Who is this written for?
This curriculum is written for any parent hoping to teach their child the Spanish language. This is a cultural enrichment program as much as it is a language learning one. Each of us will be coming from a different background, with a different level of knowledge in the Spanish language, and with different reasons for taking on this challenge.
As parents, we all want the best for our children. The fact that we may have been raised in monolingual homes shouldn't mean that bilingualism is automatically out of reach for our children. It is not impossible! We just need a little extra help and support. This curriculum is meant to be that: a helping hand, a place to start, and a roadmap to follow. For those with backgrounds in the Spanish language it will be much easier to read and sing, and conversation will surely flow more naturally. This curriculum can be a gentle guide, a plan to follow, and a source of content and ideas.
My personal goal in creating Beautiful Mundo was to make bringing the Spanish language into our homes approachable and achievable for parents, even those starting from the very beginning themselves.
This curriculum says it can be used for ages 0-8+. How does it cover such a large range of ages?
Simply put, it's never too early, or too late, to start learning a new language with your family. Reading children’s books is even a great way for adults to begin learning a new language! Throughout this curriculum you have the freedom to pick and choose or modify the activites and material you cover each week. Listening to the music, hearing you use new vocabulary and phrases, learning new games to play and rhymes to act out, dancing, and listening to stories and poetry will benefit children of all ages. At the time of writing this, I have four children aged 6 years old, 3, 2, and 10 months, so rest assured I have kept this in mind while developing this curriculum.
What about all the online video and app programs out there?
Generally, no online videos or learning apps are recommended here. Repeating words and phrases from videos might make it seem like our children are learning, but they are not developing the skills they need for real-life proficiency. This curriculum is built on the foundational belief that children acquire language through meaningful interaction and play with their parents, teachers, and loved ones. While I do strongly encourage listening to audiobooks and music, this curriculum avoids any reliance on screen-time to learn Spanish. Of course, the occasional watching of Coco in Spanish never hurt anyone!
That said, interacting with other Spanish-speakers via video calls or other in-person, screen-based experiences can be incredibly beneficial. It may be our only way of using the Spanish language outside of our home, and this is certainly encouraged. While learning any new language, screens and media have their place. However, it should only amount to a very small portion of overall exposure to the minority language we wish to teach our children.
How do we acquire language?
From the moment we are born we begin acquiring language. Parents don't teach babies to talk; it's a process that happens automatically in their brains. It has been proposed by Betty Birner of the Linguistic Society of America that speaking for humans is as natural as a bird singing or a spider spinning a web. She importantly highlights, "children who are never spoken to will not acquire language... and it must be used for interaction with the child." If a child were to hear language on a television or radio, and nowhere else, they would not learn to talk. So what does this tell us? It is very specifically our interactions with our children that teach them language. Rather than constantly translating, we will be focusing our energy on acting out and demonstrating what we want to communicate. This is the approach used throughout this curriculum.
Is this a secular curriculum?
Yes! What is so wonderful about our world is all of the diversity. This curriculum is a celebration of culture, people, history, and different values and beliefs. It is designed to be inclusive, and doesn't take any particular religious or world view. That doesn't mean this curriculum is anti-religious. We will encounter many different belief systems, cultural values, and life ways through our literature selections and studies.
Why learn the Spanish language?
Spanish is the third most widely spoken language in the world, right after Mandarin and English. Learning to speak Spanish not only allows us to connect with hundreds of millions of people we may not have been able to otherwise, it also unlocks more meaningful travel opportunities. Spanish is the official language in 21 different countries. If you’re curious, like I was, it’s a list that includes: Mexico, Colombia, Spain, Argentina, Perú, Venezuela, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Cuba, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Paraguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, and Equatorial Guinea (listed in order by population size, largest to smallest).
What are the benefits of bilingualism? Will I confuse my child by trying to speak to them in two languages?
The short answer is no. There are actually less monolingual people in the world than bilingual! It is a common misconception that children will get confused or that they can only deal with learning one language. In fact, research has shown the opposite to be true. The ACTFL, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, has an excellent collection of articles and scientific studies to support each claim about the benefits of learning another language: https://www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows#cognitive.
Here is a summary:
Early language learning improves cognitive abilities and bilingualism has been shown to directly correlate with intelligence.
Bilingual children have greater thought flexibility, memory, and control of their attention. They are better at tasks involving evaluation and problem solving, and at forming scientific hypothesis.
Bilingualism fosters the development of verbal and spatial abilities. Skills learned can be transferred from one language to another, and overall children have better linguistic awareness (better grammatical judgment).
Bilingualism also helps to offset age-related losses in working memory later in life. Amazingly, bilingual adults are twice as likely to retain full brain function after a stroke (November 2015, published in the journal Stroke).
Research also suggests that language learners develop a more positive attitude towards the speaker’s of a language and the culture associated with it. By raising bilingual children we can raise better citizens of the world. Bilingualism has been shown to increase cultural awarness, and to help build positive attitudes about ethnic diversity.
This is a wonderful video by Mia Nacamulli on TedEd explaining the effects of learning multiple languages on our brain.
What if I don't speak Spanish myself? How can I immerse my children in a language I am not fluent in?
You don’t need to be bilingual to raise bilingual children. Take a moment and let this empower you!
Yes, it is going to be more challenging. Yes, it is going to require a huge effort and a lot of energy. But it will be worth it! By using Spanish in our daily lives, playing with our children in Spanish, and enriching our understanding of the language by exploring Spanish-speaking countries and cultures, we will be providing the best possible version of an immersive experience right at home. If you’re starting out in the same boat as I did, we can’t let fears of mispronouncing Spanish words hold us back. It's not about having the perfect accent anyways. It's about our ability to communicate in meaningful and thoughtful ways. The Spanish language varies in every country after all, and there are many diffferent dialects. A perfectly wonderful goal is to raise our children with the skills they need for real-life proficiency. Skills that will allow them to communicate with anyone in Spanish, whether in Peru, Spain, or Mexico.
