$panish $ummer

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!


Estoy completamente rendida. Esta semana decidí motivar (o sobornar, depende tu perspectiva) a los niños para que hablen español. Usé dólares del juego Monopoly para representar dólares reales y por cada día que ellos intentaban hablar español la mayor parte del día, recibieron un dólar. (Ellos saben que en una fecha posterior pueden cambiar el dinero del juego por dinero real.)

Suena como una buena idea, ¿verdad? El problema es que mi hijo menor está obsesionado con ganar tantos dólares como sea posible. Me habla todo el día hasta que me vuelvo loca. (Si no me conoces bien, necesito mi espaciocito y silencio.)

Peor, a mi hijo se le ocurrió un nuevo esquema. Primero él me preguntó: “¿Puedo ganar un dólar si hago tres páginas en el libro de español?” Estuve de acuerdo para que me dejara en paz.

Después mi hijo me preguntó si él mira una hora de televisión en español iba a ganar otro dólar. Estuve de acuerdo otra vez para que me dejara en paz.

Haciendo la historia más corta, estoy en deuda pero el español de mi hijo está mejorando.


I’m completely exhausted. This week I decided to motivate (or bribe, depending on your perspective) the kids to speak more Spanish. I used Monopoly dollars to represent real dollars and each day that the boys tried to speak Spanish the majority of the day, they received a dollar. (They know that at a future date they’ll be able to trade the play money in for real money.)

Sounds like a good idea, right? The problem is that my younger son is obsessed with trying to earn as many dollars as possible. He talks to me all day long until he drives me crazy. (If you don’t know me well, I need my personal space and quiet.)

Even worse, my son figured out a new scheme. First he asked me, “Can I earn a dollar if I do three pages in the Spanish workbook?” – I agreed so he would leave me alone.

Then my son asked if he watched television for an hour in Spanish would he earn another dollar. I agreed again so that he’d leave me alone.

Long story short, I’m in debt but my son’s Spanish is getting better.

Verano de Español: Chucho

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!


Hoy tenemos una semana haciendo el “Verano de Español” en nuestra casa y va bien. Mis hijos tienen 14 y 11 años y este es el cuarto año de “Verano de Español” – (por no hablar de que hemos estado hablando más español en general desde el primer año, no sólo durante el verano.) O sea, todos sabemos qué esperar y no es tan difícil este año.

Mi hijo mayor es más reacio a responder en español espontánea pero cuando lo hace, su vocabulario siempre me sorprende. Un día quería hablar conmigo sobre la bolsa de valores y le instruí intentar lo en español. Él puso los ojos y suspiró, pero luego lo hizo excelente.

Mi hijo menor me habla en español espontánea pero todavia está aprendiendo vocabulario. Me pregunta muchas veces al día qué significa una palabra, o cómo decir algo en español. Ojalá está absorbiendo todo como una esponja.

Anoche, jugamos un juego que es casi una versión de Scrabble en español. Mi hijo menor quería jugar y dijo: “Vamos a jugar en español” – a pesar de que se puede jugar en inglés. Sonreí cuando se deletreó la palabra “vos” – pero me reí cuando en su siguiente turno se deletreó “chucho.”

Parece que su vocabulario salvadoreño está bien establecido.



Today we’re a week into doing “Spanish Summer” at our house and it’s going well. My sons are 14 and 11 years old and this is our fourth year doing “Spanish Summer”- (not to mention that we’ve been speaking more Spanish in general since the first year, not only during the summer.) In other words, we all know what to expect and it’s not as difficult this year.

My older son is more reluctant to speak Spanish without prompting, but when he does, his vocabulary blows me away. One day he wanted to talk to me about the stock market and I instructed him to do it in Spanish. He rolled his eyes and sighed, but he did an excellent job.

My younger son speaks Spanish without prompting but is still learning vocabulary. He asks me many times each day what a word means or how to say something in Spanish. Hopefully he’s absorbing everything like a sponge.

