The path to fluency is not a straight one. It’s even paved with many deceiving and discouraging myths. Here’s one:
You have to live in a Spanish-speaking country to become fluent
Based on my experience with learning Japanese, I can tell you that this is not true.
Yup. I know that it’s a far cry from Spanish but studying Japanese taught me a lot about language acquisition. There are more similarities than you think!
To become fluent in Japanese, I practiced self-study for many years before moving on to a formal setting like school. With much hard work, I did become fluent but I struggled with immersing myself in the language. Surprisingly, this problem persisted even when I studied abroad in Japan!
After coming back to the United States and meeting my partner, who only spoke Spanish, I let go of trying to fit the picture perfect mold of “fluency.” I decided that I wanted to pick up on Spanish as naturally as possible.
You create your language environment for yourself and your child. No one else!
Keeping that in mind, here are some other myths:
You have to be a native speaker to teach your child Spanish
Aaaand one more for the road:
Speaking more than one language to a child leads to language confusion
Alright, we’ve got enough! I can only roll my eyes so many times.
It is very much possible to raise your child bilingual. Language acquisition starts with you, mama. It starts with your passion and determination.
Make speaking Spanish a natural occurrence in your life!
1. Connect with Native Speakers and Non-Native Speakers
Websites such as Lang-8, iTalki, or HiNative focus on free language learning and community building. From there, you can exchange Skype IDs and e-mails with other members. As busy moms, our stints with these kinds of communities may only last a few weeks, months, or even days before we stop showing up. Find a community where you’ll want to show up, be it online or in person!
Don’t limit yourself to only native speakers. When you’re talking to another non native speaker, it’s easier to become more critical of what you’re saying. “Are you using that term correctly?” or “Oh, her Spanish is so much better than mine!” These are valid thoughts to have! Wanting to improve motivates us. It shouldn’t bring us down.
The more comfortable you get with speaking with non native speakers, the more you’ll get comfortable with just speaking the language regardless of the level someone has reached in their language journey. Both of you have experience learning and probably have shared frustrations with Spanish that you both can help each other overcome.
Remember, language learning is not a competition!Me, a former language competitor who get fed up with comparisons and labels
I say this as someone who has competed in countless language competitions. Sure, we can showcase our skills and knowledge and even win prizes for it! When it comes to raising your child bilingual, however, the rewards are priceless.
Another way to connect is Meetup.com. I’ve used it to connect with bloggers and I even connected with a blogger who happened to be learning Spanish! Chris came along too because I don’t have a sitter for the evening. It was nice to know that everyone loves babies! So bring them along. They need to be around other people too.
There’s also the option of Spanish speaking churches. If you’re up for it, going to a service is a wonderful way to immerse yourself. You can be surrounded by Spanish and very supportive people. It doesn’t necessarily have to be church. It can be the park or the library. Overhearing a parent speaking a language other than English to their children is an amazing thing to witness! There’s nothing stopping you from being that way with your baby.
2. Combine the Spanish Language and Your Hobbies
What do you think about doing when you’re not doing it?
Is it writing? Dancing? Baking? If you allow a language to blend in with your interests, incorporating it becomes easier. After all, the culture is why we want to raise our babies bilingual! Don’t shove things in your short term memory that you’ll eventually forget.
If you’re a foodie like myself, finding a website like Mexico in My Kitchen, with recipes in both English and Spanish, is the equivalent to hitting the jackpot. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen so this is right up my alley. Plus I learn new words to use with my partner when I send him grocery shopping! No more bringing back the wrong stuff (he still does)! Anyways, having the visual cues helps the vocabulary stick. Does it work for you?
3. Listen to Music in Spanish
Who doesn’t love music? You don’t have to constantly have it going on all day of course but a song that’s catchy enough will stick to you.
When I first brought Chris home, I played lullabies for him. I later stumbled upon some children’s songs in Spanish that Chris continues to listen to a year later. These songs help him relax and the bright colors of the animations keep him engaged. The other benefit is how it has helped my Spanish!
4. Utilize YouTube, Your Spanish Language Goldmine!
You can find just about anything on YouTube in Spanish. Product reviews, movie reviews, stand-up comedy, anything! My advice is to just watch and listen. You would think that with a native speaker in my house, I never have to worry about getting answers to my questions but that’s not the case.
For one, I don’t like to live dependent on someone for answers. I’m naturally curious and can do investigating myself. Also, as a native speaker, my husband has never had to do dissect the Spanish language. He corrects me from time to time but doesn’t go into specifics about grammar, which is fine with me. Would you want to live in a constant state of “studying?” Don’t stop the immersion process to ask questions all the time. Take break. Come back to what you don’t understand with a refreshed mindset.
How does this tie in to raising your baby bilingual?
Well, you have to be okay with not understanding something. Between taking care of yourself and your baby, you won’t have time to explore everything in one day. That’s OK. Create your own playlists and come back to them. Go a step further and even leave comments on videos! You never know who will step in and educate you.
5. Change the Language Settings of Your Most Used App into Spanish
“Did you know that the languages settings of your car are in Spanish?”
The mechanic asked me this when I went to go get an oil change for our car the other day. Honestly, I’m so used to my husband switching everything into the Spanish, that I just go along with it. I hadn’t noticed!
I’ve had classmates who usually did this for their Facebook or Instagram. We use those apps so often that we have most of the terms memorized! .
I once did that for the Uber app and accidentally ordered a ride. That $2 cancellation fee taught me a new word that day!
If you’re hesitating to try this, I understand. This can be a lot of fun and it can be headache, right? That’s why I recommend you do this with an app that you’re familiar with. One that you’ve used for a while. When you do put it in another language, you’ve remembered where the options are anyways.
You’ll know what the English (or your native language) counterpart is. At this point, all you’re doing is taking what you already know and having the system translate it into Spanish. The hard part is already done for you! I recently changed my Facebook to Spanish. My Gmail is still in Japanese because I’ve gotten so comfortable seeing it that way!
How do you make speaking Spanish feel like second nature? I’d love to hear some hacks from you.
Also, another thing I’ve tried is mini-blogging on Instagram in Spanish. Making full-length posts in Spanish is still intimidating for me, so I enjoy putting bilingual posts on my feed to connect with Spanish-speaking moms myself. If you haven’t already, check out some of my posts on Instagram!