First words are pretty important. Just ask babies.
Words like “mama” and “dada,” (or, as in the case of my own child, “dog,”) all convey a powerful feeling. Food, fun, affection—the power of such human experiences can last a lifetime.
Non-verbal cues communicate emotions in broad strokes, but words are wonderfully precise. Communication becomes easier. Conversations ensue. Connections grow closer. Parents all over the world look forward to their babies’ first words with great anticipation for these very reasons. Words carry emotions.
And emotions are a big deal when it comes to connecting with each other in the first place, no matter if you are parent and child or teacher and student. Words are the building blocks of language, so once a few get established, a whole new realm of communication opens up for everyone involved.
Children first learning Spanish are similarly poised for such exciting new adventures in language and communication. And just like babies learning their first words, their progress can be facilitated by the adults in their lives. Teachers are in a fabulous position to ensure that kids learning their first words in Spanish are accomplishing more than just pronunciation; read on to find out how Spanish words for kids can jump-start their learning and develop a love of language that can prove to be lifelong.
Spark an Interest: Teaching Important Spanish Words for Kids
Spanish words for kids, selected specifically for children, are a valuable part of their foundational study of the Spanish language. Here are some ideas that may help Spanish educators when they are introducing Spanish words to their young students.
Early language development is reinforced by adults who use the language properly; model what you want to see.
Kids are natural mimics. Their impulse to repeat what they hear is hardwired, so take advantage of the opportunities to model what you want to see and hear from your students. When you as the adult in the room take shortcuts with your pronunciation, they will too, so bring your own best speaking skills forward when introducing new Spanish words for kids.
Incorporate positive sentence structures to maintain interest and increase enthusiasm.
Kids like to have fun. Framing their learning of Spanish around positive ideas and kid-friendly topics ensures that they feel connected to the language. A few general categories of Spanish words that have universal appeal to kids are a great place to start (see below), but soon, you will learn what your students enjoy the most about Spanish; build your lessons around those interests to hold their interest and keep them motivated to learn.
Repetition is always helpful; recognizing words builds confidence in young children.
Kids can lose confidence easily. Providing them with opportunities to succeed are a sure-fire way to build their confidence and to keep them excited about learning. Give kids the chance to show off what they know in Spanish, even if it means using the same vocabulary words several times over, in different contexts and situations.
Making Connections Between Spanish Vocabulary and Children
Making Spanish relevant is absolutely key to successful teaching and learning. Here are some ways to think about making connections between Spanish words for kids and the lives your students are leading.
Vocabulary should be relevant
Even at a young age, relevance makes a big difference to the retention of knowledge; connect words to important moments in kids’ lives.
Find out what your Spanish students feel are their most important experiences. Are festive celebrations more significant than anything else? Do meals mean something special, or Sunday family gatherings? Learn what’s important to your students both as a group and as individuals; this way, you can build rapport effectively both with the class and with specific students.
Build on prior knowledge
If you work closely with other Spanish department members, you may be able to find out what kinds of Spanish words your students already know. Mention them often so kids have a point of reference that is familiar to them, and so they can build on words and ideas they’ve learned in the past.
Use Spanish in day-to-day life
After introducing basic classroom Spanish vocabulary to students, use the words you want them to use frequently and casually. This kind of behavior gives students a way to hear and understand the Spanish words in an authentic context. For example, lunchtime is a great opportunity to introduce food vocabulary.
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Finding Sources for Spanish Words for Kids
So now that you know how much educational potential Spanish words for kids actually holds, where might you go to find some interesting words for your students? Here are some ideas to get you started.
- FluentU: FluentU takes real-world Spanish material, like songs and clips from popular movies and TV shows, and transforms it into interactive language-learning curriculum. As a result, your students explore the Spanish language and how it connects to the outside world. Rather than using contrived, clunky dialogues, FluentU makes it possible to help your students build up their Spanish vocabulary and use it authentically and practically.
- Songs (Nursery rhymes, familiar songs in English sung in Spanish): Songs are a wonderful way for students to learn Spanish words through the practice of repetition. Songs are repetitive in structure, so kids can pick up words they hear easily and naturally. Provide students with vocabulary lists created directly from song lyrics to make this process easy for them.
