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