My son is five and his mother tongue is English, I’m trying to speak in Spanish with him. He is interested in learning Spanish and already knows some words, but what would be the best method to turn him bilingual? He is with me on weekends and I am the only person who regularly speaks Spanish to him. Once a week he also spends time with his Spanish-speaking sister. His mother is unfortunately not actively supportive of teaching him Spanish, so for example a playgroup during the week is not possible and all the learning has to happen during the weekends. I would like him to be fluent enough to communicate with our relatives in Costa Rica – reading and writing can come later. He is also learning French at school.
Thank you for your help.
Dear Juan Carlos,
Thank you so much for your question! I admire your determination to teach your son Spanish and laud you for it – you are giving him a fantastic gift for the future by doing this.
It is great that your son shows interest in learning Spanish, as motivation is perhaps the most important part of the learning process (beside actual language exposure, of course). Whatever you decide to do to teach him the language, make sure he does not lose interest or get bored with any activities, as this would undermine his motivation.
Children pick up a language best when the learning is combined with an activity. You can start with normal everyday situations: saying hello, thank you, goodbye, yes and no. Then go on to simple questions which your son can understand based on the situation and can answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, you can offer him an apple and at the same time ask in Spanish ‘Do you want an apple?’ Once he remembers the word for ‘apple’, teach him how to say ‘yes, I want an apple’ and help him slowly build longer sentences. Remember to praise him when he says something in Spanish. It does not matter if it is not perfect, the important thing is that he gets a sense of achievement and wants to learn more. Take a look at Señora Speedy’s blog for more interactive activities.
I would also suggest that you use picture books to increase his vocabulary. What is his favourite book character? Try to find books in Spanish with this character in it to keep him interested. You can also use English books that he already knows, but read them in simple Spanish. Like all children, he will probably know the book by heart, so he already has the meaning and you provide the words in Spanish. Make it a game – for example, he can be the parrot that repeats everything you say!
The best way to learn is through interaction with you, but you can supplement the teaching with children’s videos that you watch together. There are numerous clips you can watch on YouTube – Canal Pakapaka is a channel you might want to subscribe to. See if the BabyRadio on-line radio channel has anything that interests him. You can also try some more structured learning material and see how your son responds to it – check out for example 123TeachMe and TeachingIdeas for ideas.
It is great that you can make the weekends intensive Spanish time with your son, as you are spending this time together. Spending time with his Spanish-speaking sister is also very beneficial, so he can get the experience of using the language with another child. Do you speak to him over the phone during the week at all? If it can be arranged, it would be beneficial to set up a video call with him once or twice during the week as well, during which you can repeat some of the words and phrases he learnt during the weekend. You could also read him a bedtime story this way. During the weekends, also stay in touch with relatives in Costa Rica so your son gets used to hearing them speak Spanish. I am sure he would be delighted over the positive reactions if he can greet them in Spanish!
I wish you the best of luck with teaching your son Spanish – do let us know how you are getting on and return with any additional questions you might have.