INTRODUCTION

Questions are often asked about kids learning foreign languages. We’ve collected great advice from experts in the field and Spanish and Children’s language education. Learning a second language has been proven to develop critical thinking skills and allows you to communicate with millions of new people. The essence of most successful people in their personal and professional lives is the ability to think critically and to communicate effectively.

Table of Contents

Many parents stress over their kids future and helping them to be the best prepared for their adult lives. It is a great skill that can benefit each child infinitely. There is no question that speaking two or more languages is beneficial individually and professionally. In fact it has been proven through research.

In this Q&A Expert advice article we will give answers to common questions like: When should children start learning a second language, what are the biggest challenges, and how can parents help them learn the language. At the end we’ll summarize some of our thoughts and the experts most poignant comments. In the end anyone can learn a foreign language (adult or child) but you have to be committed to the process.

MIA WENJEN
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BIO
Mia Wenjen blogs at PragmaticMom: Education Matters covering children's books, parenting and education. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, three kids and dog.
Q
When should kids begin to learn Spanish as a second language and why?
A
I think the sooner the better. I found with my own kids that exposure at birth -- the tutor was already at our house -- resulted not necessarily in learning to speak Spanish but in learning to roll their r's.
Q
What is the biggest challenge for children learning Spanish as a second language and how do you overcome it?
A
For my kids since we are not native Spanish speakers nor do we know Spanish very well, we can't expose our kids to Spanish more than once a week for a half hour with a tutor. It's just not enough for a child to learn to speak it. I tried to supplement their Spanish exposure by using Plaza Sesamo (Sesame Street shows in Spanish) and other DVDs and songs on CD. That helps a little.
Q
Can parents teach their kids to speak Spanish at home and what is the best way to do it?
A

I think the child has to have the motivation to want to learn. My kids had a low enthusiasm level so we focused on making it fun and exposing them to 500 vocabulary words. I knew that they would not learn to converse in Spanish this way but I focused on their accent -- they could learn more vocabulary and grammar as they got older and perhaps became more motivated.

But getting an ear for the sounds of the language is best acquired at a young age. My oldest, now 14, wants to learn Spanish in high school and is switching from Chinese. Her Spanish accent isn't perfect but isn't nails-on-chalkboard annoying.

My two younger kids, now 12 and 9, can roll their R's and learned that only a few years ago after 8 years of exposure to Spanish. I credit this entirely to the exposure. My 12-year-old is taking Spanish in middle school and only knows about half the curriculum but that makes it less daunting. My 9-year-old remembers very few words in Spanish but can still roll his R's.

I also think it's a huge gift you give your child to intuitively learn that languages are not a word to word translation in general. The grammer can be quite different too.

Yes, I think a parent can teach their kids to ""speak"" Spanish at home but have realistic objectives. Fluency is going to be challenging without a native speaker talking to them 24/7. But that doesn't necessarily have to be the goal. You can still lay the foundation without speaking Spanish fluently and that is a gift that keeps on giving as they get older.

MATT MILLER
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BIO
Matt Miller has taught high school Spanish in West-Central Indiana for 10 years. He incorporates lots of technology in his classes with a healthy dose of conversation and storytelling. He writes the Ditch That Textbook blog (DitchThatTextbook.com), which is focused on teaching with less reliance on the textbook with an emphasis on educational technology and creative teaching. Follow Matt on Twitter at @jmattmiller or on Google Plus at +MattMiller16.
Q
When should kids begin to learn Spanish as a second language and why?
A
The earlier that children can start learning a second language, the better. They're more likely to develop a strong native-speaker accent and hold onto their language acquisition longer if they get started young.
Q
What is the biggest challenge for children learning Spanish as a second language and how do you overcome it?
A
The biggest challenge for my students in many classes is making the transition from learning ABOUT a language to learning to COMMUNICATE in the language. So many teachers and language programs focus so much on grammatical accuracy and leave out conversational Spanish. There are no verb conjugation tests in the real world, so students need lots of practice communicating, especially in speaking!
Q
Can parents teach their kids to speak Spanish at home and what is the best way to do it?
A

If the parents already know some Spanish, that can be a big help. Simple things like identifying objects or actions in Spanish or making simple requests and responses in Spanish can go a long way. If parents don't know Spanish, there are lots of great web-based resources they can tap into. The important thing is to make it fun. As soon as it feels like work, children will balk at it and shut it out.

