Spanish for Toddlers: How to Raise a Bilingual Child When You’re Fluent in Only One Language
If, like me, you want to teach your toddler Spanish, you’ve probably wondered “What are the best Spanish lessons for young kids?”
In this article, I’m going to show you. You’ll learn how to teach Spanish to your child (or children), even if, like me, you’re monolingual. I’ll be sharing my story and what I’ve learned along the way. I’ll also share some of my favorite “Spanish for toddlers and kids” resources, as well as showing you how to evaluate the resources that you find.
As well as being a mom, I’m a former teacher, so I’ve got a good understanding of what works when it comes to imparting knowledge.
By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll know exactly how to get started, and you’ll have plenty of ‘Spanish for toddlers’ options to try with your kids.
Let’s get started!
I Want My Daughter to Be a Citizen of the World
When I became a parent about two and half years ago, I knew I wanted to set my daughter up for success when it came to being a “citizen of the world”. Learning a second language would be the first step.
As someone who has studied abroad, traveled to about a dozen other countries, and backpacked my way from Norway to Italy, I have long understood the power of language, the opportunities knowing multiple languages creates, and its ability to connect us to amazing people and places.
Roughly 60% of the world speaks a second and multiple languages, yet only 15-20% of Americans do.
But… I’m only Fluent in English
Teaching my toddler Spanish didn’t seem like an easy path. I wasn’t sure how to teach my daughter Spanish as I myself speak the language at only a basic level.
I have studied Spanish and Italian throughout my life, I still exchange beve for bebe when brushing up and would consider myself a conversational survivalist in the two languages.
So how am I planning on raising a bilingual child? It’s been research, trial and error, a lot of handing over the reins, and being willing and vulnerable enough to learn like a child and make mistakes.
When Should You Start Spanish Lessons with Your Toddler?
Children are the greatest learners. They are curious about everything in their worlds and they are completely unafraid of failure.
Have you ever watched a baby try to learn to stand? They will pull and fall then reach up again and again without hesitating. That type of determination is exactly what is needed when learning a language.
When I considered when to begin working on a second language with my daughter, as an educator, I knew earlier was better.
We Started Teaching Our Daughter a Second Language at 7 Months
Her first experience with a second language has actually become a quite common first exposure to a second language among parents these days, it was American Sign Language (ASL) beginning at about 7 months old.
For our family we simply did not stop at “milk”, “all done”, and “more”. We continued on to making associations with the spoken word that made her feel empowered as she could quickly communicate her needs and interests.
My husband's paternal grandparents were both deaf so he has been able to brush up and expand his vocabulary with our daughter — it’s a win-win for the entire family!
While we had a background in ASL, we didn’t stop there. When she began speaking quite clearly at 18 months we began Spanish immersion courses (before the pandemic occurred). The simple exposure once a week had her curious about a language she had not heard and gave her dedicated time to practice.
Now at 2.5 years old she is stringing together sentences in ASL and is interested in learning new words daily. She can count to 10 in Spanish and says “corto corto corto” as she’s working on her scissor skills. Everything is “how do you say it in Spanish”, shortly followed by “now how do you say it in Sign Language”.
I know quite a lot of vocabulary revolving around dinosaurios that I did not learn in my high school Spanish days. When it comes to choosing when to begin, begin as soon as possible and be involved in the process. Be willing to say “I don’t know that word, let me look it up” and learn right along with your child.
Knowing Her Learning Style Has Helped Us, Too
As a former teacher, making learning fun is at the heart of everything I do.
I did not want my daughter’s first taste of Spanish to be “drill and skill” and rote memorization that led to disinterest as she got older and more aware of her surroundings.
When it comes to resources, I’d suggest first thinking about the type of little learner you have at home. In other words, what’s your child’s learning style?
As a teacher, I always began my students’ year with a learning assessment so that I knew how to present material in a way that would connect with them. Young children are no different. They have likes and dislikes and show preference in how they learned best.
For our daughter, we soon realized the best approach would be aural, kinesthetic, and musical focused resources. You can complete the following quiz or other quick online assessments to discover what type of learner your child is to help evaluate resources.