Last night, we played a game which is pretty much a Spanish version of Scrabble. My younger son wanted to play and said, “Let’s play in Spanish” – even though it’s possible to play it in English. I smiled when he spelled the word “vos” (a word commonly used in El Salvador to mean “you”), but I laughed when on his next turn he spelled the word “chucho.” (“Chucho” is slang for “dog” in El Salvador.)

It looks like his Salvadoran vocabulary is well established.

Spanish Summer Otra Vez

The niños are out of school for the summer and that means “¡El verano de español!” at la Casa López.

“¡El verano de español!” – (“Spanish Summer”) – originally started out with me simply committing to speak to my children only in Spanish all summer. At first it was a headache. I suffered self doubt and frustration with my own limitations in the language. I tried many methods, including bribery. I asked myself everyday if I was wasting my time. Finally, things started to get better for all of us, (though things did sometimes get lost in translation.)

Thankfully, by the end of the summer I had grown more comfortable and so I continued trying to speak Spanish to the kids as much as possible even when they had gone back to school.

Por supesto, there have been days conducted mostly in English – this usually happens when I’m tired or annoyed with Suegra and don’t want her to be privy to our conversations just out of pettiness – but for the most part, I think I’ve done well to make this an “OPOL” home. (The funny thing is, I’m the one speaking Spanish to the kids while Carlos speaks to them in English. I think we’d get better results if we traded roles, but whatever.)

So this summer I need to take things up a notch. I want the boys to respond to me more in Spanish and I want them to come up to grade level. What I’ve begun to do is ignore them when they speak English. (This sounds really mean typed out like that.) … My older son will talk to me for awhile and I’ll look at him blankly before saying, “¿Qué? No entiendo.” He will then usually roll his eyes and say, “Mommy, come on!” before sighing in annoyance and struggling to repeat it in Spanish. His vocabulary is actually very good, but he needs work on verb tense and accent.

My younger son has been much more agreeable. Yesterday he said, “Mommy, I’m hungry.” … I pulled out my “No entiendo” line and he smiled before saying, “Tengo hambre…muchachita bonita.” … I almost died laughing. I don’t know where he got the “muchachita bonita” from. Apparently Spanish translations require adding piropos.

My younger son’s vocabulary isn’t as extensive as his older brother’s but his accent and reading are fantastic. (I think this is due to the fact that I didn’t read in Spanish as much to my older son when he was little, as I did with my younger son.)

So both boys have different strengths and weaknesses which makes it more challenging for me to fine tune activities to best help them in the areas where they’re lacking.

Besides simply requiring them to speak Spanish more often, I have them doing writing and reading work in Spanish daily. This will usually be a worksheet from a book or one I just make up but one day last week it was something a little more creative. The boys wanted to sell “bolis” (ice pops) – so I told them they could, as long as the sign was bilingual.

Obviously, they made the sign without asking me for help so the Spanish isn’t totally correct, but we’re working on it.

Raising Bilingual Niños: Tip #2

Well, the niños are back to school which means summer, and “Spanish Summer“, is over. Does that mean I’m going to go back to speaking English with them? N’hombre! … If anything, now I need to make extra sure that I’m speaking Spanish with them here at home as most of their day will be in English with their friends and teachers. This is no longer a simple experiment or “jump start” for my children. We will now speak Spanish at home as much as possible, which is what we should have been doing from the start.

We all learned so much this summer, not just the niños, but me – and even my husband who is the only native speaker, (besides Suegra!) … One lazy Saturday morning I rolled over in bed and my husband kissed me good morning. Still half asleep I mumbled, “Now I’m hungry. I was dreaming about semita de higo.”

My husband said, “Higo?” and laughed at me, thinking I had made up a word. Later in the day I looked it up on the internet and showed him that it meant “fig” in English, but not knowing what a “fig” is either, he remained skeptical until we asked Suegra. Her very Salvadoran response to her son, “Higo! No sabes qué es higo, vos?! Puchica, ‘stas perdido, Tata.”

