish for concepts she is learning in English?
If you are fortunate enough to have your child in a school setting where she is learning Spanish, be sure to repeat and expand on the school material at home. Your child’s teacher will be happy to provide you with the content they are covering. Introducing key Spanish language for concepts she is learning in English is also an effective way of providing more exposure to Spanish.
5. Is your child exposed to Spanish in different formats?
Kids learn in different ways, and a variety of formats provide for more exposure. Children learn from music, video, stories, poetry, audio books, online games, board games, apps, crafts, sports and outdoor games, and contact with native speakers in different situations.
6. Do you look for books, games and other materials that expose your child to Spanish in context?
Children learn best from materials that use Spanish in complete sentences, with pictures to help them understand. Whether you are looking for no-cost resources online or investing in books, games and other materials, look for experiences that support the language with visual clues and use Spanish in complete sentences.
7. Do you introduce your child to the culture of Spanish-speaking countries?
Spanish-speaking countries, including the United States, have rich histories and cultures that are intricately tied to language. Both hands-on experiences and online material can introduce your child to Latino culture. Look for books, museums, food, music, poetry, art and film that represent the varied cultures of Spanish speakers.
8. Do you tie Spanish to your child’s interests?
One way to make Spanish interesting to children is to relate it to the activities and subjects that interest them. Whether it is soccer, ballet, fishing, horses, dogs, or cars, there are websites, books and videos about the topic in Spanish.
9. Is learning Spanish a positive experience for the family?
Learning a language is most successful when it is something a family enjoys together. Whether you are a native speaker or a language learner, if you participate and play it will make the experience more fun for your child. As much as possible, keep your Spanish language adventures positive and lighthearted.
10. Do you model speaking, reading, listening and writing in Spanish?
Regardless of your level of proficiency, you can model making Spanish a part of your life. Speak Spanish whenever you can, listen to Spanish music, subscribe to Spanish-language magazines, use Spanish apps, and write notes and lists in Spanish.
11. Do you have close friends or relatives to help you and provide support?
Teaching a child a minority language is a wonderful experience, but it is also challenging. Friends and family are an important source of support. If you don’t have access to relatives or a community of parents who are teaching their kids Spanish, tap into an online group to share questions and accomplishments.
12. Are your child’s needs your principal consideration?
Learning Spanish is a long term process, so in the short run we need to be flexible and accommodate a child’s changing needs. There will be moments when her energy needs to go in other directions. This does not mean that she should stop learning Spanish altogether – consistency is very important. It does mean, however, that we should be sensitive to the demands on our children and make adjustments so that Spanish continues to be fun.
13. Do you pace yourself and keep the long term goal in mind?
It takes many years for a child to master a language. Even with the support of schools and family, it requires a certain amount energy on your part. It is important to have a long term view and try not to get frustrated or discouraged by the challenges. Your child will learn Spanish, and she will appreciate the wonderful gift you have given her.
14. Do you have a plan for the next step?
Wherever your child is in the language learning process, there will be a next step. It may be an academic or social experience. It could be an immersion experience. Exploring the options that are available and considering what is right for your family will make it easier to provide the continuing exposure to Spanish that your child needs.
15. Are you having fun?
Exposing a child to a second language should be an enjoyable experience. If teaching your child Spanish is too stressful or draining, something should change. It may be challenging, but it should also be fun. Look for ways to take the pressure off and make the experience positive for your child and for yourself.