Almost Fearless

Want to Raise Bilingual Spanish-English Kids? Learn Spanish.

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The cheapest and easiest way to raise your kids with a second language is to speak it yourself. But if you’re like me, or 80% of Americans, then you grew up only speaking English. So how do you learn? Little by little.

It’s often overlooked that you can learn a level 1 language, like Spanish (the easiest for native English speakers) to a proficient level in a year — no matter what your natural skill level — if you do a little bit every single day. It’s so easy! It’s so simple! And yet… I know for me, I am definitely a crash-course kind of person. I like to do intensive, over-the-top studies and then… stop studying… completely. It’s the worst way to learn. You roll the language ball up the hill, then it slides back down again.

Let’s stop doing that!

So how do you learn Spanish? I think having some basic grammar and vocabulary is important. There’s a point where you can speak, read and listen to Spanish very well and that’s when you want to dive into immersion. So if I was going to break it up I would do my one year of Spanish study like this:

PART 1: 90 days: grammar and vocabulary review

PART 2: 60 days: formal immersion class

PART 3: 210 days: reading, writing, speaking and listening to Spanish with natives

Everyone tries to skip to Part 3 before they are ready, but I believe you get the most out of immersion if you have good solid grammar and vocabulary. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t speak or use the language until then, it’s just that skipping the formal studies completely to go straight to immersion, well it doesn’t totally work. I have seen so many expats try this and they are stuck speaking in the present tense with baby vocabulary that is not growing even though they live in the language all day.

HOW TO RAISE BILINGUAL KIDS

So coming back to raising bilingual kids, here is what I think is key: input (about 30% — although there is no hard number) and a real need to speak the language. Speaking to your child only in Spanish adds the input (and as long as your spouse or partner speaks English they will pick up both) and needing to communicate with YOU, adds the real-world need to learn it.

So where to start? 

1. Start learning Spanish (or refreshing)

2. Start using the language as much as you can.

3. That’s it.

What does it sound like to talk to your child in Spanish when you’re just learning? Like this:

“Hey can you get me your zapatillas?”

You start with what you know. Eventually you’ll be saying,

Pues, me traes las zapatillas por fa?”

And you might have to switch back and forth:

Están bajo la cama… no, mira, in the back…”

This is all okay and as long as you’re improving your Spanish as you go, there is no harm in this transition period. If you have an older child, it will help them too. (Eventually you will want to stop translating or mixing languages — but set that as your year one goal).

HOW TO LEARN SPANISH

Come learn it with me! I am setting up a sample schedule and you can follow along if you like. Here’s what I’m doing (because I need to review too!):

1. Easy Spanish Step-by-Step (Amazon is selling the Kindle version for just $7.13)

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2. Advanced Spanish Step-by-Step (Amazon is selling the Kindle version for just $9.13)

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3. Advanced Spanish Language and Culture online college course
(This course is free if you choose the “audit” version — if you want credit and a certificate it’s $50 — the content is the same either way)

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The books are what I used to learn Spanish the first time and they cover everything you’ll need to get to that conversational fluency level you want. The Advanced Spanish Language and Culture course is a college level Spanish course, taught in Spanish. (It’s online and free through Edx — which I have used to take courses in the past, it’s awesome).

What’s the schedule?

Easy Spanish Step-by-Step

  • 12/1/14 Chapter 1
  • 12/3/14 Chapter 2
  • 12/6/14 Chapter 3
  • 12/9/14 Chapter 4
  • 12/11/14 Chapter 5
  • 12/14/14 Chapter 6
  • 12/17/14 Chapter 7
  • 12/19/14 Chapter 8
  • 12/22/14 Chapter 9
  • 12/25/14 Chapter 10
  • 12/28/14 Chapter 11
  • 12/30/14 Chapter 12
  • 1/2/15 Chapter 13
  • 1/5/15 Chapter 14
  • 1/7/15 Chapter 15

Advanced Spanish Step-by-Step

  • 1/10/15 Chapter 1
  • 1/13/15 Chapter 2
  • 1/15/15 Chapter 3
  • 1/18/15 Chapter 4
  • 1/21/15 Chapter 5
  • 1/24/15 Chapter 6
  • 1/26/15 Chapter 7
  • 1/29/15 Chapter 8
  • 2/1/15 Chapter 9
  • 2/3/15 Chapter 10
  • 2/6/15 Chapter 11
  • 2/9/15 Chapter 12
  • 2/11/15 Chapter 13
  • 2/14/15 Chapter 14
  • 2/17/15 Chapter 15

Does that look daunting? Well if you do it EVERYDAY… it’s not that bad. Read the chapter, do the exercises, practice reading it and you’ll be good to go. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Forget perfect. We’re just focusing on the small incremental improvement you gain with consistent study.

Advanced Spanish Language and Culture online college course

2/19/2015 – 4/2/2015

This is the online college course taught in Spanish and while you should finish the grammar books before starting, you can start the course at any time after 2/19/15 (so if you fall behind that’s okay) and you can take as long as you want. Plus, you can always circle back to the books if you forget a concept or you need to brush up on something. The course is a great test of your knowledge and mastery of the language from a reading and writing perspective, but don’t forget to also speak the language on your own!

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JOIN THE GROUP
 
I put together a Facebook group if you want reminders about schedule or you want support as you go. This is all free and for fun… I’m doing it anyway so I thought I would open up my process and perhaps get some other people on board.
 

Spanish Bootcamp: https://www.facebook.com/groups/300501676824916/

 

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(One note: I didn’t include Spanish speaking in this outline because it’s one of those things that will be different for everyone. I happen to live in a Spanish speaking country, so it’s easier for me. But if you don’t have any resources, you might want to hire a tutor. If any hispanohablantes want to volunteer to help, feel free to join the group as well).

