Help a kid learn Spanish when you don't know yourself?
September 5, 2012 10:26 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to teach a child a foreign language that you yourself don't know very well, if immersion is not an option and you are limited to what you can do in your home?

I have a very bright six-year-old daughter who I would like get started on a foreign language, particularly Spanish. She is interested an motivated to learn, but I only have a very elementary understanding of Spanish myself. Books? Software? Recordings? What have you done with your child to help them learn a language? We can devote maybe $200 to this, $300 at the most. She does have a fully bilingual aunt, but we don't get to see her often.
posted by Alexander Hatchell to Education (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You may be able to get a private tutor for $25-50/hour (maybe even lower, depending on where you are) but that'll get you at most twelve sessions. This is what my parents did for me both in Russia (to get started learning English) and in America (to make sure I didn't forget Russian.)
posted by griphus at 10:39 AM on September 5, 2012

Have her watch TV in Spanish; that's how my kid brother learned (we were living in Argentina), and he didn't even want to learn the language.

Also, this probably doesn't need saying, but just in case: if you only have a very elementary understanding of the language, don't try to use it with her yourself.
posted by languagehat at 10:49 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

This sounds crazy, but let your child watch Spanish cartoons or Spanish educational shows. They pick up language so quickly.

My daughter understands Mandarin. I speak Cantonese. I'd say I speak more Spanish than Mandarin, but I have all sorts of kids show in mandarin that I let her watch. My aunt discovered she completely understands Mandarin when speaking to her in Mandrin a few weeks ago! I Told the pediatrician that it seems like she understands Mandarin because she laughs at the show. I asked if it was just coincidence. He said no, children are capable of learning languages just from hearing it constantly. He said I should let her keep watching the Mandarin children's programming and see what happens. He is completely right! She understands the language!!

Of course, you can put her into a school to learn Spanish. My friend puts his kids in Spanish school. They learn faster among other little kids too.
posted by Yellow at 10:55 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Songs. Songs songs songs songs.

And TV, yeah. But songs will stick in her head even if she takes a few years off from practice (say, between 8th grade and college.)
posted by SMPA at 10:59 AM on September 5, 2012

Songs are great, but you can't actually learn a language from them. I know songs in languages I can't speak.
posted by languagehat at 11:00 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rosetta Stone's online program (Totale) is $299 for a full year, so that would be within your budget. You can try the online demo for free and I think you'll see how good it is. InstantImmersion is much cheaper but I don't know how good it is.
posted by Dansaman at 11:01 AM on September 5, 2012

My kids learned Spanish from our nanny and watching Spanish TV. But, if you don't speak it, maybe finding a play group with Spanish-speaking kids, so that she can actually practice it with other people.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:06 AM on September 5, 2012

Yes, Spanish TV, Comics etc.

An au-pair girl would be an option but I guess far out of your price range.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 11:20 AM on September 5, 2012

This may be a long-shot, but are there any elementary schools with dual language programs in your area?
posted by beryllium at 12:10 PM on September 5, 2012

Cartoons and other TV, books - as in general Spanish-language children's lit - and finding a play group or child for play dates where she can practice. More structured learning (the same as she will do with English) as she ages/matures. That can come from lessons, tutors, textbooks, Rosetta/Pimsleur. But I wouldn't bother with that part just yet with a six year old.
posted by asciident at 1:16 PM on September 5, 2012

Holiday in Spanish-speaking areas as much as possible.
posted by gohabsgo at 1:40 PM on September 5, 2012

My wife and I are currently raising two bilingual children (4 and 7). How I wish it were as easy as simply turning on the television. It is us against the (English-speaking world). Mrs. Tanizaki is a native speaker of Japanese, the kids are native speakers, and I speak it at home. Despite all this, everything outside the house is English. This is not a big deal for the four-year-old, who is not yet in full-time school, but our seven-year-old spends his entire day learning and socializing in English. It is a struggle. I think we will come out on top, but it is something we devote a significant amount of energy to just about every day. You will need to devote similar effort, but without the benefit of proficiency in the target language. I would recommend that you learn along with her. I think it helps her see that this is something that matters.

I think all the advice so far is geared towards a general point, with which I agree: as much input as possible. Certainly Spanish television is good, but I would also recommend a social circle of Spanish-speaking friends who meet often to play i.e. not once or twice a month.

I do not agree with Rosetta Stone as a language learning tool. It is great for learning disjointed phrases like "we have red flowers" or "the man in the blue shirt is jumping" but does not teach language in any meaningful sense. LiveMocha is essentially a free version of Rosetta Stone, and that could give you a better idea of what that approach is all about. Many public libraries also offer Mango Languages, and of course, you could also borrow Pimsleur CDs from the library. I study a new language every year and there are many resources that can be had freely from the local public library and online, such as the aforementioned. Of course, these programs are all merely conversational, but it can be a good start for getting the feel for a language.

By the way, I take from the question that this is something you want for your daughter. You may wish to ask yourself why, and why Spanish rather than any other language; maybe she would prefer Persian or Portuguese. It will not work if it is not something that she wants for herself. Otherwise, this will result in a cool parlor trick while she is a tot and then be promptly forgotten. I spoke Spanish when I was your daughter's age but I lost it soon afterwards even though my mother is a native speaker of Spanish.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:48 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is Muzzy, which you might be able to borrow from a library for free. I have also heard that some families do well with labeling everything in the house in the new language.
posted by Michele in California at 2:52 PM on September 5, 2012

Can you try learning it with her, as something you do together? Watch TV together, or get books out of the library and read them together, do Rosetta Stone or LiveMocha, etc.

Can you set up skype dates with her aunt?
posted by jacalata at 6:37 PM on September 5, 2012

Multilingual Living has some great resources and ideas.
posted by wallaby at 4:00 AM on September 6, 2012

The Annenberg Foundation has their Destinos video series online for free.
posted by XMLicious at 4:08 AM on September 6, 2012

I would start by teaching her how to count in Spanish. Then you can move on to colors, the days of the week, shapes and other basics that won't overwhelm either one of you. YouTube has a variety of language learning videos for children. also has Spanish for Kids and Little Pim DVDs. As she learns Spanish vocabulary, you can incorporate those words into your everyday conversations. For example, you can ask if she wants "agua" instead of water.

I would buy children's language learning software. Some of the titles are Little Pim, KidSpeak, Hooked on Spanish, JumpStart and Bovinalina's Language Extravaganza. Kid's software has its disadvantages, but the bright colors and cartoon characters will probably hold her interest more than adult programs.

I'm not familiar with them, but I know that there are also bilingual children's books. Just try to keep it fun. Observe what she likes and picks up. Once you've done all you can do, look for a tutor.
posted by 1smartcookie at 11:24 PM on September 6, 2012

> I would start by teaching her how to count in Spanish.

No! The poster does not know Spanish well, and he should not be directly involved in the teaching unless he wants his daughter to have his bad Spanish hard-wired into her. She needs to get her Spanish from fluent native speakers.
posted by languagehat at 6:31 AM on September 7, 2012

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