Second Language Learning Fun with a Toddler

If I could have one superpower it would be to have the ability to speak any language ever. In the world or in the Galaxy and beyond should our universe ever come to that! I have always wanted to be fluent in a language other than English. I have worked toward that goal here and there with the obligatory secondary school and college language courses. I also have a vivid memory of learning very basic Spanish phrases and the Spanish alphabet in first grade. For that reason, I think, Spanish has always come somewhat naturally to me when I do decide to embark on the linguistic challenge again. There is always a time and commitment issue, at least that’s always been my excuse. The ol’ “use or lose it” adage, although very true, is also very easy to lean on when there is very little reason to exercise my Spanish speaking skills (aside from few and far between vacations to Spanish-speaking countries and bouts of embarrassment in local Latin grocery stores and bakeries).

Before I had children, I always vowed that, should I become a mother, I would do what I could to give my child foundational language skills in more than one language. After having a child, this goal was still in the forefront of my mind. The thought then became: How early should I start her language lessons? We began before her first words, with baby sign language. And she took to it well. She still uses some basic sign language today. But when she started speaking her first words, I decided that I would like to start also teaching her Spanish; but, how do I do that? I am not fluent in Spanish, and I am not an early childhood language professional. So, what did we do? We started learning from square one together. Although I have an intermediate understanding of the Spanish language, it never hurts to refresh and strengthen. In May 2021, just before her first birthday, we signed up for the Duolingo app and never looked back.

At first, it seemed that the happy green bird was what interested her most (Of course, she was only one!) and I was not extremely consistent, using the app maybe only half the week. But shortly after we began, I incorporated the language lessons into her bedtime routine. We do at least one lesson every night before bed. In fact, we haven’t missed a single lesson in 200 days. A 200-day Spanish lesson streak… with a toddler. She even claps when I say to her, “Quieres practicar español?” For a few months now, I have been saying basic phrases and commands to her in both Spanish and English. She will come running when I announce that it’s time for milk in either English or Spanish. She grabs her jacket or shoes no matter which language I request them in. A couple of weeks ago, as she was practicing adding the -er portion to the word “water” (as it was previously “wa” and I realize now that “wadl” was her trying to say water) she got frustrated and yelled, “AGUA!”

My daughter will be 2 in June and will have been practicing Spanish for one year. I am celebrating the fact that my baby, from a single language household, is saying some words in two languages (sometimes three with ASL added to the mix). Do I think she will be fluent by my efforts alone? Of course not! But I do think it builds a pretty solid foundation. And I think it will be fun to annoy my husband conversing with my daughter in a language that he does not know!

Brandon Adler
Brandon Adler is an Assistant Professor and Librarian specializing in legal information and information literacy who is passionate about equal access to information and great cocktails. She lives in New Orleans with her husband, daughter, two cats, and a dog.


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