ANN ANA MORRIS
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BIO
Ann Morris is a bilingual children's author. She writes books separately in English and Spanish. Beginning as a High School Spanish teacher, she has always appreciated sharing her belief that learning about other people and their languages is important. This is when she realized that children's books serve well for older language learners as well as for children of the native language. Her stories are based on true stories and include family members as her characters. Ms. Morris lives in West Des Moines, Iowa, where she is active in multicultural community projects.
Q
When should kids begin to learn Spanish as a second language and why?
A
The ideal age for anyone to begin learning a second language is as early as possible. Children learn their native and other languages that way, and they begin speaking and understand long before they learn reading and writing. As people grow older, there are other methods of instruction that may apply, but the Rosetta Stone method is based on the natural process of language learning.
Q
What is the biggest challenge for children learning Spanish as a second language and how do you overcome it?
A
The biggest challenge is learning the new sounds and new rules, including word order, expressions known as idioms in English, and many times verb and subject agreement as well as noun and pronoun agreement with adjectives. When students become frustrated with Spanish having different rules, it is more understandable to compare something they know, for example indoor and outdoor soccer. They are the same game with different rules. Playing the clarinet as opposed to the flute. They are both musical instruments but require different methods of playing. Students like to see the comparison between things they already know. Having native speakers available is especially wonderful, so they can see that the effort they make is not a game, but a real method of communication.
Q
Can parents teach their kids to speak Spanish at home and what is the best way to do it?
A

Most parents that teach their children at home are native speakers. Not always, but many times. This will affect the competency of the student, as it does in English. That comparison helps. Students native to English do not automatically know why they say something the way they do. They may have spelling and grammatical mistakes. That is why they take English at school. The same with students who have learned Spanish at home. Their speaking and understanding will be greater, but they will still have things to learn. At home, encouraging the youth to speak the language, watch Spanish language movies, read Spanish books together with their parents, audio and visual are important to learning and make it fun. Sometimes people will label things at home with tags so the child can remember the new words.

It is important for these children to realize that there is more than one way to speak Spanish correctly, just as there is in English (the UK, Australia, South Africa, Canada, the USA, as well as other countries). It is the same language with a different accent and maybe a few different vocabulary words. I applaud parents who accept this challenge and realize the need for their child to learn another language!

