When my oldest was born, we did a great job. So great that by age two her Spanish was better than her English, and that left her English speaking grandparents a little perturbed. When E was born we implemented the Spanish in the morning, English in the afternoon and evening approach. It was great.
At 12 months when we moved to Ecuador for a a stint, her transition was easy-- she was already completely bilingual. Well, with a Spanish speaking nanny in the mornings and spending the afternoons with us at a children's home-- speaking Spanish-- she only got English from dinner on. After a year when we returned to the States, we realized that she understood significantly more Spanish that English and only spoke a few words like ma-ma, da-da, and agua. We completely overcompensated. We began to speak English only to get her acclimated and now six years later, it is one of my biggest regrets with all of our kids.
Often I think about how to "fix" it. Take a summer and only speak Spanish? Spanish only in the afternoons? 2-3 hour daily time blocks? I have contemplated it often, but unfortunately not done much to ensure fluency in my kids.
While I have regrets about this, and while I have yet to buckle down and work towards bilingual status with them, we have taken a fun basic immersion style approach to Spanish that is doing a great job of introducing the language and allowing the kids to have fun with it.
We started last year using a spine of the First Thousand Words in Spanish, and while we haven't been as diligent as I would like with it, they are learning and we are progressing slowly. Last year we participated in a Spanish immersion co-op that was so much fun, and I will probably do that again sometime in the future!
I began creating a curriculum for our Spanish studies, but we have camped out in the first few units, going a lot slower than I intended. I will get around to finishing some day!
Here is a glimpse into our approach.
1. Basic Immersion
The best way for children to learn language is to be immersed in it, even if you only speak a little of a language, you can use what you know to immerse your child. Choose a theme or set of vocabulary and replace those words for they English words in every day speech. We base vocabulary off of the Usborne's First Thousand Words book. Each two page spread covers a different theme or room of the house. We take each room for a few weeks or even a month or more, and replace the Spanish vocabulary for the English words. For example, if your theme is "The Kitchen" you might ask your child to get a cup of agua from la cocina. As you add vocabulary, try to hold on to as much as the older words as you can. It can be a lot of fun, and kids learn so much this way!
2. Immersion Games
My kids love games! And I know they are not alone. Simple games like Pictionary, BINGO, charades, or memory make great practice for foreign language. My kids loving playing basic card games and UNO completely in Spanish. How Tall Am I? Is a great one to practice clothing vocabulary. Or "Spot it" has all kinds of great vocabulary to play with!
It only requires a few sentences of the foreign language to set the stage for the game, and then whatever vocabulary you are working on. Write out those sentences for your older kids to have a "cheat sheet" and just play often!
My children learned the parts of the body by playing "Simon Dice" (Simon Says). "I Spy with my little eye" becomes "Yo veo con mi ojito." Often while driving down the road my kids will start playing I spy...in Spanish. It's a great way to learn and practice the color words! Go Fish cards can be made for any vocabulary from numbers or colors to members of the family. UNO works great for practicing colors and numbers. Just be sure as the parent/teacher you are engaged and interacting with them requiring them to use the language. There are so many ways to engage children with foreign language, the important part is remembering, they are learning when they are having fun!
My kids will learn anything if you put it to a song. Last year I found the Sara Jordan Bilingual Songs and my kids were hooked! I am amazed at how much vocabulary they have learned from these! We tie in what we are learning from the First Thousand Words book and often listen to the CD in the car and play games using the vocabulary at home.
A Few Game Printables/helps: