I am writing this blog as a resource for other mums and dads who wish to teach their child Spanish as a first or second language.
I hope to explore the various ways we learn, how children learn differently, and what information is available to help us in the process.
Let’s start by telling you a bit about how I learned Spanish, because it affected my decision to teach my children Spanish as their first language.
I am from an Irish background, Toronto raised, and my first language is English.
I was always envious of my friends, most of whom spoke a native language at home and English, or my cousins who growing up in Europe spoke two or three languages by their teens. I always wanted to speak a second language.
Our culture, Irish, does have a language and my mum can speak it, but it is not spoken outside of Ireland and for that reason she decided not to teach us. Instead my mum encouraged us to try to speak other languages. We travelled often to Mexico and Costa Rica from infancy and right from the start my mum had only one rule. Try to speak the language. It was a great lesson and gift, to try no matter your skill, age, or inhibitions. Children do this naturally (up until five or six years of age- after that age they need more encouragement). They do not worry about pronunciation, conjugation or how they sound. Adults can learn from Children’s approach to learning languages. Try and do not worry about what you do not know.
So from an early age I was speaking phrases in Spanish and exposed to Spanish-speaking cultures. As a teen my best friends were from Chilean-born parents and spoke Spanish at home. When I visited my friends, I spoke my broken Spanish and listened as the parents and kids spoke in Spanish around me. In high school we would often end up at my best friends house to watch crazy Mexican telenovelas such as “Valentina” and “Dos Mujeres Un Camino” (check them out on YouTube!).
I watched Spanish-language television, movies, and music. I never took a Spanish class until University where I promptly failed to my disbelief. I had been learning the language through osmosis, being surrounded on a near daily basis. Why could I not pass a Beginner level Spanish class?
I learned Spanish like a child learns a language: from those closest to me, on a daily basis, through exposure and activity. Not through studying and tests. While I spoke at a high beginner level of Spanish, I could not read and write it at the same level. University classes were mostly reading and writing, only 10% was the language lab. I have never returned to University to learn the language, but I now understand that reading and writing in Spanish is required past the age of six or as an adult learner.
I have taken classes and studied independently, though not as much as I should.
My real learning has taken place by embracing the Spanish-speaking culture, speaking Spanish while travelling, and visiting my Colombian-born husband’s family who only speak Spanish. Of interest my husband and I prior to our children never spoke in Spanish with each other.
I speak at an Intermediate level. I mostly speak in present –tense, but I have a good accent and large vocabulary. I have enough to understand and interact with any native Spanish speaker. I have enough comprehension skills to read a newspaper, a teen novel, or watch a Spanish-language film.
I am not an expert .
I have worked in a Spanish language school for the past 10 years, taught children Spanish as a second language for 8 years, and have been raising my children as Spanish as a first language speakers for the past 6 years. I hope my experiences, tips and support help you.
For now this blog will concentrate on the early years of children’s language development and what you can do to support it.
I hope you continue to read.
Next post is about the decision to teach my children Spanish as a first language and how it was received by my husband, family, professionals and the public.