In my journey as a bilingual mother, I’ve been stopped many times by moms wanting to speak a second language. The questions are always the same: How did you learn? How did you do it? And they often conclude with “That’s amazing. I wish I could do the same.”
Yes, it truly is amazing, especially when you see it sinking in. When you see that your kids are understanding you (in Spanish) and everyone else (in English) simultaneously. These little people are sponges and just sooo smart. So what can we learn from our amazing little ones about learning a second language? We learn that it takes baby steps.
Learning a language is really hard, especially when you’re not born into it.And one of the best ways we can master a language is to learn it like our kids do. Before getting into complex sentences about ordering something off the menu in a restaurant or asking directions while on vacation in Mexico, start where language begins: at home.
When our kids are starting to learn a language, they begin with basic words like “mommy,” “daddy,” “more,” “hungry,” “thirsty.” So if you have the MamaLingua app, look those words up and add them to your favorites. (Or make a list the old-fashioned way.) Use those Spanish words with your kids every day until they become automatic. Then continue saying them until they permanently replace their English counterparts.
If you used sign language with your baby, can you remember when you were learning those first few signs? If you were like me, you had to keep looking them up again and again at the beginning. Eventually, because I said those words so many times a day, signing them became second nature. My hands naturally went up when I would say “more” or “water.” We can get to that same place with learning Spanish.
My Tip: Make a list of the top five words you use every day with your kids and replace them with the Spanish words. By the end of the week, those five English words should be completely replaced by their Spanish translations. And if you want them to stick, permanently switch those words and use only the Spanish form at home. (You are forbidden to say those words in English while at home!) 🙂
Just like creating a healthier lifestyle takes time and consistency, so does learning a language. Think of it as exercise for the brain: To see results, you need to do it every day and over time. And like adding time or weight to your workout, once you’ve mastered those five key words, add five key phrases that use those words… then add five more: Are you hungry? ¿Tienes hambre? Are you thirsty? ¿Tienes sed? Do you want more? ¿Quieres más? (I must say these phrases twenty times a day!)
Learning a language is daunting, but it’s doable by setting up weekly goals instead of looking at it as a whole. It’s a journey, and I promise that each step along the way will be rewarding, especially since you’re doing it with your children.
For all of you who desire to learn a second language and share the journey with your children, I commend you. Let’s see how much you can master — with baby steps.
Aileen P. was raised in a bilingual household, and she wanted to ensure that her kids learned Spanish. As her spouse does not speak the language, she knew she needed to create a way for her young children to be regularly exposed to it, so she set about forming a weekly gathering for moms with a similar interest.