JOSHUA BERMAN
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BIO
Joshua Berman is a Spanish teacher at Shining Mountain Waldorf School. He is also a columnist for the Denver Post, author of five books, and an expert on Central America travel. Joshua lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife and three daughters.
Q
When should kids begin to learn Spanish as a second language and why?
A
The earlier the better. I began speaking Spanish to my own children the day they were born, and my students begin taking it in 1st grade. However, just like our first language, input trumps output in the first few years, so expose them to the beauty of the language first -- songs, poetry, verses, puppet plays -- before diving into any grammar rules or conjugations.
Q
What is the biggest challenge for children learning Spanish as a second language and how do you overcome it?
A
Not having enough time to practice and study it is the biggest problem for most. Overcome it with full immersion -- by booking a trip to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, or another country with excellent Spanish schools and family homestays.
Q
Can parents teach their kids to speak Spanish at home and what is the best way to do it?
A
If the parents speak fluent Spanish, just speak to them in the language. If not, expose them to songs, go to Spanish storytime at the public library, and if their age is appropriate, you can buy them some kind of program to follow.
SARA-E. COTTRELL
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BIO
I am the blogger behind Musicuentos.com, a Spanish teacher for 10 years, wife, Mami, consultant, curriculum developer, servant.
Q
When should kids begin to learn Spanish as a second language and why?
A
Assuming the child can't begin in a natural acquisition situation at home or with a caregiver, ideally children would begin to learn a second language before they have been educated on how school is "supposed" to be or how people are "supposed" to learn. Learning a language does not happen the way memorizing theorems or historical dates does and it complicates the process that students (and often teachers) try to approach them the same way.
Q
What is the biggest challenge for children learning Spanish as a second language and how do you overcome it?
A
The biggest challenge is time. Learning a language takes an immense amount of time that most students do not have in a classroom situation. It can't be overcome but a teacher can optimize results by having realistic expectations for what students can do, making the most of classroom time, using comprehensible target language for as much of the class period as possible, not wasting time on technology or crafty projects that do not include much language use, building curriculum around the most frequently used vocabulary and most needed skills, and accessing students' intrinsic motivation so they choose to be lifelong learners.
Q
Can parents teach their kids to speak Spanish at home and what is the best way to do it?
A
My children are bilingual and we do the one parent / one language method. Children learn language through interaction, so the best way to do it is simply to keep talking to them. My children, as do almost all in their situation, resist speaking Spanish, but involving them with people who also speak Spanish greatly increases the chances they'll volunteer to speak it, because it becomes something other people do, instead of a weird thing we just do with Mami.
JENNIFER BRUNK
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BIO
I have been teaching Spanish (preschool-university) for over 20 years. I raised my own children speaking Spanish and English. I share resources and strategies for teaching Spanish to children on Spanish Playground.
Q
When should kids begin to learn Spanish as a second language and why?
A
Ideally children learn a second language from birth. That said, it is never to late to start to second language, although the younger, the better!
Q
What is the biggest challenge for children learning Spanish as a second language and how do you overcome it?
A
The biggest challenge for children learning Spanish as a second language is quality exposure to the language. Of course, the challenge is really for parents and teachers. They are the ones who have to provide comprehensible input in the target language.
Q
Can parents teach their kids to speak Spanish at home and what is the best way to do it?
A
Yes, they can. They need a a plan and good resources, but they can certainly teach children a language.
IRIS PALACIOS
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BIO
Iris Palacios is a Psychologist and a Spanish as a second language teacher with 9 years of experience, besides teaching Spanish to children and adults, she is Head of Publishing at VeinteMundos - Yalea Languages, a free online magazine to learn Spanish. Yalea Languages Abroad is an online agency with language learning programs in over 30 destinations. The courses are offered for young students (13-17 years old), with special support, accommodations and language classes.
Q
When should kids begin to learn Spanish as a second language and why?
A
Children’s brain is like a sponge, so there is no such thing as an age to start learning a second language, the best answer is “the sooner the better”. It is much simpler for a young brain to absorb information, and because they have less vocabulary and simple language structures the learning process is faster.
Q
What is the biggest challenge for children learning Spanish as a second language and how do you overcome it?
A
One of the biggest challenges is the amount of time a young adult is exposed to the language. By having 3 to 5 hours of class a week, and no reinforcement from the environment it is more difficult and it definitely takes much more time to acquire a second language. Therefore, immersion is the best option, living in a Spanish speaking country, listening to the language 24/7, using it all the time and experiencing the culture makes the learning process more effective and entertaining.
Q
Can parents teach their kids to speak Spanish at home and what is the best way to do it?
A
Yes, parents are key in the learning process. Don’t be afraid to talk to your children in your mother tongue. If you are not a native speaker, it doesn't matter, expose your child to Spanish as much as possible, TV, movies, stories in Spanish, everything is a good resource.
Le Tutor
EXPERT KEY POINTS

Mia Wenjen’s comment about regular exposure really stood out. If you are a non native parent you have to find ways to provide regular and consistent exposure to Spanish so that you kids develop an ear for the language. Secondly, you have to make it fun or they are going to lose interest and resent the language and study time.

