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Learning Spanish Through Everyday Activities

by Mariana Swick

Mariana Swick

Mariana Swick, a bilingual educator, has worked extensively to support the development of bilingual children in early childhood and elementary schools. Read more »

Sorry, Mariana Swick is no longer taking questions.

A group of children swayed to the steady rhythm of salsa music as they surveyed the store front of a local corner market. It displayed both English and Spanish advertisements, an eclectic lunch menu, and an array of labeled tropical fruits and vegetables. Before heading back to school from our community walk, I asked the group, "What do you notice?" One child responded with sheer delight, "¡Es bilingüe, como nosotros!" ("It's bilingual, like us!").

As a bilingual educator working to promote bilingualism and multiculturalism in the 21st century, I find such examples of cultural and linguistic fusion in the community a great source of pride and encouragement. Now, more than ever, parents

and educators are recognizing that our nation's cultural and linguistic diversity is one of its most defining characteristics and must be actively preserved.

More families are embracing their own heritage languages, ensuring that their children develop as bilinguals. In the same way, monolingual English-speaking families are pursuing academic programs that provide their kids with instruction in a second language (such as Spanish), so that they may have access to the many benefits of being bilingual.

According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, being bilingual:

  • has a positive effect on intellectual growth and enriches and enhances a child's mental development

  • leaves students with more flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language, and a better ear for listening

  • improves a child's understanding of his/her native language

  • gives a child the ability to communicate with people s/he would otherwise not have the chance to know

  • opens the door to other cultures and helps a child understand and appreciate people from other countries

  • gives a student a head start in language requirements for college

  • increases job opportunities in many careers where knowing another language is a real asset

Raising children who are global citizens means equipping them with the communicative tools to navigate a multilingual, multicultural world. The United States alone has the second largest Spanish-speaking population worldwide, and Spanish is spoken as the official language of 21 countries around the world. Many parents desire to open this world to their children through language but ask: How can I help my child learn a language we don't speak at home?

Even if you do not speak Spanish, there are many ways you can facilitate your child's Spanish language development through meaningful daily activities. Singing songs, cooking, and art-making are simple and fun ways to help children make sense of Spanish language in context.

Here are some ideas on how to support Spanish language learning through these and other activities at home:

  • Sing, canta, sing! Music has a powerful impact on memory, as well as vocabulary recall and retention. Purchase, download, or check out Spanish children's music from your local library and sing daily!

  • Enjoy a delicious Latino meal out with your child and then make it at home. Shop for ingredients in a Latino market, and follow simple recipes in Spanish with images (conmishijosocio en casacocina con niños)

  • Follow simple directions in Spanish to gather household materials and make culturally relevant crafts and art projects (Icaritoeducación artística provides helpful step-by-step photographed instructions).

  • Ask Spanish speakers you know to commit to speaking Spanish with your child. If your children see that you and others value Spanish, they will too.

  • Start slow--develop a sight-specific or topic-specific selection of Spanish phrases or vocabulary words and then allocate certain times of the day "Spanish time" to try them -- meal time, bath time, grocery shopping or in the car.

  • Visit your local library for Spanish story hour. The storytellers generally use a great repertoire of strategies (such as songs, creative movement, and puppetry) to bring the story, and Spanish language to life. While at the library, check out the Spanish version or bilingual copies of your favorite stories (review more bilingual books and authors at Colorín Colorado).

  • Use Spanish language videos, television, and web-based interactive programs, like PBS KIDS GO! web-original series Noah Comprende to help build familiarity, confidence and interest in learning Spanish.

I'd love to hear your stories, questions, or comments about using these or any other strategies to engage your child in the Spanish language.

Sorry, Mariana Swick is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.

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