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Oct 20, 2022 -

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Great ways to start start bilingual education for kids ages 0-5

by Sophia Espinoza

Parents often ask us when the best time is to start bilingual education. Research suggests the earlier, the better. That being said, it can feel like a daunting task to plan language enrichment activities for your child. At Encantos, we know that parents are children’s first teachers, so we’re here to help!

General Recommendations

For children of any age and proficiency level, it’s important to be exposed to a second language as much and as often as possible. There is no secret formula, no minimum amount of time required to make them fluent. The important things to keep in mind are:

  • What activities does your child genuinely enjoy doing and how can you incorporate their second language into them?
  • What is sustainable for your family?

Each family’s time and resources are different. Do the best you can and know that’s enough! If you feel you want to do more, try making small incremental changes that suit your family.

Here are some ideas from a number of  developmental and language learning standards to help you find simple ways to  expose your pollito to Spanish at any age.

Children Ages 0-1

At this age, simple auditory exposure to another language is helpful. It’s as easy as listening! Try playing Spanish music or Spanish language television to your little one. (Our Canticos songs and videos are perfect for this, because they repeat in English and Spanish.)

If you have a Spanish speaker in the household, encourage them to speak to the child in Spanish. Consistency is key, so try to create a ritual, like always playing Spanish language music during playtime or meals. Here are more ideas for fun activities:

  • Caregiver interaction is key for children in this age group, so do everything you can to teach them Spanish in an interactive way! Active Spanish engagement is better than simple passive listening, so try to do more activities in Spanish.
  • Play your child music with lyrics in Spanish. Canticos playlists on Spotify, Amazon, and Apple music are great for open-ended play times, meals, car rides, or anytime
  • Use the Spanish names for common objects while they interact with that object; for example, when you hand them juice, say jugo.
  • Read bedtime stories in Spanish.

Children Ages 1-2

At this age, you’ll see the benefits of early exposure, because children will start to speak in Spanish. Keep exposure to Spanish high and try the following activities and suggestions to build their vocabulary and confidence:

  • Continue reading to them, and at this age, try to do so on a daily basis.
  • Use activities like sorting and counting to practice basic, everyday vocabulary on topics like numbers, colors, common objects, etc.
  • Model correct words as your child is developing the ability to say words completely, If your child grabs a red toy and says “ro” you should reply, “Si! Rojo!”  
  • Use positive reinforcement with this age group. If a child says something incorrectly, correct them in a kind way like in the example above.
  • Allow them limited screen time, and stick to high-quality experiences as recommended by the American Psychological Association and other organizations.

Children Ages 3-5

At this age, your child will speak in short to extended sentences. You may notice that they will start to mix up English and Spanish words in a sentence, which is normal and totally fine. Again, gentle, immediate feedback will reducerrors over time, but they are nothing to worry about at all – children will naturally learn which languages go together. Below are tips and activities perfect for this age group:

  • Build a love of reading by surrounding them with books. Any book can become a Spanish book if you have them simply name the pictures in Spanish to the best of their ability.  
  • Play Simon Says in Spanish to practice body part and verb vocabulary while building fine and gross motor skills.
  • Model “grown-up words” as often as possible and discontinue the use of any “baby language”; though they are little, their foundation for their language skills is being built now.
  • Continue to allow high-quality screen time.

Please don’t forget, our biggest recommendation is to keep things fun! For more recommendations for activities please see our other posts on the Canticos blog!

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Ask a Bilingual Expert

Raising a bilingual child? On this page, our very own Director of Learning Design and Efficacy, Sophia Espinoza, addresses some of the most common questions, concerns, and curiosities around the benefits of bilingualism. Get the scoop below!

Sophia Espinoza is a career educator and curriculum designer with seven years of experience teaching in private and independent schools across the country. She is an expert in 21st-century education, including technologically-powered personalization, multilingual and multicultural curriculums, and social-emotional learning.

Sophia began teaching in Chicago Public Schools through Chicago Teaching Fellows, learning to support both English Language Learners and students with neurodiverse needs. Among her proudest accomplishments is launching the AltSchool Spanish Immersion Program, with the mission of creating bilingual global citizens who are socially conscious and environmentally aware. Sophia holds a B.A. from Northwestern University and M.A.Ed. from Dominican University.

Benefits of Bilingualism (FAQs):

Any advice on managing two Spanish dialects in the household? Does this cause confusion for kids?

What do you recommend if I’m not completely fluent and my child’s school doesn’t have an immersion class?

Do you recommend teaching different subjects in different languages? For example, the solar system in English and the days of the week in Spanish? Or is it better for kids to try to learn in both languages all the time?

We speak Spanish and English in our home but my child almost always answers or talks back in English. How can I go about encouraging her to respond and speak more in Spanish?

Should I set aside time or create activities for each language or is it okay to mix them both together?

Any advice for households where one parent speaks Spanish and the other English? Can this be confusing for children?

How can my child learn language through play?

What are the social and cultural benefits of bilingualism?

What are some of the cognitive benefits of bilingualism?

What are some strategies for raising bilingual children?

What are some common misconceptions about raising bilingual children?

What are some of the cognitive benefits of bilingualism?