La Tela di Carlotta
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Raising multilingual kids: how to teach Spanish (or any target language) if parents only speak English (or their native language)

Jan 16, 2019

In my interview in the Congreso Online Montessori 2018, I was asked how parents who can’t speak English (or another foreign language) can introduce it in their kids’ life.

First of all, let me make it clear: you don’t need to speak a language to expose your children to that language. I say it all the time: children are geniuses at learning languages and if we expose them to a foreign language before the age of 6 (and especially between 0 and 3 years old; you might be interested in my post about the importance of the first three years) they will learn that language spontaneously.

Kids before 6 can learn a language without effort on their part, but with a lot of effort from their parents. Parents are the ones who have to expose them to the language and, if they don’t speak the target language, they have to find creative ideas.

Here’s a few ideas that English parents can use to expose their kids to Spanish (I chose to write about this combination, because I get more enquiries about it, but it works in any language combination).

It works best for children from 0 to 3 years old, but can be adapted (with different activities and game) for kids up until 6 years old.

It is based on my 10-year experience as a language teacher and on my 4-year experience as a mother of multilingual kids in Marbella:

  • Find a Facebook group of mums and babies in your town/city and ask if they know of any Spanish activities for kids locally. This is by far, in my opinion, the best way to go about it: social media are very powerful in connecting people, and we should learn to use them to our advantage.
  • Involve a group of mums with children (your kids’ friends), get together and hire a Spanish babysitter to direct the group: ask the babysitter to prepare games, songs and activities for your babies to do with you, and make sure the babysitter only speaks Spanish during that time.
  • Look for activities (art, music…) or sport classes (swimming, tennis, football…) in your target language, sometimes you’ll be surprised how many you find.
  • Look for alternative language classes for your kids: we don’t want kids to learn colors and numbers by heart, we want them to play in Spanish! If you’re in Marbella, I highly recommend Rocio’s activity morning at Bubble Marbella.
  • Hire a Sanish babysitter. When looking for a babysitter, you can get two birds with one stone and find a person that will always speak English (and only English) to your children. Many parents think their children will be lost, confused, or will find it more difficult to adapt if the babysitter speaks a different language, but I can assure that is not true: as long as the babysitter is engaging, children won’t even care about what language she/he speaks (that’s how their superpower brain works to learn languages).
  • Listen to Spanish songs at home and dance to them! In this post, at the very end, you’ll find a YouTube channel of the best collections of songs to teach Spanish to your kids.
  • I personally don’t recommend giving children screen time before they’re three, but after, TV is a great tool to develop your children’s hearing and familiarity with a language. We prefer animal documentaries (the BBC Earth series and the National Geographic Blue Planet one are the best!), but occasionally watch Curious George, our favorite cartoon. Alternatively to TV, you can listen to audiobooks when commuting in the car (we love it!).

Any other ideas? Please, tell us all about it in the comments.

Tell me what you think

Did you like it? Do you agree or disagree? I'd love to hear from you.

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The blog

I write mainly about Montessori, parenthood, and multilingualism. Here are some recent posts.

Mums, dads & kids
We don't know how to be parents, we learn it everyday as we go. This is my way of motherhood, the small victories and the bitter defeats, my inconvenient truths and the endless life lessons. And also all the baby products and toys we love the most.
How to leave the playground without power struggles
This is life
Audiobooks of real-life stories for kids
Let's not project our insecurities onto our kids
Question authorities
Parents need to be constructively selfish
One more step towards self-acceptance
When you think your marriage is over after kids.
Alex
We forgot our 10-year wedding anniversary!
Montessori
One day a few years ago my husband came home and said, "Why don't we put a mattress on the floor in the baby room? It'd be much more natural". "Never" was my reply. That's how our Montessori journey started. Since then we've been living, breathing and applying the philosophy at home day in and day out, starting from ourselves. Because educating children starts from the parents.
Montessori express: change the sentences into positive
Montessori express: everything is NOT fine
My baby cries desperately in the car (15 months)
Take care of the mother behind the woman
Montessori express: ask instead of correcting
Montessori express: describe instead of criticising
An example of how I practice empathy with my kids
How I show empathy to my children
Happy 4th birthday, Emily
Montessori New Year's tradition
Living sustainably
Living sustainably for me doesn’t only mean to have a more eco-friendly lifestyle. It means to make decisions that are sustainable for our planet, the people on it, but also for our life, our lifestyle, and our happiness. It means to take any daily chance to evolve and be happier, healthier, kinder, more responsible and more caring human beings—the only sustainable way for a meaningful future.
Face yoga is an act of self love
Why you should wear the same outfit twice on Instagram
The power of creating habits (and why you should do it, even if you then break them!)
Responsible eating is the diet of the future (Would you like to teach it to your kids?)
The power of NOT complaining: can you do it for a whole month?
Clean up your planet, please!
Infographic: 8 steps to switch to cloth nappies (a guide for reluctant parents)
A personal note on happiness
A personal note on social media
A change of life always widens your horizons
New to La Tela?
I’ve prepared collections on various topics that I’ve written over the years. Perhaps you’ll find one that interests you.

Travel

We sold everything to travel the world for two years. We're currently in New Zealand.

Books

In 2020 I wrote 4 books for the Italian collection “Gioca and Impara con il metodo Montessori” curated by Grazia Honegger Fresco. The collection is a project by Il Corriere della Sera and La Gazzetta dello Sport.

We also implemented the workshops of the last 15 volumes of the collection with Oliver and Emily.

Instagram

I update Instagram almost every day to be "close" to my family far away.

Why La Tela di Carlotta?
I dreamed of the name La Tela di Carlotta. One morning I woke up and in my dreams I had created a blog named just like the American novel (Charlotte's Web). Many years and endless ups and downs later, this web of thoughts and stories is my work. It took me a long time to understand what kind of online presence I wanted and today I know: I'm transparent, I show real life, I don't advertise, I only recommend sustainable brands (and not only because they pay me) and I believe in the value of my blog and my courses—because if we don't believe in the value of our work, no one will believe in it for us.
Carlotta
Carlotta dreaming of La Tela
I know! I don't want it to be over yet either.