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Even if you’re not about to stamp those passports any time soon, there is no better time than the present to start your children learning a second language like Spanish. Not only might you have extra hours that need filling with a new project, but learning Spanish is so much easier the earlier you begin. Plus, it’s actually really fun to learn another language, and if you’re not already fluent, you and your kids can learn together.
I know from experience that this is a language learning does not reward procrastinators. My immigrant parents were part of a generation that valued assimilation over bilingual parenting, so I failed to learn Spanish from my mom when I was little. By the time I was in high school and she saw how hard it is for older children and teens to learn a second language, she greatly regretted her choice. The logical option for us was to supplement my education with telenovelas. We swapped out General Hospital for tales of peasant girls being seduced by rich land owners, who happen to be the sons of scheming matriarchs. Maybe this is not the example you want to follow when it comes to teaching your children Spanish.
Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since second-language learning consisted of boring textbooks and maybe a box set of cassette tapes (if you were lucky!). Today, dozens of programs are available that use scientifically proven methods to teach children all sorts of subjects using games, immersion, one-on-one instruction, augmented reality, and more. The study of language instruction has become advanced and probably rather profitable, though many of the options we list here are free or inexpensive.
Even after all that science, it’s still true that the best time for children to learn Spanish is when they’re very young. Those pliable brains are built to add on new vocabulary words every second, and they can just as easily absorb words from other languages, too. In this list, we’ve included several options that appeal to younger learners. But it’s also not too late for your older children. There are plenty of engaging apps and courses that will immerse tweens, teens, and young adults en español totalmente. We have no guarantees that they’ll be sounding like Univision newscasters by the end of these classes, but who knows?
If you don’t speak the language yourself, we certainly recommend staying in the room for these courses in which adults and children learn Spanish online and off. After all, if kids are the best at learning a second language, maybe you’ll do best by putting yourself in a younger frame of mind.
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Learn by Ear
Though we mocked those old language learning tapes, there is a lot of value to learning a language by listening to it. Also, your kids probably need a break from the screens sometimes. Audible has a collection of audiobooks for learning Spanish, including some specially geared toward kids. All that car time just got educational!
Most of the free lessons and games you’ll find for free on Mondly might resemble other apps. But with the paid premium plan, you gain access to lessons specifically for kids and also an extra cool animated augmented reality app that invites students to answer questions aloud.
The online video learning platform offers all sorts of small-group classes to suit your needs and schedule. Depending on their ages and levels, kids can sign up to take live video classes once a week or multiple times a week. It’s a great forum in which to interact with their teacher and other students.
Originally a TV program developed by the BBC, Muzzy kids is now an online course that uses the titular friendly monster. Each episode of his adventures builds on the ones before it, gradually teaching children (from toddlers to teens) new vocabulary words in Spanish, or six other languages. There’s also an app, games, songs, and an online “recording studio,” so students can hear how they sound in their new language.
You can search through a database of hundreds of teachers to find the ideal private, online Spanish teacher (from all over the world!) for your child. Some are professional teachers, others “community tutors,” and their hourly rates vary accordingly. Best of all, you can watch little introductory videos to get to know the instructors (and their accents).
This site can connect adults and children to one-on-one teachers like iTalki. It also offers group classes, such as Spanish Through Music, for kids ages 6 and under.
This is a language immersion system that teaches smaller children languages through videos, songs, and games. Basically, they don’t even know they’re learning another language because it’s the content they demand anyway.
An American teacher and mom raising her bilingual children in Peru runs this very helpful blog that’s loaded with resources for anyone hoping to teach their children Spanish. We love some of her mom hacks, like switching the language on your kids’ Netflix shows to Spanish, as well as her illustrated fables (which you can view for free on the site, or buy to download) that should be easy even for non-Spanish-speaking parents to read to their children.
Carousel of Languages
The pandemic has brought one silver lining for parents: Specialty schools that had to go online for their local students are now also available to everyone else in the world. That’s what’s happened with this New York language school for children, which is embracing its new global reach. Sign up for small Zoom classes, available for toddlers through elementary school-age students (“and up” according to the site) and meeting a few times a week. Fees vary from $35-175 per week, depending on the age and frequency of classes you choose.
This app gamifies language lessons in a way that appeals to children and rewards consistency and repetition. It’s free on the basic level, but for $6.99 you can go ad-free and play for an unlimited time all day on mobile apps and desktops. Best suited for children who can read.
This catalog of online courses in any subject you can think of has a wide selection of inexpensive options for learning Spanish. These aren’t flashy — they remind us of the language videos and cassettes you used to be able to check out of the library, but if you find one you and your child can stick to, it will pay off just as well as any fancier course.
Pry your teen away from social media for a few hours a week and sign them up for a free, college-level multi-week course in Spanish. For an extra fee, you can enroll them in a certificate program, in case that might get them job or school opportunities.
If you want a tried-and-true language lesson system, why not go with one that’s been around for more than 140 years? Unlike in the old days, however, Berlitz offers online summer camp classes for older kids and teens (ages 9 and up), as well as private online tutoring using its immersive curriculum.
Telenovelas are a fantastic way for grownups to learn Spanish — they speak so clearly and you can catch onto the plots quite easily. Back in 1992, the creators Destinos, an educational serial drama (from PBS station WGBH Boston) must have been fans of the genre, too. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a soap that was sanitized for public television and high school viewers. The story of the private detective hired to find a dying man’s long-lost child starts off easily, with many repeated, simple words. But as it goes on, the vocabulary gets subtly more complicated with every episode. Also, your kids will get a kick out of those early-’90s styles.
Another option for the precocious teenagers who like the idea of taking college courses now are the Spanish-language classes offered from UC Davis on Coursera. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s easy — in addition to videos, there are reading assignments and quizzes every week.
The Spanish Playground YouTube channel includes plenty of easy-to-understand Spanish conversation lessons (taught immersion style, without translation) as well as the episodic series Buena Gente. It’s intended both for kids and adults, but if you need more help on teaching your kids, visit this page on the Spanish Playground website.
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