Updated: Feb 2, 2021
As I sit here and write this, I am sad that I have not done more to teach my children a second language.
With a last name of Ramirez, during pregnancy, many people asked if my husband and I would teach our children both English and Spanish.
My answer was always an enthusiastic "yes!". My husband is fluent in Spanish as a second language, and I always wanted my children to be bilingual. Heck, I want to be bilingual.
I spoke then about how teaching my children Spanish was the perfect way for me to learn the language once and for all.
However, I never made a plan, and so although we have loads of books in Spanish, my efforts have been inconsistent and lackluster.
And here I sit, with a 4 year-old and a 2 year-old who both know just a handful of Spanish phrases and vocabulary words.
I won't beat myself up too much over this, but I recently became reenergized with this dream and am ready to make it into a reality.
To help with creating a plan, I reached out to Lisa Pietropola who has a Masters of Art in Spanish, has spent the past 13 years teaching Spanish to children in public schools, and is mother to two adorable girls, Giuliana and Mariana (also ages 4 and 2).
She and her husband speak English in their household and so, just like many families, they must make an effort to teach their children a second language.
I spoke with Lisa about what she has done to teach her girls Spanish, and her story was a bit magical.
"With both of my girls, I started out by exposing them to Spanish music and books. The music was on their level (Sesame Street songs in Spanish), and the bedtime books that I chose were very simple (working on colors, objects, and numbers).
We did this from birth, and I continue to supplement these to make them age and developmentally appropriate as they grow.
Since Giuliana is now pre-school aged, we are trying to increase her motivation.
Giuliana loves, loves, loves Peppa Pig. As it happens, Peppa Pig speaks with a British accent and uses English phrases and vocabulary that are different from our American English dialect. This is perfect to demonstrate that even though it’s the same language, there are different sounds, vocab, rhythms of speech, etc.
As part of my job, I travel to Spain. Several trips ago, Giuliana gave me a little Peppa Pig figurine to take with me to keep me company. I took some fun pictures of Peppa “exploring” in Madrid.
When I got back, that little gesture of her seeing Peppa in Spain got Giuliana very interested in trying to learn Spanish. She started to ask me words and phrases on her own.
The next time I went to Spain, I took the whole Peppa Pig family with me and I set out on capturing photographs with the characters in front of iconic Spanish settings.
I took all the pictures and created a photo book that, essentially, leads Peppa through Spain.
I used these pictures to write a story that interplays both English and Spanish words, and in the story Peppa learns Spanish along the way.
It is similar to a Dora the Explorer book; however, whereas Giuliana shows no interest in Dora, she loves Peppa. She can relate to Peppa as a motivational force in her life and she is now associating Spanish with her favorite character.
It’s as if I have created a third linguistic caretaker in the household; my husband and I who speak to her in our common language (English), and Peppa who Guiliana now associates as someone who teaches her Spanish.
I honestly did not expect the kind of positive response I received from this, but as a teacher of almost 13 years now, this has yielded the best response of anything I have ever seen.