TALK TO YOUR KIDS

It might be as simple as reading Spanish books to your kids at night time… just start somewhere. I will post an update about Part 3 later in the year, and you can see how much progress we’ve made.

(Updated to add: Yes, this is open to those without kids too! All Spanish-learners welcome!)

Photo credit

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.”

THERE ARE RARELY HAMMOCKS.

http://christinegilbert.com

16 comments

  • This is great, thank you! I don’t have any children, but I’ve been wanting to learn Spanish for a few years now, and I’ve been thinking about picking up another language at this point so this is perfect! Hope it’s okay if I join your group even though I don’t have any kids to practice with (yet!) 🙂

    • Yes absolutely, come on over to the FB group. We have 50 of us in there so far and I’m sure plenty of them don’t have kids! 🙂

  • This is very interesting even though it’s Arabic I want to learn not Spanish. My kids are being taught English Arabic and French so I need to catch up with them in Arabic. If you don’t mind I’d like to add a few more practical ways to learn a language: watching movies or TV series in your target language really helps to improve your listening and speaking skills as well as your fluency. It trains your ears to react faster to the new language. Kids react very well to songs as well my kids love watching peppa pig in Spanish and listen to Arabic songs. Good luck with your studies…

    • Are you in Beirut? We lived there for five months. RE: listening… I have begun to disagree on that point. I think passively listening doesn’t help as much as active listening and speaking. So for example: talking to someone and trying to understand what they are saying has a much bigger impact than say, watching a movie in the target language. My feeling is that as human beings our brains are so wired for communication that we treat active, face-to-face conversations much differently than passively watching. It’s hard to tease out where one begins and the other ends though when you’re living in an immersion situation (and if you are taking classes at the same time). However, they’ve done studies on children as young as 12 months and tested just playing movies compared to just having someone come talk to them for the same amount of time. The movie watching had zero impact, but even just a few hours (in this case it was Mandarin) of active listening had a massive change, down to the brain activity level where the children looked identical to native-Mandarin babies on an fMRI scan.

      Anyway, sorry to be nerdy about it, this is actually the topic of my book — we learned Arabic, Mandarin and Spanish together as a family. However I ran into tons of expats who were constantly exposed to the language through movies, music and hearing it on the street, who couldn’t speak the language hardly at all even after years in the country. So I’ve begun to shift my ideas about it, I think the grammar and vocab studies are so important, even though that’s not very sexy!

      Good luck with Arabic! Are you learning the dialect or MSA? (Or both?)

      Cheers,

      Christine

  • This is great, Christine. Thanks for doing this! I do want to improve my Spanish (which is very basic – I can get by in a Spanish speaking country with food, directions etc BARELY). I live in Texas so there is OKAY opportunities to practice but not a lot. I would suggest LiveMocha.com to others as a way to practice – you can easily get on skype and practice sessions with speakers of other languages who want to learn your language.

    • I like Live Mocha too, although their merger with Rosetta has annoyed me, had to unsubscribe because of all the “last chance sales” they kept emailing me for RS.

  • I would additionally recommend using apps like Duolingo. It is really helpful and fun to use. From my experience, regarding only on books can be a bit boring!

    Suerte y que todo lo va bien! 😉

  • This is a great blog post! My husband and I have been using Duolingo to brush up on Spanish (after taking several years of it in high school, many moons ago). We have ample opportunities to use it, living in Southern California!

    Is that you in the pic? If so, you’re looking fabulous!

  • I love this! I was raised bilingual as a kid, but then my mom switched to just speaking English with me instead of Norwegian, so I’m sadly not properly bilingual now. But I’ve learned German and Japanese through immersion, and definitely agree that it is SO important to have some formal training before moving to the country (I didn’t with German and you can tell).

  • I love this post! I am totally one of those people who study a language intensely for a few months and then stop long enough to forget everything I’ve learned. You have inspired me to make a greater commitment to learning Spanish as a family. See you in the Facebook group!

  • I’m Polish and I’d love my children to be bilingual with Polish and English! I speak English fluently (don’t care about mistakes, it’s all about being comprehensive) and I’ve read that to raise bilingual children it’s enough to speak with them in second language only 20-30% od the day (when they’re awake of course). I’m happy that I have already this knowledge and I don’t have children yet 😉 It will be fun to play with them and read English books for good night 🙂

  • I grew up in a multilingual home; my first language, which I learned from my grandmother, was Russian. My parents were post war immigrants from eastern Europe via Germany and Austria. They both spoke Ukrainian, Polish and German, sometimes interchangeably from
    one sentence to the next. My mom also spoke Russian and quickly learned to speak English fluently after coming to the U.S. She was a very extroverted type of person, so learning the local language took on a very high priority. I studied Latin and German in high school (Boston Latin School). Latin gave me a base for learning some Spanish while listening to Latin American radio stations on the shortwave radio. However, being able to follow weather and sports reports is not sufficient for living in a country where Spanish is the primary language, unless perhaps, one’s life revolves around watching futbol (soccer) games. The down side of being a multilingual immigrants’ kid has been cultural confusion, of adopting customs and views from both the east European subculture of my parents’ immigrant community and of the larger American community around us. I wound up being some of both but neither on the whole. Being somewhat of a cosmopolitan is probably not a bad thing in today’s rapidly changing world. It makes one an odd duck here in the U.S.A. though; maybe it’s a more acceptable way to be in Europe.

  • I never actually thought about this… We’re living Korea and want our little one to be bilingual with English and Korean. It makes sense for us to know Korean if we don’t want to spend a bunch of money on Korean tutors. Great post!
    Brittany
    http://www.BrittanyJefferson.com

  • The timing of this could not have been better! 🙂 Books downloaded – I’m starting a bit behind but will try to catch up. Thanks!

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