So, we continue to speak Spanish, and when I forget, slipping back into the comfort of English like a pair of sweat pants I should have thrown out a long time ago, even the children remind me in their own way. Just this morning my 8 year old got ready for school and then plopped down beside me in bed.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.
“We could read ‘Rats of NIMH’?” I said, referring to a chapter book we’ve been reading each night before bed.
“Nah,” he responded, “That’s only for noche.”

Noche. It came out of his mouth so naturally, without even thinking, his accent changing just for that one word. My kids are now responding to me in Spanglish, and sometimes even in perfect Spanish, when I’ve mistakenly spoken English to them. The tables have turned! Earlier this year it was me who would stubbornly respond in Spanish to their English, all the while, wondering if I was wasting my time.

And so the lesson (and tip #2) – Keep at it. Stay strong. Be patient. Speak to your children in Spanish as much as possible. Even if it seems like they’re ignoring you, annoyed with you, or not catching on, trust that the gears are turning and words are being filed away. Don’t forget to keep it fun and find Spanish in unexpected places. Take a “field trip” to the Latino Market, or Lowe’s Home Improvement center. That seems like a random thing to say, but check out the video and you’ll see what I mean.

And just in case anyone is wondering, Lowe’s didn’t pay me to make this video in any way. (I think they were actually kind of annoyed with us running around their store.) … Of course, if they’d like to re-model my house to say ‘thanks’, they should feel free to E-mail me.

Spanish Summer: Conejito Azul

My youngest niño just asked me for a popsicle. It’s before noon, but it’s summer time and it’s hot already, so I figured, ¿porqué no?

“¿Cuál quieres?” I asked, opening the freezer.
“Hmmm,” he said, “Quiero, el conejito azul.”

First, I was surprised that he answered me in Spanish. He’s doing this more and more without prompting the past couple days, which is very exciting – but, what in the world was he talking about? I asked him which kind of ice cream he wants and he responds with “the little blue rabbit”. I thought something got seriously lost in translation until I looked into my freezer.

Spanish Summer: Flavor

This evening I overheard my oldest niño ask Suegra if she wanted some candy.

¿Quieres dulces?

¿De qué son? De mango? (What kind are they? Mango?)

He shook his head.

“No, tienen otro flavor.”

(For non-Spanish speakers)
: His reply was funny but also shows he has intuitively learned some Spanish grammar rules. He was trying to say, “No, they have another flavor”, but instead of the word “sabor” for “flavor”, he made up his own word “flavor” (Pronounced “flah-voor” rather than “flay-ver”). Though it isn’t correct, this was a good guess! Many English words ending in “-or” are easily converted to Spanish by keeping the spelling the same and just pronouncing them differently. (For example: actor, doctor, pastor.) “Flavor” just isn’t one of them!


Even before I started “Spanish Summer” and speaking to the niños solamente en español, we have enjoyed playing Lotería as a family. I’ve tried establishing a “Family Game Night” with varying degrees of success. Sometimes we forget for a few months, the board games collect dust, and then someone will say, “Hey, what happened to Family Game Night?”

My vision for Family Game Night is that when the kids are teenagers, it’s something they’ll still look forward to doing – it will be family bonding, a time to unplug from everything else and talk while maybe sharing a pizza before going back to our computers, cell phones, iPod headphones, and all those other contraptions that keep us separate even while sitting in the same room.

One problem is deciding on a game to play. My business-minded oldest son always wants to pick Monopoly, which I hate with a passion. My youngest son used to love “Elefun”, a plastic elephant that shot butterflies out of his trunk which we then had to catch – but the pobre elefante broke. My husband likes to play anything he can win. You wouldn’t suspect him of being competitive because he’s very quiet, but when he wins, you should see the impish grin on his face.

My favorite is Lotería, the Mexican version of Bingo. The kids have learned some Spanish vocabulary from playing it, but I just enjoy the artwork and the little riddles on the cards. We have an old-fashioned authentic looking version which we picked up at the local Latino market for around $5. We like to use real dry frijoles as markers instead of the little plastic ones that came with it.

When we play Lotería we tend to get a little silly at times. Once while I was calling out the cards I gave a besito to “El Musico”. My husband eyed me unhappily, my love for mariachi again causing a bit of celos.