How to Evaluate Spanish Resources for Children
When it comes to pinpointing resources, I try to implement best educational practices. But I’m also a mother and teaching one-on-one, so we are less formal. We do have some guiding principles and questions I inherently ask myself before hitting the buy or print buttons.
Here’s what I ask myself:
- Does this resource match my daughter’s learning style?
- Is the resource age-appropriate? There were many resources I loved early on, but my child was not quite ready to take on alone.
- Is this from a credible professional or source?
- Most importantly, is my child enjoying it?
I recommend you keep a running list of resources you find, even if you don’t use them right away.
Children like routines and predictability for a secure learning environment, but when it comes to resources they also enjoy variety in order to not become bored.
If you’re unsure about a particular resource, go to the experts and research. Seek out reviews, especially from other parents with young kids. Look at the results and consider the backstory of the development of the product.
With my daughter being such a young age, I hold the pedagogical belief that it is all about positive exposure. Learning should not be a chore, it should be fun. If at any time your plan of implementing resources feels like a chore, remind yourself that is not the goal.
A positive relationship with a lifelong love of learning begins when learning is fun, laughs are shared, and positive praise is evident.
Spanish for Toddlers Resources We’re Loving
After some research, trial and error, we found some great resources to begin with that our child has loved.
Hola Amigo Subscription Box for Toddlers
Our daughter looks forward to the fun themed light blue box coming in the mail each month. In it, you’ll receive a book in Spanish, hands on activities, and tactile toys. The most recent dinosaurio themed box was a big hit! It was also a great reminder as parents that children don’t want to start with “important basics” like names of foods, daily routines, etc. Just as with their native language, they want to speak about the things that they love. Like dinosaurs!
Find out more about the Hola Amiga Subscription Box here.
Immersive Online Spanish Classes for Kids with Cucu’s Playhouse
Singing, dancing, puppets, props, and teachers who love what they do! We found Cucu’s Playhouse through Outschool.com, but realized the school offers streaming memberships! We were all signed up for live classes but the pandemic hit and this was a great alternative that connected me to teachers across the country with great enthusiasm.
Spanish Cartoons on Netflix
Netflix having the option to translate cartoons into different languages has been a wonderful way to make screen time feel guilt-free for the whole family. I rest easy knowing her daily minutes are enjoyable for her, yet giving her exposure to a second language. The standout favorite has been Word Party or Fabuloso Vocabulario!
Dora the Explorer has also aged quite well, toddler approved by the responsiveness to questions. I love that she’s not just a passive participant in the journey and is asked to practice words.
We also purchased a subscription with Muzzy, the wonderful animated monster I recall seeing commercials from since 1990, has found his way into the heart of the next generation.
Spanish Books for Toddlers
I recommend investing in some of your child's favorite titles in the language you are attempting to teach them. They know the story already, and may even be able to repeat them verbatim.
Challenge your toddler by offering the same title in another language. Point to pictures as you say the name of an item or character and use the same inflection as you do when reading in your native language! Some books are even written with English and Spanish words together on each page.
Some good choices include:
- Classic Favorites such as Dr. Seuss
- Parent Favorites, like Usborne Books “That’s Not My” series… such as Este No Es Mi Dinosaurio
- Modern Child Picks… such as Dragones y Tacos
We began exploring books in Spanish by simply going to the library and letting our toddler explore the Spanish titles for children. That’s a great place to start and be able to keep your home reads refreshed and exciting throughout the language learning journey!
Toddlers Are Excellent Learners
So where do you plan to start? The truth is, just start somewhere!
Children learn in a more raw and authentic way compared to how adults learn languages – they don't have their guard up like we do. They're not afraid to attempt to speak and get it wrong. All they see is a familiar character, a new fun activity with Mom, or a fast-moving class with singing puppets.
After you choose some resources, reinforce what your child learns in the day-to-day. Name foods they’re eating, give them kisses and say “Besos!”. Make it as authentic as learning their native language was by simple exposure. Be confident speaking from Day 1 yourself!
Soon you’ll have a spunky toddler constantly enthusiastically asking “and how do you say it in Spanish?!”
Music to my ears!