Encouraging Bilingual Beginnings in Young Children

This post is sponsored by LeapFrog. All opinions are 100% my own, and I would never recommend a product that I did not love.


Raising a bilingual child requires everyday dedication, planning, and consistency. There are many different approaches to raising a bilingual child, depending on each family’s situation.

More importantly, children need constant, real-life exposure to become adept in a language.

When I had my son, Lennox, in 2017, my Salvadoran partner and I decided that we would raise our son bilingually from the start. My partner speaking Spanish as a native language and my Master’s degree in Spanish Language and Translation gave us a great starting point for teaching our son the two languages of English and Spanish.

Three years into our bilingual parenting journey, what we have learned thus far is that Lennox is more engaged in a language when its centered around interactive and fun experiences.


Below are some tips on how we raise our son bilingually.



The earlier you start, the better.


Babies start hearing and processing language from the womb. From birth, provide lots of rich, meaningful speech towards your child. Sing songs, listen to music, engage in activities that entertain your baby while using the target language.

From the time Lennox was born, I used to walk him around the house and talk to him about anything and everything I saw around our apartment.

I also tried to implement as many bilingual baby resources as possible, such as the LeapFrog® Learn & Groove Musical Table, which sings and talks to infants about colors, numbers, the alphabet, and opposites in Spanish and English. To this day, Lennox still loves to jam away and sing the catchy tunes!


Create fun routines

Repetition is a vital factor in learning a language. Weave the target language into routines with songs or repetitive activities.


Currently, in our household, when we wash our hands, we sing the ABC’s in Spanish, and at nighttime, we sing the nursery rhyme el pollito dice pío pío pío.


When Lennox was starting to walk, we always used to count his steps in Spanish. Uno, dos, tres, cuantro, cinco were some of his first words.


Reading


Books are the best resource to increase your child’s vocabulary.


Read to your child in the target language as much as possible.


If you have books in the target language, great! If not, that’s okay too. You can paraphrase what the book is saying, or use it as a time to invite your child to use the target language to talk about what is happening, or what your child can find in the book (colors, shapes, emotions, etc.)


Make sure to interact with the book and your child, keeping reading time light and fun.


Lennox loves his two new portable bilingual books from LeapFrog®, the LeapFrog® 100 Animals Book and the LeapFrog® Learning Friends 100 Words Book. They are incredibly engaging with their touch and slide features that teach over 100 Spanish and English words in three different modes. We always bring these books in the car, and they keep Lennox entertained the entire car ride.



Music


Music is one of the most influential and fun language learning resources. It helps with memorization, pronunciation, and enriches vocabulary

We play Latin music in our spare pockets of time, such as in the car or when we’re cleaning around the house. From the time Lennox was an infant, he has enjoyed music time and anticipates listening, dancing, and shaking his LeapFrog® Learn & Groove Shakin’ Colors Maracas™ to music as we dance around the house and pick up the never-ending mess!



Playgroups


Form a small group of children who speak the target language and meet regularly. In the target language, sing songs, read books, tell stories, and most importantly, let the children play. You will be surprised at how much they will learn from each other.


Family

If possible, involve extended family members who speak the target language. Let them know how important it is for your child to learn the target language and ask them to speak it as much as possible.


We ask Abuela to watch Lennox when we need a caretaker, and Lennox continually reminds me that there is no better thing than Abuela’s homecooked Salvadoran food.


Caretakers

Finding caretakers who speak the target language can be extremely beneficial for your child. Caretakers can be some of the best language role models as they interact with your child daily.


Culture


Language is engrained in the culture where it is spoken.


Maintaining a connection to the target language’s culture through food, music, and traditions can encourage and improve language learning.


Three times a week, Carlos cooks Salvadoran food for the family. Lennox loves homecooked Salvadoran food, and through food, Carlos and Lennox have formed a strong cultural bond.


We also go to Salvadoran festivals in the summertime, teach Lennox traditional dances from El Salvador, and stay in touch with extended family members.


Encouraging culture in fun and entertaining ways will promote the use of language as well.


Play

Playing is the way children learn about the world. It’s also how they learn to communicate. Get down on eye-level with your child and engage in some fun, unstructured play in the target language.

We incorporate a lot of loose parts play in our household. We learned this concept from Lennox’s preschool. After some research, it is a really great way to encourage communication and imagination among children, particularly for bilingual children.



Games in the target language


Playing fun games in the target language such as memory, flashcards, or scavenger hunts, are a great way to animate language use.


Interactive bilingual toys


Talking bilingual toys are a fantastic resource for young children and an excellent opportunity for parent-child interaction.


LeapFrog® has a line of very advanced bilingual products for young children, some of which I already mentioned above.


The LeapFrog® My First Learning Tablet™, is a fun way for children to learn letters, numbers, shapes, colors, weather, fun facts, counting, stories, and foreign languages with three modes.


Another great option is the LeapFrog® Level Up & Learn Controller™, which not only works your child’s language skills with the ABCs, counting, numbers, opposites, and rhyming, but it also works your child’s fine motor skills while they move their little fingers to learn and play

As a bilingual parent, I am so grateful for these products because there are very few interactive bilingual products on the market. These LeapFrog® products are so advanced that I find myself learning new Spanish words as well!


Limit TV/ technology use


Limiting the use of TV is essential, especially for children under two; however, if you decide to turn it on to get your parental duties done, keep it in the target language.


When Lennox watches TV, I put the settings in all our apps and the cable box so that everything airs in Spanish.


I hope these tips help your bilingual journey. For more bilingual parenting tips and Spanish resources, visit my blog at Bilingual Beginnings, or follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest for more frequent bilingual inspiration!




Laurin Ruprecht holds her MA in Spanish Translation and Latin American Studies at American University. She is the founder of Lorena & Lennox Bilingual Beginnings; a blog focused on aiding parents in their bilingual parenting journey. On her blog, you can find additional resources such as free printables in Spanish for kids, play-based children's activities, motherhood advice, and more. For more information, go to www.lorenaylennox.com



References:

Beck, Adam. Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability: Ideas and Inspiration for Even Greater Success and Joy Raising Bilingual Kids. Bilingual Adventures, 2016.


King, Kendall A., and Alison Mackey. The Bilingual Edge: Why, When, and How to Teach Your Child a Second Language. Harper Collins, 2007.