How Can Parents Help Children with Spanish Language Learning

The school board President of the Pasadena Unified School District talks about the importance of language instruction for youths:

Dual Language Immersion programs are a draw for middle class parents. The world is a smaller place and parents understand that their children will have a career advantage in the world if they are multilingual. It is increasingly necessary to be multilingual for any kind of position with the county or the city that requires public service. It is necessary to be able to communicate with whoever comes to the window seeking assistance. We may not be able to teach our children a second language at home, but African American parents should definitely be taking advantage of foreign language instruction offered though the school district.

She’s absolutely right but I have to disagree that parents can’t do anything to help their children on the way to learning a foreign language. Although they may feel that there’s not enough time in the day, investing even just a little bit of time to further and reinforce their children’s language learning studies. Here are a couple suggestions:

The point isn’t that busy, overworked parents need to huge amounts of resources so their children can learn Spanish. But that taking an interest in your children’s acquisition of a foreign language will go a long way towards helping them survive and thrive in a new, multilingual world.

Use these materials to learn a few phrases in Spanish (or whatever target language your child is studying). Weave them them into your daily routine. This will show your kids real world applications and take it out of the abstract realm of something they only use in school. Go to Mexican or Spanish or Latin American restaurants and challenge your kids to speak in Spanish with the wait staff (if the staff itself speaks Spanish, that is) and to read the items on the menu in Spanish.

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Learning a Second Language Early in Life

Map of the Hispanophone World (wikipedia)

I’m not a huge fan of “natural” language learning approaches for adults but they make perfect sense for children. Case in point, a Lincoln, NE based-program called The Language Project.

Many other nations teach children English from the moment they start school.

But in the United States, learning a second language typically doesn’t start until middle school or even high school, and only then do most teens take the courses because it is a requirement for graduation or a prerequisite for college admission.

Ironically, waiting that long makes it harder for students to learn the language.

“Research shows that a window of opportunity exists between the age of birth and age 7,” Greenwood said. “During this window, children pick up languages more easily, largely because their brains absorb and retain language differently than they will as middle school or high school students or as adults.”

Children of immigrants can relate. They grow up speaking their parents’ native language at home, however haltingly. What they do take in is intuitive. The more that their parents speak their native language at home as opposed to their adopted country’s tongue, the more that the kids will pick up through this naturally immersive environment.

Therefore, those who aren’t children of immigrants will benefit from immersion programs in order to pick up a second language. In this case, Spanish.

“Adults need structure and rules. That’s the way we think,” Greenwood said.

But it is not the way children think.

They learn through play and 100 percent immersion, Greenwood said.

In TLP [The Language Project] programs they hear only Spanish. They read storybooks, play games, sing songs and go on treasure hunts.

The Language Project looks like a pretty good approach for children and many other cities are starting to offer language immersion programs for children.

But it’s important to keep in mind that adults and children learn differently. Adults will learn best using programs that take a multidisciplinary approach to language acquisition. That’s best implemented by a program like Fluenz. Or by a multi-approach that combines an immersion program like Pimsleur and Spanish for Dummies. To look at different ways that adults can approach language acquisition, click here.

Map of the Hispanophone World (wikipedia)

Map of the Hispanophone World (wikipedia)

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When is Learning Spanish Unnecessary?

Central Square, San Jose, Costa Rica

For me, the answer to that question is, “never!” But there are degrees to which it’s true or false.

You can travel to Spanish-speaking countries and not know a lick of Spanish. And still have a wonderful time. But you will be limited in what you can and cannot do.

At the very least, it pays to learn a few words and sentences to grease the squeaky wheel. “How are you?” “Where’s the bathroom?” “What time is it?” “How much is this?” And also know what responses you would get to those questions.

The Costan Rican Times explored the idea of not just travelling to a Spanish-speaking country with no knowledge of the language but of living there as well!

It’s possible to live in “little U.S.A” in Costa Rica and get by with no Spanish. People who do that are limited in what they can do. They stay sheltered in their comfortable town, call only specific taxi drivers, and go only to upscale bars with English speaking staff and clientele, and they are happy.

Central Square, San Jose, Costa Rica

Central Square, San Jose, Costa Rica

The very idea strikes me as absurd! Why would you move somewhere and not at least make an effort to learn the language. You’re in the perfect immersion environment and you can still utilize many wonderful language-learning resources such as Fluenz or Pimsleur or even Google Translate to reinforce what you hear everyday. You can simply work your way into the language with time. Fortunately, it appears as though not all ex-pats are giving Spanish the cold shoulder in the Costa Rica.

Most expats prefer to learn about the language and culture around them and participate with the country in general.

It helps to have an understanding of basic Spanish such as polite phrases (which go a long way!) and basic sentence structure, that way you have a base and can build on it with each activity you do and each conversation you try. After just a few months you will have surprised yourself with how much you learned little by little.

Exactly. If you don’t have fluency before you move to a country, make an effort and you’ll slowly start getting there.

It’s possible that you won’t ever be mistaken for a native speaker. But that’s alright. I’ve found that, in my travels, a little humility and a little effort can go a long way towards helping folks realize that you appreciate their country and their cultre.

Posted in Language Learning, Travel Tagged with: , , , Available as Chrome Plug-in

From TechCrunch: indexes texts on the web in Spanish, English, French, Hebrew and Arabic. After you’ve taken a few vocabulary quizzes and used the service for a little while, will be able to recommend real texts for you based on the vocabulary you already know and the difficulty of the text. is a Chrome plug-in, so it’ll automatically prompt you to take new quizzes, personalized for you, as you browse the web. You can also use the plug-in to get recommendations for texts that are appropriate for your reading levels and mark up texts or browse’s dictionary as you visit any site on the web.

This looks like a very useful tool for folks to use in their language-learning studies. By using this as a web browser plug-in, it it integrates with your regular web browsing habits so that you you learn new words as you go about your regular business.

Posted in Free Language Resources, Language Learning Tagged with:

Duolingo Android Review (CNet)

I haven’t tried the Duolingo language learning program yet but it’s gotten pretty good reviews around the ‘net. Here’s an excerpt of a review of Duolingo’s Android app from

The good: Duolingo is completely free and turns language-learning into a game, broken down into short lessons. Progress is stored in the cloud and can be synced between devices.

The bad: The app could use a wider variety of question types and support for more languages. Also, in-depth lessons on sentence structure and verb conjugations would be really helpful.

The bottom line: As language learning apps go, Duolingo is a fantastic option that’s completely free, but don’t expect it to help you become completely fluent.

One of the most popular education apps on the market, Duolingo offers free language-learning by way of gamified lesson plans. The app includes programs for English speakers to learn Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, and Italian, as well as programs to learn English from any of those languages except German.

As the bottomline from CNet indicates, Duolingo isn’t a complete solution. But given the buzz it’s generated in language learning circles, it should probably figure in an overall strategy to gain fluency.

Source: CNet

Posted in Free Language Resources, Language Learning Tagged with: , , ,

Is Learning English Tougher than Spanish?

And you thought learning Spanish was tough:

Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. Quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig? And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down; in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.? English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race; which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.


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Free Spanish-language webinar

Interesting in GIS? No? That’s ok, you can still get some good language-learning practice if you check out a free Spanish-webinar being given by Blue Marble Geographics in September:

Blue Marble Geographics ( is teaming up with MundoGeo to offer a free Spanish language webinar entitled, Is Low-cost GIS Attainable for Everyone? The webinar, to be held on Tuesday, September 17th, 2013, will demonstrate how low-cost GIS is attainable through the use of Global Mapper, Blue Marble’s affordable GIS software. Blue Marble’s geospatial data manipulation, visualization and conversion solutions are used worldwide by thousands of GIS analysts at software, oil and gas, mining, civil engineering, surveying, and technology companies, as well as governmental and university organizations.

Here’s the link to register for the webinar itself:

Chances are that the content will be very technical but it’s always good to branch out and try to learn some new, unusual vocabulary.

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Software helping students with language disabilities

Software development work being done in Camagüey, Cuba to help students with language disabilities:

[C]omputer software has been used with excellent results on children with speech and language disorders in the “Enrique José Varona” elementary school, belonging to the special education subsystem in Camagüey.

In what once was the Research Center on Instructive Games and Computer Software, engineers are working to create an academic portal for this higher education institution and are editing didactic videos to be used within this Cuban eastern province.

We normally don’t get much news from Cuba so it’s great to see developments like this one. It also shows the power of software development to help disadvantaged children, especially in countries like Cuba.


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