Becoming bilingual: teaching toddlers

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been meeting with parents who have decided to teach their children another language, to investigate whether becoming bilingual a realistic aspiration for parents and children with only partial exposure to the new language. Becoming bilingual: teaching toddlers.

This week, I wanted to share Sam & Julia’s story.

Sam & Julia met 10 years ago on a gruelling 5-day hike through the Andes in Peru. They’d both been drawn to South America by a passion for Latin america, and a desire to perfect their Spanish whilst immersing themselves in the beautiful landscapes and geographic phenomena there.

5 years later, when they had their baby boy Lucca, neither of them were quite fluent in the language which had brought them together, but they were none-the-less determined to bring Lucca up bilingual. We met with Sam, who spoke about the difficulties and opportunities that that journey has presented so far.

Why was it so important to you that Lucca was brought up bilingual?

I think because the language meant so much to myself and Julia – we’ve both put in a fair bit of work to get to where we’re at with the language, and we didn’t want all that work to go to waste – we wanted to pass what we’ve learned on to Lucca so that, if he wants to, he’s got the option to pick up where we left off when he’s older.

We were aware of how much time learning a language takes so starting early seemed the right thing to do.

What resources did you use to help?

Ah loads! First we researched some good short songs to sing when he was a baby, some nice finger play songs. We also bought some baby books in Spanish and tried to talk to him in Spanish (mixed with English) at least one day a week.

We did this more when we signed up for classes, that was our Spanish day! at the classes we learnt more songs we could sing at home and we used more Spanish and English vocabulary when playing.

“We were aware of how much time learning a language takes so starting early seemed the right thing to do. “

Joining a class was also great to meet other parents that shared our views on learning Languages and we could exchange tips and resources.

Now that he’s a bit older, we use Duolingo and BBC bitesize too. The most useful thing we’ve found now that he is more independant is going on holiday to Spain – sometimes we’ve sought out places that do immersive classes for kids during the day, and other times we’ve just enrolled him in multilingual kids clubs and because their brains are like sponges; and they seem to ultimately communicate in this weird-universal-kid-language, his Spanish always comes on leaps and bounds

What does Lucca think about Spanish in comparison to English?

He goes through phases! Sometimes he stubbornly responds to us in English when we’re trying to work on his Spanish, and other times he refuses to speak anything else…I think he does enjoy being able to use his Spanish with other kids on holiday though.

Has your own Spanish improved as a result of teaching Lucca?

It is difficult to find the time as a parent to very young children. There’s just utter chaos going on all the time and tend to be quite focused on just keeping everything together – in whichever language is easiest (which tends to be English). It felt a bit strange to talk to him in Spanish at the beginning but I used it as a way to keep my interest for the language going and reminded me to dig out some old books and watch some Spanish Netflix!

As he’s gotten older, and we have a bit more time to think about how to plan activities around language learning, I would say Julia & my Spanish is beginning to improve again. I’m looking forward to the next step when he’s a bit older – doing proper immersive courses on holiday or taking Lucca trekking through the Andes – that’s going to be fantastic!

Our thoughts

I really like how much fun Sam seems to be having trying to think of new and interesting ways to expose Lucca to the Spanish language – hopefully he’ll be trekking through the Andes with a bilingual Lucca soon!

We’ve written down some of our ideas about how to teach toddlers a new language, take a look here.

For our classes here is some info

For other classes check Hoop, Kiddiplan or Happity

Thanks Sam, and good luck!

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