This is Cora, my niece; I call her Coralita. She’s almost 2 and a half and she’s my linguistic experiment. I always dreamed of raising bilingual kids but my husband and I don’t have kids, can’t have kids, and aren’t planning on getting any. So…I jumped at the chance to test out everything I believe about Language Acquisition on the cutest test subject around. I mean, come on! She’s so stinking adorable!
Thankfully my sister values bilingualism and was excited and supportive of the experiment. So…starting at the very beginning, I’d only talk to my sweet niece in Spanish. Which…was very challenging for me. I’m not a native speaker, I really haven’t spent a lot of time around little kids in Spanish and there were just so many words I didn’t know! You know all the things we say to babies? I never acquired those things! But, if I’m anything, it’s persistent, so persisted I did! (and there’s a fabulous facebook group called How do you say? For Spanish Teachers which so patiently answered my questions: How do you say “blow, like when a mama is holding a Kleenex up to her kid’s nose?” What do you say when you’re chasing a toddler, the equivalent of “I’m gonna get you!” Kick! Pedal! Do you have to go potty?” Tickle, tickle, tickle. )
Little Cora lives about 40 minutes away, so I don’t see her as much as I’d like, but we get together most weekends, and boy do I do everything I can to load her up with input while we’re together! We talk, play, describe, sing, dance, read, jump, chase the cat…you know, all the things, in Spanish!
And miracle of miracles, IT’S WORKING!!
I had my doubts: I’m not with her enough, she’s not getting enough exposure. She needs other Spanish speakers in her life. My Spanish isn’t good enough, it’s not natural enough. Does language acquisition really “work”? (I mean…duh, we all learn language, but these are less than ideal circumstances!)
I was absolutely amazed when she screeched out her first Spanish word: ¡Agua! ¡Agua! as she banged her sippie cup on the coffee table at 13 months. Did she just say Agua?! Did anyone record that?!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! WE MISSED DOCUMENTING HER FIRST WORD IN SPANISH?!
And when she started responding to Spanish commands, I was over the moon! Siéntate. Abre la boca. Dame un besito. ¡Manos arriba! Once early on I handed her my phone and said, dale el teléfono a abuelita AND SHE DID IT!!! WOAH. Mind Blown.
Then this past fall…when we were at a Mexican restaurant and she said “Gracias” to the waitress!! We were like NO WAY!!! Then we spent forever trying to catch it on film. Try to watch this without melting:
Now she’s showing so much comprehension and I’m tickled pink! She came to play last Saturday and I asked her, “¿Tienes hambre, mi amor? ” She ran over to the table chanting “EAT! EAT! EAT! ” Later when I asked, “¿Quieres quitarte los zapatos?” and she yelled “SHOES” and threw them at the wall. When were reading a story book and I was describing the pictures: “Mira el oso. ¡Está muy triste!” and she says “Yeah. He sad” It’s so fascinating to me…she’s showing that she’s understanding, and she’s figured out that the English and Spanish words mean the same thing. GUYS- BRAINS ARE SO AMAZING!!! IT’S ALMOST AS IF THEY WERE DESIGNED TO ABSORB LANGUAGE!!!
She’s not really producing spontaneous Spanish on her own yet (I think the agua agua was a spoof….or just a little gift from God to encourage me to keep at it… because it took a year for another Spanish word to come out of her boquita!) but she’s parroting like crazy now in the most adorable accent ever. I say ¡Adiós, Cora! and she responds ¡Os! Or Mira Cora, allí está el gato. She runs and yells ¡GATO!, ¿Quieres ir a casa? ……¡CASA! It’s like she’s trying the words out, wants to feel them in her mouth. I don’t encourage my students to repeat in class, but it seems like it’s a pretty natural response…maybe we should.
Her “Por ba” is adorable when she’s really motivated for a treat and I tell her “Dime por favor, Coralita” And you should see her ¡Síííí! Fist pump combo. It’s too much:
So… that’s the progress so far. Every time we get together, there’s more Spanish and I feel so blessed to get to watch it develop. I partially wrote this post for you, if you’re as fascinated by language acquisition as I am. But mostly it’s to document this amazing language journey that Coralita and her Tía RaRa are on.
Bravo!! It truly is a magnificent process! I am raising my daughter to be bilingual and she too has been my experiment! I am not a native speaker so I know what you mean about it not being natural; but I am also persistent! My mom is Puerto Rican but gave up trying to speak to me in Spanish after about one year ( I still believe I acquired a lot in that one year and never had issues with accent or pronunciation so not a total loss!) so I decided I was going to try a little harder with my little one. We are on year three now and she produces less than she understands but she can produce and she translates on command for her friends and teachers! So exciting! We will spend a month in Spain this summer so I have hopes of more production when she makes little friends on the playground! Recommendations: Netflix has almost all shows and movies in Spanish. They barely notice it is in a different language when they are little! All TV is in Spanish for my little one. She also loves watching the little baby bum music videos in Spanish and now there is LBB JR. which has music videos geared toward the older toddlers/preschoolers! She loves them! She sings almost all nursery rhymes in Spanish now! At night she gets to pick one book in Spanish and one in English. I actually try to buy books in Spanish on amazon now rather than just translating them myself. It helps me with some of those words and expressions I never acquired as a child either! Spanish momma has a great blog with songs and show recommendations, and has done interviews with families raising their kids to be bilingual thatvare interesting! Thanks for this post and all your posts!!!! I have learned so much from you!!
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Thank you!! So many good ideas!! I will have to look up the videos you recommended. I’ve got tons of Spanish children’s books that I’ve collected over the years and she LOVES them!
Have a fabulous month in Spain! That will be so cool for you to watch her Spanish explode!!
Yes,even one year of Spanish at that age changed your brain forever. From the start other pathways were opened in your brain making future learning easier.
Amazing work! I can’t wait to see how she progresses 🙂
Have you checked out the blog Spanish Mama? She is raising bilingual kids, so you may find some info that you can use there 🙂
Thank you! I will poke around over there!!
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I’m teaching my granddaughter Spanish also; although my son is not as convinced that it is the right time. She understands a lot and if she’s not in the mood to speak Spanish, she’ll say, “Not Spanish Grandma.” But a few months ago at Franciscos, she asked the waitress, “Cómo estás?” I was floored because she knew that she spoke Spanish, and it was so random. They are so smart!
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Me encanta! ¿Cuántos años tiene?