How to create a rich environment for language learning in your home

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Do you think you need to be fluent in Spanish to support your child at home?  Not so.  You need to create the right home language environment.  

What is input and why does it work?

Have you ever wondered how babies go from saying nothing to bursting with language “all of a sudden”?  Babies work on a listen first, speak later basis.  They spend months taking in language, making sense of sound boundaries, connecting sounds to meaning, then VOILA!, the magic seems to just happen.
As it turns out, the process is not really so mysterious and magical at all.  It’s what language experts call “input”.  Input is simply all the language one comes in contact with.  Babies get tons of input.  A big part of winning in a second language is making sure your child gets as much as input, or exposure, to the second language as possible.  The great news is that there are quick simple ways you can create input for your child at home — without being fluent in the second language!
How much exposure does your child currently get to the second language?  Sadly, it’s minimal or nonexistent in most elementary schools, which is why we developed language enrichment programs for kids to enjoy after school.  And, to prevent summer language backslide, our fun thematic language camps keep kids going strong. 

What you can do now

Many kids don’t make much progress in a second language due to lack of input.  It can seem like an uphill battle, especially if parents don’t speak the second language.  But, there’s hope!  

Here are 4 easy things you can do to take your home environment from zero input to mucho:

  • Label objects and places around the house - Puertas (doors), televisores (TVs) and so many items around your home are language learning opportunities. Labels help children make visual connections between words and objects.  Try cutting out a few of these FREE Spanish labels and posting them around the house.  Here’s another great Spanish home label for only 99 cents!

  • Supplement your child’s media - Some children will be open to watching their favorite shows or movies dubbed in the second language (or with captions, if your child can read).  Try the dubbed option during your next Netflix session with your child.

    If your child is in grades K-5, they’ll enjoy the Simple Spanish song series on YouTube.  It features many familiar songs and some new ones, simplified for children learning Spanish.

    Be sure to check out our article on apps and gadgets for language learning, too!
  • Have a designated Spanish time or space daily - a strategy that has worked well for our family and many others is to designate a core time (e.g. 7-7:15 daily) or place (e.g. in dad’s car) where we will intentionally use the second language as much as possible.  Your family can grow into this exercise. At first, substitute just words you know (e.g. colors) whenever they naturally come up in the conversation.  You can gradually increase the time spent in Spanish mode, working up to an hour.  It will feel tough at first, but it will become more natural and you see more gains the more you do it.  You can even  keep a reward or penalty jar for accountability.

  • Build your home library in the second language - Reading provides a great source of input. The smoothest way to help your child enjoy reading in a second language is to choose books that appeal to your child’s main interests.  If your child loves horses, find books together about horses. It also helps to choose familiar stories.  For example, younger learners can instantly connect to this bilingual version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Graphic novels like Diario de Greg (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) offer support for older readers who like to read more on grade level.  Try adding second language books to your child’s home library and see how they react.  Need help learning Spanish sounds so that you can read aloud with your child?  Sign up today for an online Spanish Express Live course to brush up on your skills.
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