Matt Miller reminds us that in the real world there are no grammar tests. As children learning our own native language we are not tested or told the rules. We mimic other native speakers. Having opportunities to practice the language are essential to the success of any language learner. Find a playgroup, church group, babysitter, tutor, friends, or club that can offer opportunities for you kids to practice the language.

Ann Morris commented on children of native parents who are learning the language in a country outside of their own. They often still have to learn the formal language thought they have a proficient level of fluency.

Joshua Berman recommends overcoming the lack of exposure opportunities with immersion experiences. Although this may not be practical for younger children if they have a chance to stay with family or a friend for a few months it can be an invaluable experience. Kids who are learning Spanish can go from struggling to fluent in a single summer abroad. That is why maintaining regular exposure while they are young is important as a preparation for an immersion Spanish experience. Those who get to live or study abroad will see exponential fluency growth.

Sara Elizabeth Cottrell made a really good point about teaching children before they start going to school, this is because learning a language requires a different approach. Children who are taught to memorize theorems and historical dates at school can have a hard time learning a foreign language later on.

Jennifer Brunk suggests having a plan. Although, it doesn’t have to be rigid having planned times and materials for them to study is extremely important. If a family is non native speakers it is easy to get out the routine of regular Spanish practice. It is natural for to revert to English or get distracted by other activities. Having a plan will help you to maintain regular exposure to Spanish.

OUR ADVICE
Q
When should kids begin to learn Spanish as a second language and why?
A
It is always beneficial to start as young as possible but be reasonable. When they are infants play Spanish children's songs for them. You don’t have to be religious about lesson time when they are very young. When they reach 1-2 is when you should start more regular and consistent lessons. For families that are non native speakers you have have a long term approach to your kids Spanish lessons unless you have access to native speakers on a daily basis. This will prepare for when they get older and can be committed to a more regular study. If they get the opportunity immersion experiences will sky rocket their fluency. Even if you did not start at a young age it is never too late to start. Many of us have learned second languages as adults.
Q
What is the biggest challenge for children learning Spanish as a second language and how do you overcome it?
A
The two biggest challenges are providing regular exposure to Spanish and keeping your children interested. In order to do this I recommend keeping their lessons, media, and classes fun. Make it so they enjoy the language and so that it isn’t a chore. If you are a native speaker this is not an issue because it is natural for you to communicate to your children in Spanish. As non native Spanish speakers this will be a challenge. Make Spanish cool.
Q
Can parents teach their kids to speak Spanish at home and what is the best way to do it?
A
Yes, of course. It helps if parents learn Spanish with their kids so that they can interact together. If that is not an option then you will have to have a plan and get help from experienced teachers when you’ve reached the end of your knowledge. If you are not actively learning the language at some point your kids will out learn you. You will need the help of an experienced Spanish tutor who can guide, challenge and teach them.
BONUS QUESTION
Q
What language should my child learn?
A

Although this article is about Spanish we’ll throw in a fourth question. Often times parents have an idea of what language their kids should learn. However, the language is not always ideal or practical. My number one recommendation is to have the kids learn the language they are interested in. Simply they will stay motivated to learn the language if they like it. If they are forced they will resent the language and not excel.

My second point is considering the the goal of the language. Languages that are uncommon or that have limited influence on our lives are impractical choices for a second language for kids. Unless you have family heritage or other good reasons to learn the language you should consider a language that has immediate contact with the kids.

Last consider access to learning materials. You can find materials for most languages however some can be significantly harder than others to find quality materials for especially for kids. Spanish has a plethora of kids learning materials including cartoons, books, activities and games. Mandarin Chinese or Arabic though have materials for adults but very few for kids. Even the materials for adults are few compared to languages like Spanish. Also, consider your region. If you live in an area with a large Russian population then it will be easy to find teachers but probably not as much if you live in the Southwest US.

Regardless, if you are motivated enough you will find a way and the resources needed for the language. All of this is general advice that can help you make decisions and plan more effectively. But in no way should it discourage you from learning the language you want to learn.