- Books (Bilingual books, Spanish-language books, poetry, picture books): Young kids love reading books and familiar stories and poems. They enjoy knowing what will happen next, and often, illustrations for kids’ books are engaging and colorful. This multimedia approach to learning words in Spanish gives different kinds of learners a chance to enjoy reading alongside building their Spanish vocabulary.
- People (School, going out to eat, friends in the community): Think creatively about ways other people in your school community can help your students learn words in Spanish. An extra-credit assignment that involves menu items from a local cafe or objects from a shop might be an interesting place to start. As well, a guest speaker who introduces a list of new Spanish words to the students in one single visit to the classroom also makes for a memorable learning experience.
5 Kinds of Spanish Words Your Kids Should Learn First
Now let’s talk lesson-planning. Here are some ideas for you to use when teaching Spanish vocabulary to children. All of these categories of words would work great during the first few weeks of a school term, or as a way to get students excited about learning Spanish in any situation at all. Each category contains a link to a list of Spanish words, as well as a suggestion or two for implementation.
1. Food words
Food words, in any language, excite language learners of all ages. Whet your students’ appetites for learning Spanish with these food words organized by the BBC.
How to implement: Start class with a few minutes of casual discussion about meal times. Ask students to share times of day, details about meal-preparation duties and other questions to get them thinking about food-related vocabulary. If possible, project the link from the BBC onto a screen, or hook up your computer to a speaker so students can hear the Spanish words clearly. Go through each word carefully, pronouncing them in Spanish as a group several times and making sure students know what each word means.
2. Color words
Color words are a great way to combine visual and auditory learning. Check out this blog post for an online game involving color words in Spanish, as well as a handout for your kids.
How to implement: Start class by asking students to help you generate a list of color words in English on the board. Ask students if they know any of the colors in Spanish to check for prior knowledge, and if they do, write the Spanish versions alongside the English ones on the board. Ask students to point out items of clothing they or others might be wearing that contain the colors under discussion before engaging with either the handout or the online game.
And remember, if you choose to play the online game, students have to bring their own devices; perhaps consider reserving school resources in the library or the tech department for this activity.
3. Greeting words and phrases
Greeting words and phrases are an ideal place to start Spanish conversational practice. Get your students up and moving around while they practice what they learn from the song in this video, so that the communication feels natural.
How to implement: Start class with a quick discussion of the importance of politeness and appropriate greetings. If you have time, ask students to role-play, using key Spanish phrases, positive and courteous interactions in a variety of different situations, like at a shop, in a classroom, between children and grown-ups and/or between kids on a playground. Then, project the YouTube video on a screen or whiteboard so that students can see and hear the words to the greetings song.
4. Body part words
Basic body part words are familiar territory to young kids, so introducing them in Spanish won’t be too intimidating to them. Here’s a list of the twenty most useful body part words in Spanish for you to use in this activity.
How to implement: Write a list of commonly-used expressions on the board that contain a body part and discuss their meanings with your students:
- “I’ve got my eye on you.”
- “His heart is always in the right place.”
- “My eyes are bigger than my stomach!”
Ask students if they know how to say eye, heart and stomach in Spanish to introduce the day’s activity on body part words. Distribute the list of 20 words or write them on the board, as well as 20 index cards per students.
Ask students to create their own visual image for each Spanish body part and to draw them on the opposite side of the card to the Spanish word. Once students finish their cards, they can practice learning their new words with a partner.
5. Object words
One way to retain new vocabulary in Spanish is to use them out of their normal and expected context. Older kids may enjoy playing this version of “I Spy” (or, Veo Veo) while learning new words in Spanish. Some preparation in advance is needed, so give yourself enough time to check out the instructions for yourself.
How to implement: Review the game “I Spy” with students by way of introducing this activity. Explain that you will be playing it in Spanish to prepare them for speaking out loud in class, and distribute the necessary items once all students are clear on their instructions. Play and check for understanding at the end of the activity with an informal in-class check or homework assignment that reviews the vocabulary from the game.
First words in Spanish for kids can be a ton of fun, so enjoy these activities with your students. Modify any of the activities to suit any new lists of Spanish words for kids you come up with, and see which ones your students enjoy the most! Good luck!
Lynn Ramsson is an educator who enjoys working with students of all ages. She has taught in Virginia and California, and now, she writes from the south coast of England where she lives with her family. She travels to Spain as often as she can, in search of the perfect gambas al ajillo.
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