Almost Fearless

Mama Habla Español



What is it like for a three-year old to suddenly have their mother talk in Spanish to him?

Sometimes he doesn’t notice. He accepts sandía as the word for watermelon, especially since watermelon is a mouthful, and w’s are impossible for him. And after pointing and miming at the watermelon, saying sandía gets it into his mouth much faster. “Oh sandía?” We ask? He nods. He’s never heard the word before but he gets it.

Other times, he looks at me weird like I’m playing a trick on him. It’s usually when I say something longer, like “Que quieres comer?” and he has no idea and no context to translate. I let him off the hook. “What do you want to eat?”

Pizza! It’s the same in both languages.

I slip out of Spanish all the time. There’s so much I don’t know. Things I looked up today:

  • Squish the play dough.
  • Roller Skating.
  • Slice (the onion).
  • Dice it.
  • Don’t bite your tongue.
  • Knee.

There’s more I missed. Things I meant to look up but faded away before I could put down the baby or stop chasing my toddler. But I did read three articles on People Español — which entertains me to no end. I caught up on the North Korean conflict on the Mexico City newspaper El Universal. I told Cole that we Vamos a ir a la playa mañana.

That’s it. He has started asking for agua on his own. He says hola to people.

As I was putting him to bed, I called him loco, mono, mi amor, and cariño. At one point I must have gotten carried away with my Spanish because he covered my mouth. I switched back to English. He relaxed.

We have six months in Mexico and these baby steps are just the beginning, but it’s so fascinating to learn languages like this. To be honest, it scares the crap out of me, losing my easy ability to communicate with my son, stumbling over verb tenses and unknown vocabulary. I’m not pushing too hard, but still, there’s something so very different about immersion language learning as a family verses my experiences in 2008-2009, when it was just me, traveling alone in Guatemala, immersed but self-sufficient. No one depended on my ability to communicate for their well-being.

Yet, I’m slowly slipping in Spanish versions for his favorite movies. I’m unraveling his English life a little. I even discovered that if you go to it will let you only search for Spanish-language videos. It feels a little sneaky and I wonder if at some point he’s going to catch on. Wait a minute mama, you speak Spanish now!

Where will we be after six months of this? I can’t wait.

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • This is really encouraging for me. We are so off the bandwagon with language with the kids… When we are on it though, I usually sign the sentence that I’m saying in Japanese when Micah gets frustrated – somehow signing seems like more of an acceptable bridge?

    I don’t know. But it’s helpful to know that I don’t have to be perfect to get started.

  • Wow. Can I just say that your doing this for him (as much as it annoys him now, I’m sure) is so FREEKIN AWESOME?!! So in awe of you and your tenacity. I think if I had a toddler and a newborn, I would be so tired/frustrated that I would just do whatever works instead of trying to be so conscious all the time. Congrats.

  • I have taught many children Spanish and you are doing just fine. Just make him use it too! Don’t worry about your grammar as much, kids absorb that really quickly. I’m actually working on a book on how to teach kids Spanish. Maybe it will be ready before you leave! I’m always happy to help with questions though.

  • There are 3 families w a total of 4 kids on the little property I live on, ranging in age from 1.5 – 4 yrs old. All the parents are bilingual and so are the kids. It is WILD when a few of us are down in the yard together, having a conversation – English words and Spanish grammar flying all around or Spanish coming from one person while another is responding in English. I’m pretty sure there is a method to the madness – it’s like you said about sandía – it’s easier to say than watermelon. I really hope Spanglish becomes more popular because I’m getting *really* good at it.

  • Lovely, Christine!! Absolutely lovely!! I’m Mexican. I love it that everyone is learning Mexican Spanish.

    If I may correct you, playa is a feminine word, so it would be “la playa”.

    All the best, and keep going. I’m really excited as you can see 😀

  • I think that is a beautiful gift you’re giving your son. Someday he will look back on what you’ve done for him, and maybe even read this post, and realize one of the main reasons he is bilingual, or more, is because of the time and effort and love his mother invested in him from the beginning. I was raised in a multicultural household, but none of us children were raised speaking the ancestral languages of our parents. I have had to work hard and study for myself as an adult to gain the confidence in my heritage via my families languages. I have leaned one of those languages, and working on my second one now. Your son will have two languages to process this world in. What you are giving to your son is a priceless gift.

  • Just wait until it gets to the point where he speaks like a native and you turn to him like a dictionary. That’s how things are these days with Lila and me.

  • Hi Christine!

    Another great post as always! Just out of curiosity, where or how are you learning Spanish? Online or with a tutor? We maybe doing a stint in Central America next winter and want to learn the basics before we get there!

    Thank you!!!


  • I try to talk to my daughters in Spanish, but I’m in Colorado and I’m the only one who speaks to them in it, I’d say I talk about 50% of the time to them in Spanish, with goals of much higher — we sing a lot in Spanish which will be good for their pronunciation and general joy associated with the language.

  • I agree with the bilingual. Can you hire a local to watch your son and speak only spanish? I have been lucky enough to have two different ladies from Mexico work for me and babysit my 2 girls since birth – goal 1! They are both bilingual because of this. They are now 4 and 3 and help out at preschool with the spanish kids. Next goal – escape on my sailboat in 8 months and head for Cuba, Yucatan and then Columbia and then to Nicaragua where we are lucky to own a home on the Pacific. I love what you are doing. My biggest regret so far – not thinking ahead and birthing my kids in Mexico. they are US citizens and also carry UK/EURO passports because of my nationality – and to think I only had to travel south 9 hrs and they could have been citizens of mexico too. Good luck with what you are doing and I cant wait to jump in with 2 feet here soon

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