SPANISH RESOURCES
WEBSITES
Study Spanish

One of the biggest websites on the internet for learning Spanish, with over a thousand of pages available for free to anyone interested to learn conversational Spanish. Even though they’ve provided so much content for free on their website, they also have their own language courses that you can take.

BBC Spanish

The official BBC website has a great section in its website called Languages, where they’ve published some of the best resources to learn a language online. Among other languages that are listed there, the Spanish language page is very rich in content with free online lessons and guides on Spanish vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

Spanish About

Everyone has probably come across the About.com website once or twice in their lifetimes, and their inner pages many times more. Why? Because they’ve published so much content on basically every topic out there, it’s really hard to miss it when looking for an answer. Their Spanish language articles are written by expert language teachers who have gathered everything you need to know about learning the Spanish language. Besides learning Spanish, you can also learn about their culture, holidays, and Spanish speaking places for you to travel to.

DuoLingo

If you’re young and want a really cool interactive way of learning to speak Spanish, then you must check Duolingo. It’s completely free, and the best part is that as you progress by taking the lessons listed there, each time you help to translate documents and other websites. Duolingo has over 12 million active users as of now, and has mobile applications for iOS and Android as well.

123 Teach Me

123 Teach Me offers lots of online resources to learn Spanish, including online games to make learning the language fun and many daily updated pages such: word of the day, phrase of the day, verb of the day…etc. They also have a pretty interesting Verb Conjugator and Spanish Sentence Maker to help you improve your language fluency.

Qué Onda

Qué Onda Spanish offer dynamic lessons for learning languages, including the Spanish languages among 7 other language that they have lessons for. Beginner and Advanced levels are available, as well as lessons to help you with travel, business, or medical situations. Some lessons are free, the rest of the lessons can be access by obtaining the “Pangea Passport”, which is their one-time membership fee.

Digital Dialetics

Digital Dialetics offers beginner and intermediate games to help you learn Spanish. They’ve got interactive ways to teach you phrases & greetings, numbers, vocabulary, food, clothing, animals, and more. Their Spanish verb page is definitely a very valuable resource if you want to learn Spanish well.

Live Mocha

Livemocha has a large number of Mexican Spanish lessons available for free to all the people who register at their website. The lessons are created by the community of native teacher and speakers who are more than happy to share their advice and help you learn a new language. There are more than 16 million people in the Livemocha community.

Vocabulix

Vocabulix is the best way to learn new verbs in Spanish, easily and simply. With over 90 predefined lessons, you won’t have a problem getting started right away. You can even create your very own lessons and share them with your friends later on.

Spancity

Another free resource that has lots of valuable content on the Spanish language. They’ve got audio lessons to teach you the basics such as the alphabet, numbers, popular words, and some Spanish verbs, as well as grammar, vocabulary, and Spanish phrases lessons. While you’re at it, why not learn some songs in Spanish as well. They’ve translated many, to help you become fluent in Spanish fast.

MOBILE APPS
Duolingo

Platform: iOS/Android Price: Free We’ve already listed the main Duolingo website and mentioned why it’s such a great resource when it comes to learning Spanish, but having a mobile application is actually the best way to keep up with your progress. You’ll get awards for successfully completing a lesson, which motivates you to continue learning, and of course, it allows you to share your progress with your friends and family.

Babel

Platform: iOS/Android Price: Free One of the biggest websites on the internet that offers interactive language lessons on several languages, Babbel also has apps to make the whole process of learning a new language easier. They’ve got beginner and intermediate courses on Spanish. Babbel is supported by the European Regional Development Fund.

Learn Spanish Phrasebook

Platform: iOS/Android Price: Free This app is a real gem! If you’re traveling to a Spanish speaking country, this mobile app is a must-have. They’ve gathered hundreds of phrases to help you out in in any situation that you might be in. From simple conversation phrases to phrases about eating out, shopping, or getting directions. To have access to the complete phrasebook, you need to upgrade you app to the pro version.

