5 Steps to introduce Spanish with music
You don’t need to speak Spanish to introduce it to your child and spark the interest on a language that can open the doors to a lifetime of opportunity.
One of the most frequent questions from parents that are not bilingual in Spanish, but want their kids to learn this international language, and help them become bilingual, is how they can introduce the language, how to start.
I have read on social media all kinds of suggestions, from switching Netflix to Spanish and watching YouTube videos, to enrolling them in an immersion program, hiring a private tutor, getting an au pair, or going on vacation to countries where the language is spoken.
Of course all of them are good options, if only immersion schools were popular everywhere and any family would have the chance to enroll their kids in one, if only hiring an au pair were an affordable and viable option for more than a few, or if only taking an international vacation was in the budget for the average middle class family. About the screen time, I have heard it works for some people. However, I tried to introduce a new language to my children in that way and it did not work that well.
I am glad to know that there are families out there that can do all this or more to help their kids become bilingual, however, I believe that every child, despite the background or economic status of the family, should have the opportunity to at least be exposed to the basic benefits of bilingualism, and for that you might not need more than your phone in the very beginning.
I am not saying that you won’t need to make some investment, interact with native speakers at some point, or take lessons. But to introduce a language to your child, to spark the Spanish and engage them, you mostly need to introduce it in a fun way and be present.
And those two elements go hand-in-hand with MUSIC!
Yes! As simple as it sounds, songs are powerful and fun enough (if you choose the right product) to introduce your child to the rhythm and the form of the language, including grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. Also music ignites the emotional component that is key for language learning.
But choosing music for kids in a different language than your native language could be challenging, especially when there are hundreds of options available. Check out our Spotify playlists samples including various artists.
So, here are some simple steps to use the power of music to spark the Spanish in your child:
Take the time to search and choose high quality music that not only your child, but you, would enjoy. Bilingualism is a family adventure, you will need to be present. Yes! You need to be part of this, to set the example and, if you don’t already know at least a little, to learn along the way with your child. So dedicate some time to listen to different artists and choose something that won’t drive you crazy. Don’t rush to just play a whole list on YouTube or Spotify. Recommended: 5 Things to Consider Before Using YouTube to Introduce a New Language to your Child.
Look first for educational songs. Despite the important cultural component provided by popular and traditional songs, the complexity of some of the lyrics and themes could make it very challenging, not only for your child, but also for you, as a non-native speaker, to follow and try to repeat and encourage your child to do it. Traditional nursery rhymes could be an option in the beginning, if your child is a baby or a toddler.
Check out the suggestions or reviews from bloggers focused on providing Spanish resources for parents and teachers. I like Spanish Playground because, besides being a teacher and offering a lot of resources for beginners, the owner includes ideas on how to use some of the songs, not only a description of an album.
Explore playlists to find new artists and different music styles. Our playlist for little learners on Spotify includes a selection of songs from different artists featuring educational songs to get started with basic vocabulary such as: colors, days of the week, animals, transportation, and greetings among others. To add some exposure to more advanced vocabulary and themes (adult friendly children's music), check out our playlists for the whole family and teens.
2 PRINT THE LYRICS
Once you have found some songs or an album that you like, print the lyrics. Most artists offer the lyrics for download on their websites, some might even offer translations in English or other languages, and printables and guides so you can identify basic vocabulary and phrases. Familiarize yourself with the lyrics, the themes of the songs, and key words. This will help you later on to include those words and phrases in your daily routine and work on additional activities with your child.
3 CHOOSE A COUPLE OF SONGS
Choose 2 or 3 songs that your child might enjoy best in the beginning, whether because of the style and rhythm of the music or the theme. Depending on their age, your kids might be into moving and dancing or imitating animal sounds. PLEASE, PLEASE don’t play a whole album in Spanish for the first time to your child, same goes for TV shows. Especially for older kids, this will be frustrating, and they might end up quitting before even starting.
4 ADD TO PLAYLIST
Add the selected songs into your child’s favorite playlist. The one that maybe includes their favorite Disney songs or other children’s music in English or any other language. If you have a list on Youtube, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, be sure you include some of the songs there. As your child gets used to the songs, go ahead and add more, or create your own playlist with spanish songs for children.
This is the most important part. When those songs play in your car or at home in the background, make it a big deal: sing, clap, dance, or try to repeat a word or phrase. When you sing with your child there is a special connection between both of you that will help your child to keep all that they are learning by listening to the songs, not only in their brain, but in their heart, and that is where you want the moments related to learning the language to be at. Check out the guides to learn the movements and activities to sing along to the songs in the album Short + Fun Spanish Beats.
Wait before playing videos of songs, if available. Try for a while to enjoy that special time where you connect with your child while listening to music. Once you seat your child in front of the TV, the phone, or the tablet to watch a song on YouTube, the experience changes from an opportunity to connect, listen, dance, imagine, and act-out, to a simple screen time.
After you have introduced the language, try to start using basic words and phrases in your daily routine. Introduce age appropriate short videos, apps and picture books. Use what you have at home to reinforce the vocabulary that has been introduced by a song, for example: Use stuffed animals (dog, cat, horse, or bear), toys (train, car, and airplane), balloons (to practice colors) among others. Check out our list of recommended links to find additional resources and ideas.
Hopefully this will help you to spark the Spanish while you have fun with your child!
Ana Calabrese: I am a native Spanish speaker from Colombia raising 2 bilingual-bicultural kids in California. I founded Spanish Plus Me and recorded the album: Short + Fun Spanish Beats to promote the advantages of bilingualism, and encourage the introduction of the Spanish language to children, through the use of songs, movement and fun. You can find my songs on Amazon, iTunes and Google Play, and download all the lyrics with translations in English, Portuguese and French here.