6 Tips for Teaching Kids Spanish by Disguising Learning as Playtime
The best time to learn a language, like most things, is when you are young.
Children have brains like sponges, so they pick up languages more quickly and their accents will be more natural.
Immersion is the most natural way to learn a language.
But how can you teach children Spanish in the classroom?
How is it possible to teach children Spanish while still having fun?
6 Tools for Teaching Kids Spanish
Naturally games are the first things that comes to mind when we are talking about children.
If you can make something into a game then children are more likely to respond in a positive way.
For instance, if I want my daughter to help me clean up, I have to turn it into a game. The same principle applies to learning Spanish.
There are lots of different games out there whether they are digital or physical. Some of these suggestions will work great in a classroom and others are better for parents to use to reinforce classroom learning.
When I moved to Spain I was nine years old and had a hard time learning Spanish in a traditional classroom setting. Luckily, my teacher was excellent and knew how to get through to children. We would play games practically every day.
Ever heard of the game Scattergories? The basics of the game are that you are given a letter and you have to come up with words that start with that letter (an animal, a place, a verb, a book, etc.). Whoever can come up with the most words wins. However, if someone comes up with the same word as you then you don’t get the point.
This was a game that we would play all the time in my Spanish class only we called it Tutti Frutti. The teacher would write a letter on the board and give us a minute to fill in each category. Then we would have to come up with something like the following (imagine that we were working with the letter “m”):
The other option is to mimic Scattergories Categories. In this case, you have a word and you have to come up with words that fit into the category. If the word was almuerzo, the students would use the letters to come up with words that have to do with lunch.
This is a great game for children to think quickly since they are on a time crunch. It also requires them to think outside the box since they cannot have the same word as a classmate.
But don’t just limit yourself to board games and word games.
The most common game at my house is an iPhone game. I have a daughter who is almost two years old. If I give her my phone, she can navigate her way to her favorite game or movie with ease. I know that this is the case with most children these days, but I still find it amazing. So let’s use that!
Go to the app store and pick out a great Spanish game for children to play.
One great app is Spanish School Bus for Kids (on iTunes and Google Play). This one is a great app to get children started with vocabulary. The game is basically interactive flashcards. The narrator says a number, color, shape, animal or other word, and the player has to choose the correct image. If the player gets three stars, they can progress to the next level. There are also videos that teach your children the words before they start playing the games.
Games like these are an excellent way to start children’s Spanish education. When I was learning Spanish, I had several computer games (we didn’t have smartphones back in the day) that I would play for hours. They were just as fun as any other game that I had, but they helped me improve my Spanish in leaps and bounds.
Watching movies is another great way to trick children into learning Spanish. They will enjoy watching it especially if it is a movie they are familiar with. There are some movies that are better suited for the classroom and some that are better to watch at home.
Muzzy is a green furry monster who will help your children learn phrases and Spanish grammar. If you aren’t sure you want to invest the money, check out this little clip from YouTube to get a taste of who Muzzy is.
As seen in the above clip, Muzzy’s characters do a series of actions and narrate what they are doing or how they are feeling. In the classroom you can pause after each of these moments and ask the children what the phrases are or you could have a short quiz at the end. The most important thing is to make it enjoyable. I suggest having prizes or treats when children get the right answer. This kind of positive reinforcement is encouraging to children and they will be more engaged if they know there is a Jolly Rancher waiting for them.
The other reason Muzzy is an excellent video program is because there is no English. There are no subtitles. Children will have to learn what the words mean based on context. This is a great way to help children gain confidence with Spanish.
Putting a movie in Spanish is an easy thing these days. Just hop over to the main menu and change the language. When I was younger if we wanted to watch a movie in Spanish we had to hunt down the VHS in Spanish.
When your son or daughter wants to watch a movie, just put it in Spanish. You can even start with just doing the first half in Spanish or something like that so that they become accustomed to the new voices. In no time your child will be able to quote “Big Hero 6” in English and in Spanish.
This is also a great way to really immerse your children in Spanish accents. They will hear the voice actors and how they pronounce words and they will learn to mimic the words in the same way.
Putting things to music is a great memorization trick in any language. I remember in middle school when we had to do a project on different types of rocks I would just turn my study notes into a song that I could sing to myself during the test. Learning a language is the same.
Songs can be applied to everything. And I mean everything.
I learned my days of the week in Spanish by putting them to a simple tune, like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Challenge your students to come up with songs for the months, the days of the week, colors, foods or anything else.
Once they each have a song, create a stage in the classroom and really create an event. Challenge the students to dress up, to bring props or make signs. Then give each student, or group of students, a chance to perform their song on the stage in front of everyone else.
Remember the key to success with children is fun. You have to keep their minds engaged and let them express themselves.
My daughter’s favorite thing to do is listen to Disney songs and to dance to them. Have a dance party in Spanish.
Just hop on YouTube and pick your son’s or daughter’s favorite Disney song in Spanish. Maybe “Let it Go” (“Libre soy”) won’t be so different in Spanish. Or you may learn some interesting new words with Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World” (“Parte de él”). Shang will “Make a Man Out of You” (“Hombre ser”).
Whatever song your child likes, just get going with it. Spanish songs are also great for adults. Even if you are listening to the same Disney songs, your Spanish will improve also. Click here to read more about singing your way to better Spanish.
Learning to read Spanish can be easier in some ways that learning to read English. In Spanish each letter has one sound that it makes which is easier for children. You don’t have words like “knowledge” where the “k” and the “e” are both silent.
Teach the children in your class the basic alphabet and all the sounds. Then show them how to sound words out as they are reading.
Another method is to find a book that you want to read with the kids and go on YouTube and find the audiobook. Let the children read along as they hear a native speaker read the book to them. After a while they will gain confidence and will be able to read aloud to each other.
Go out and buy your son or daughter’s favorite book in Spanish. One huge benefit of reading a familiar book with them is they already know the story and understand the plot and characters.
As you read the book with them in Spanish, or listen to the audio book, your children will intuitively translate the Spanish into the English they already know. Slowly start getting harder books as their Spanish improves.
If you don’t want to buy too many books, stop by your library. They have simple children’s books or chapter books available in a variety of languages. You are sure to find a book that your child will enjoy reading with you.
I’ve given you four different ways to teach your children and guess what? FluentU has already compiled a bunch of them on their website—through entertaining videos.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
There are tons of authentic Spanish videos on the site which are ideal for children, such as cartoons, Disney movie clips, musical numbers from animated features, fun commercials, educational videos and more. Many different videos are directed specifically at children to help them learn the basics, like this one which teaches about shapes and this one which is a fun song about the weather.
The last and probably the most important thing to remember is consistency.
You must work with your children often if you expect them to excel. Take time to go over new words and answer their questions. Every chance that you get, use Spanish words.
I mean every chance.
If they want to watch a movie, put it in Spanish.
If they want a glass of water, have them ask you in Spanish.
The more they are exposed to Spanish on a daily basis, the quicker they will pick it up.
And there you have it! Six amazing tools that will help children improve their Spanish.
The most important thing is immersion, or as close to it as you can get. Teaching children young is so important.
Their accents will be better than when they learn as adults because their mouths are more flexible to new sounds and changes. They will learn faster thanks to their more flexible minds which are designed to soak up tons of knowledge.
Take the time to help children with these tools.
They will thank you for it one day!