Spanish Touch Trainer

Platform: iOS/Android Price: Free Just like the previous app, the Spanish Touch Trainer is a must-have. Learn how to construct proper sentences in Spanish and expand your vocabulary with this interactive app. Even though it feels like you’re playing a game on your smartphone, this app actually helps you learn Spanish really well.

The Bravolol Parrot

Platform: iOS/Android Price: Free The Bravolol Parrot will teach you over 800 Spanish phrases and vocabularies. You’ll listen the parrot saying a phrase, and then you’ll record it yourself so that you can compare your skills and learn faster. Everything is categorized in specific scenarios that you might find yourself into. There’s no need for internet connection when using the app, and you can save your favorite phrases and words for faster access later on.

PODCASTS
Coffe Break Spanish

A great resource to learn conversational Spanish. The courses are practical, theme based and are perfect to help beginner Spanish students develop an ear for the language. They offer free audio lessons and if you want to pay for more comprehensive lessons you can purchase packages that include lessons, word lists, exercises and additional audio for each lesson.

DiscoverSpanish

Discover Spanish podcast is a supplement to their more complete lessons that include, printable pdf lessons, online games, grammar guides and vocabulary sheets. There are 36 podcasts and they are very well produced. Most are designed for beginner students.

SpanishPod 101

Spanish Pod 101 exposes students to teachers from different Spanish speaking countries like Peru, Argentina, Spain, and Mexico. They offer 36 free audio lessons and a free 7 day trial. If you would like to continue with their program they offer a premium account.

InstaSpanish

Reviewers give this podcast great ratings and is very polished. It is designed for a high beginner to intermediate Spanish student and only has 11 lessons. What it is lacking in content it makes up for in quality. Definitely, give it a listen.

Spanish A+

Finally Learn Spanish podcasts are taught by native teachers and focus more on intermediate level students. They give a explanation of simple grammar principles and survival situations that one would need to get around in common daily activities.

Rolling R's

This program is actually a series of video lessons that are hosted on itunes. They are all free and your teacher Izzy builds lessons so that you can see the progression and can learn how to build sentences instead of just memorizing phrases.

LANGUAGE WORKSHEETS
Spanish4Teachers

Spanish4Teachers provides great worksheets for teachers and students. They are basic worksheets but provide simple but effective exercises. Lessons are divided into clear sections so that you can easily find the theme you are looking for. They also include links to other websites that have additional lesson plans available.

RockaLingua Worksheets

RockaLingua is a great website with very well illustrated lessons. Lessons are accented by soft rock songs that repeat the vocabulary in video and audio formats. Although, they seem to be designed for kids they would be great for beginner Adult students as well. The site does require a login to download the free lessons and there are additional lessons available to download for $35 for individuals and $75 for a teacher license.

BBC Worksheets

Straight forward no nonsense Spanish lessons for beginner students. However, there is a lot more content on the site to supplement these worksheets. Also, they are free and printable so that you can take notes and travel with them.

Spanish Grammar Exercises

Comprehensive grammar lessons worksheets for high beginner and intermediate students. Lessons are focused on verb tenses, using accents properly and irregular verbs. Verbs are the most important grammar element in any Latin language. Be sure to spend sufficient time studying them. Each lesson includes a link to a supplemental video lesson.

YOUTUBE CHANNELS
TheSpanishBlog

Your teacher, Laura, is a native Spanish teacher from Spain. She has over 500 video lessons on YouTube and covers themes from beginner to high intermediate students. Her video lessons are a little bland but offer a good amount of informative free content.

ButterflySpanishola

Ana has very well organized and easy to follow lessons. Although, I wish there were more video lessons the ones that have been posted are quality lessons. Lessons do not try and cover too much at once and are explained in a simple way that makes the new concept easy to understand.

SpanishWithRocio

Rocio’s lessons use lots of pictures and provide Spanish and English translations of the sentences she is teaching. Rocio speaks clearly and slowly so that you can improve your listening comprehension. This is a good channel to build your vocabulary and work on your listening skills.