How does this curriculum incorporate the teachings of Charlotte Mason?
Charlotte Mason is a big name in the homeschooling world of today. Several of her foundational ideas have been woven throughout this curriculum, such as using living books, copywork, narration (the retelling of stories in our children’s own words), reading books aloud, and the reading of poetry. Each week is structured with a combination of new vocabulary, phrases, a featured book, poetry, finger plays, songs, and crafts which are all designed to be taught in small, short lessons. While nothing about this curriculum is “strictly” Charlotte Mason, her philosophies on education have inspired the home environment I aspire to have in my own household and naturally this would flow into the writing of this curriculum as well.
"...to acquire the speech of neighbouring nations is not only to secure an inlet of knowledge and a means of culture, but is a duty of that higher morality (the morality of the family) which aims at universal brotherhood; therefore every family would do well to cultivate two languages besides the mother tongue, even in the nursery."
-Charlotte M. Mason,
Parents and Children, Volume 2
What is TPR, or total physical response?
TPR, or total physical response, is a heavily-researched tool developed in the 1970s by Dr. James Asher, a professor of Psychology. TPR is based on the observation that early language acquisition begins through listening, and must involve the right hemisphere of the brain. Children learn comprehension before speech, and their earliest interactions involve something he calls “language-body conversations” (i.e. hearing language immediately followed by seeing the physical action) which are crucial to building comprehension. Babies listen to us for almost two years before they are able to use words to communicate in meaningful ways, yet they respond physically to what we say much earlier. His development of TPR strategies are based on these principle observations. He believes new vocabulary should be introduced by the teacher with a gesture as the word or phrase is said out loud, and enthusiasm, visuals, and movement should be incorporated. It is the difference between memorizing (processing information only on the left side of our brain) and internalizing (engaging the right brain). The right brain clicks on when you incorporate: acting, gesturing, drawing, playing, touching, demonstrating, whispering, holding, pointing, singing, moving, and showing, among others. This curriculum strives to incorporate these elements and was structured with TPR in mind from the beginning.
How much time will I have to spend teaching each day?
This curriculum is not meant to be scheduled in the sense that you sit down for an hour each day and do a “Spanish lesson.” Each week is a collection of content to weave throughout your day, on as many days as possible. It is intentionally structured to be flexible and taught in small, short lessons. We want to seize every opportunity to include the Spanish language in our everyday lives. Repetition is key to language learning and children are naturally inclined to ask for it. Think of how many times our children ask us to read them their favorite books! As we move through the weeks in this curriculum, we will also want to be looking back and practicing the things we have already learned (and re-read any favorites stories, of course!)
What if my child is resistant to learning Spanish?
Adam Beck is an author raising his children to be bilingual in Japanese and English. I highly recommend reading the book he wrote titled, Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability: Ideas and inspiration for even greater success and joy raising bilingual kids (affiliate link). While he fully acknowledges and relates to the struggles involved in raising kids in a multilingual home, he shares with us many insightful and encouraging perspectives and principles. Beck asks us to ponder an interesting reality: our child wants to be bilingual... the future them, the adult them, wants to be bilingual. He points out that hardly anyone complains about the "difficulties" of growing up with two languages. The majority of those who aren’t bilingual, though, deeply wish that they were.
I like to think of it this way, children don’t always want to eat the broccoli on their plate, but that doesn’t mean we should stop encouraging them to eat it. All of us will encounter times when our children will resist learning or using a minority language, but just like with broccoli, that doesn’t mean we should stop trying! In overcoming the challenges of teaching a second language, we are creating a more meaningful home environment and relationship with our children.
What does it mean to "sufficiently expose" our children to another language?
It has been suggested by researchers, such as Barbara Zurer Pearson and Adam Beck, that sufficient exposure to a minority language means that our children are exposed to that language for about 25 hours per week. If we are new to learning a second language ourselves, that may seem out of reach. Remember, this is only an ideal goal to work towards, not a rule determining our success or failure.
This curriculum is designed to begin effectively exposing our children to the Spanish language. As the weeks go by and we learn how to play more games, sing more songs, act out more finger plays and rhymes, and read more books, we can begin to weave language learning into our day more frequently. Let's build our way towards this exposure goal with joy and enthusiasm, and avoid stressing or worrying about not doing enough. Enthusiasm is contagious. Bringing excitement, rather than stress, to the time we spend using another language is arguably more important than hours spent per week in determining how successful we will be on our journey towards bilingualism. After all, algo es algo; menos es nada, or
something is better than nothing.
What type of Spanish is in this curriculum?
This curriculum is most closely tied to the Spanish spoken in Latin America although efforts have been made to remain as neutral as possible in vocabulary choices.
It's common to hear how "Spain Spanish" is different from "Latin American Spanish." The difference could be understood by comparing how English is spoken in the United States to how it is spoken in England. While English is still understood between people from both countries, it is notably different in how it sounds, and in some of the vocabulary that is commonly used. Even within "Latin American Spanish" there are many different dialects. You may hear the same words pronounced slightly differently while in Argentina, Mexico, or Peru.
If you were a linguistic anthropologist specializing in structural linguistics you might point out that everyone always speaks with an accent! This is true because everyone speaks their own language with a particular set of phonemes (smallest units of sound), and these are not shared by all speakers of that language. We call these differences in pronunciation accents, and they can vary between geographical, ethnic, and social groups. The point is, no matter what language we speak or where we are from, we all have an accent!