My son (age 4) has expressed an interest in learning Spanish. Although this interest comes and goes, I’ve decided to embrace his interest as much as I can. I studied Spanish extensively in college and spent a few months in South America, but in the past decade, I’m sorry to say I’ve let my Spanish usage and training lag. I am a long way from where I used to be. Language learning is not like learning to ride a bicycle: if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Enter: Play and Learn Spanish by Ana Lomba (McGraw Hill 2011), a audiobook/textbook combination providing a series of conversations full of vocabulary that children use. My son and I loved the songs, and after listening to some of the conversations a few times, I find it much easier to incorporate Spanish into my daily conversations with my children.
In the reviews of the program, there were some complaints about how it seems impossible to “learn Spanish” by using this product, so I feel it’s necessary to re-emphasize the author’s instructions for how it works. This is not a program that works by handing it to a child and saying “go for it.” This is a program for a parent to use if he or she is interested in providing a child with an immersive experience in a second language. In other words, the parent needs to learn Spanish along with the child as they listen to the dialogues together.
The accompanying book has the Spanish and English translations written for the parent (I do not believe the book is as helpful for the child, although the pages are bright and interesting, and my son always wanted to turn pages along with the CD). As the parent learns the phrases, he or she should then begin using said phrases in daily conversation with the child. I found the CD to be very successful in helping with pronunciation (reminders in my case, since I was at one point familiar with it). Ms. Lomba speaks with an accent from Spain; my previous Spanish had been South American. After listening to the CD a few times, I found myself pronouncing the s‘s and z‘s as “th” as they do in Spain. It was interesting to me how, even with my previous training, listening to vocabulary repeatedly gave me a subtle change in my own pronunciation. The dialogues and songs are ones that children may regularly have with a parent, caregiver, or friends: playing firemen, going grocery shopping, waiting at a stop light, looking for shoes, and taking a bath. When a parent learns the phrases and words and uses them in context, the child learns the words much as they learned their first language. Language learning is inherent for young children, and I think Play and Learn Spanish is a great way to use a child’s natural talent and interest in the world as a springboard for learning.
In saying how much I love this program, I should remind the reader that, since I did study Spanish intensely in college, it is far easier for me to learn “kid talk” phrases to use with my son than it would be for a parent that has never studied the language. It would be difficult to start learning Spanish with a completely clean slate. Learning and teaching a language will never be easy. However, I believe that whether the parent is a new Spanish learner or not, Play and Learn Spanish would help introduce Spanish to young children. It does take effort to implement, but “playing with Mom” in Spanish will be far more fun for a 2-6-year-old child than workbooks or even videos will be!
My only complaints were with the setup of the CD, but looking at the product on Amazon now, I see that it seems it has been redesigned a little. My issue when I used the program (I used a library copy a few months ago) was that each track had one or two dialogues and/or songs. My son would request one song and we’d have to listen to the dialogue first, for example. It appears that the new edition provides a different track for each separate dialogue. Woo hoo! Also, a few new dialogues have been added. I am eager to go order my own second edition of the program.
I highly recommend Play and Learn Spanish to the dedicated parent instructor. It is not for every parent, but for those willing to put sweat into learning Spanish and implementing it in their child’s life, it is fantastic.
Also, for parents of preschoolers, I’d highly suggest the following free Spanish programs online. If you are looking for more hands-off opportunities for preschool Spanish learning, these may be what you are looking for. It’s amazing to me how much my preschooler learns simply by watching an amusing television show. I overheard him counting to five in Spanish a few weeks ago — and I knew that was from Salsa Spanish!
- Salsa Spanish. More than 30 episodes with familiar children’s stories acted out by puppets, much like Sesame Street. Free lesson plans here correlate to the episodes.
- Aprende con Sesame (via iTunes). 13 free episodes from Children’s Television Workshop that may help children learn Spanish.
- Language Learning on Instant Replay. Live-action Spanish lessons for kids. (There also are similar lessons in French and German.)
I used a library edition of this product; I was not compensated in any way for this review. I am, however, contemplating buying my own edition, especially since it has been redesigned!