Learning a second language enhances a child’s cognitive skills and increases her confidence, and children have the ability to absorb languages naturally. Keeping things simple, enjoyable and interactive is the best way to reinforce Spanish at home, according to Jennifer Manriquez, educator and founder of the Bilingual Fun Company. You don’t need to be fluent in Spanish to teach your child common phrases. You can learn along with her as you make the words relevant to everyday life.
Children relate to the Spanish language when common words and phrases are incorporated into their routines. Repetition is a key factor, Manriquez says. In the morning, greet your child with, “Buenos dias,” and the greeting will soon become natural. When he’s comfortable saying good morning in Spanish, add the day of the week. “Hoy es Lunes.” Today is Monday. The dinner table provides a perfect backdrop for substituting phrases such as “por favor” for please, “gracias” for thank you and “de nada” for you’re welcome. Many signs are in English and Spanish, so encourage your child to notice words such as baño for bathroom and fuego for fire. When he’s leaving the house, say, “adiós,” and when he returns, “hola.”
Current Spanish sing-along CD’s use catchy tunes to engage children and teach them new Spanish vocabulary words, such as the months of the year or the names of animals or vegetables. You can change the lyrics of familiar tunes to teach colors or days of the week. For example, lyrics such as “Rojo is the color red, azul means it’s blue,” could be sung to the tune of “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.” When you sing “Happy birthday to you,” add an extra verse in Spanish, "Feliz cumpleaños a tí."
Physical movement helps children retain what they learn, according to Manriquez. As they’re saying the days of the week, children can swing their arms in wide circles. Give your child a jump rope and count aloud in Spanish the number of times she jumps. A freeze game incorporates lots of action. Children move freely until they hear, “freeze.” Then they listen for directions on which movement to do five times. For example, if they hear the word “salta,” they’d jump in the air five times, and if they hear “aplaude,” they’d clap five times.
When children play games, they don’t even realize they’re learning. A matching game can involve the entire family. Cut pictures from magazines of common items such as a hat, a girl and a flower. Glue them onto index cards. The matching words should be written in Spanish on separate cards. The cards are placed faced down and participants try to turn over matches. The person who collects the most pairs wins. A game of Simon Says is ideal for practicing the names of body parts. “Simon says wink your ojo.” Simon Says touch your cabeza.”