In an effort to make things even, the kids decided to find a card for their father to kiss. “Here, Daddy,” one of the niños said, handing him a card with “La Dama”, (a pretty properly dressed lady.) My husband shook his head and pushed it away. “No, not that one,” he said.

He shuffled through the cards for a moment before finding “La Sirena”, the half-naked mermaid.

“This one.”

Hmph. Maybe I want to play Monopoly after all.

Spanish Summer: Soborno (Bribery)

I resorted to bribery. I’m not proud of it, but it is working.

The kids Spanish comprehension has been increasing in leaps and bounds, but I want them to SPEAK fluently. The conversations were typical of 1st generation American kids, with them responding in English, even though they understood exactly what I said in Spanish.

I remember a kid in my Spanish class in middle school. He used to ask me for help on the assigned “páginas” in the workbook. (How we groaned when we heard that word!) That kid asking for my help was 100% Latino, with a Spanish first and last name, two Spanish speaking parents at home, and he got made fun of hard for stumbling over basic exercises like, “Me llamo Enrique y yo soy de los Estados Unidos.”

I asked him why he couldn’t speak Spanish. He said, “I UNDERSTAND it, I just can’t speak it. I can’t put the sentences together in my head on my own.” … This made absolutely no sense to me at the time, but now watching my kids heading down the same path, I realize this is a common problem.

Well, I don’t want my kids to be Enrique so I resorted to bribery. I bought a jumbo bag of jelly beans and poured them into a jar, their tempting colors on full display. I then got two other jars and marked my children’s name on them. I explained that every time they responded to me in Spanish instead of English, and every time I heard them speaking Spanish with each other, they would get to put a “frijol” in their jar.

The boys responded to this game even more enthusiastically than I expected. Soon I found myself saying “Un frijol para ti” a dozen times per hour. I’ve created monsters. My younger son had the idea to do workbook pages for frijoles. They have a few workbooks, a couple Silabarios and another one that has little tongue twisters which they copy into a journal and then read aloud to me. Here’s an example:

Mi nena me ama.
Nena ama a Papá.
Mamá mima a nene.
Nina ama a mi nomo.

When they first began trying to read Spanish, they would read words using English grammar rules. For example, they would pronounce “silla” (chair) as having an “L” sound in the middle rather than the “Y” sound required for the “ll” in Spanish. (For non-Spanish speakers “silla” is pronounced phonetically as “see-ya”.) … Now they are applying proper rules all on their own much of the time.

Here are mis niños reading one of these little tongue twisters, (and being silly as usual.)

As for the jelly beans, I think I’m going to have to switch to some other sort of currency or else my children will soon have cavities along with their fluency.

Spanish Summer: La Piscina

Tomorrow marks two weeks since I began speaking only Spanish to mis niños. It’s getting a little easier for me, but if I don’t begin to mix it up a little, I think that by the end of the summer they will only learn verb tenses for making demands such as “Clean your room”, “Behave and eat your food”, and “Go play!” … I never realized that being a mother is akin to being a dictator at times.

One obstacle we’ve run into is that I have no privacy when speaking to the niños when Suegra is around. It isn’t like I’m constantly bad mouthing her to the kids, but sometimes I want to tell them something that isn’t her business. To do this, I switch to English, and Suegra is immediately suspicious and paranoid when I do that. It has created some tension, to put it mildly.

Yesterday, to escape the negative energy in the house, I took the boys swimming. Because thunderstorms were approaching, the pool was nearly empty which is a luxury I don’t take for granted. I grew up in a house with my own pool and now that I’m subjected to the horrors of public pools, having it to myself is a rare and appreciated occasion.

The water felt cold under an overcast sky, but after a few minutes, we got used to it. We swam in relative peace under the bored gaze of three lifeguards for awhile and then some more people showed up. It was an Anglo guy and his son. The little blond boy was probably about 5 years old, and with that typical 5 year old energy, he bounded into the pool, splashing and squealing, shattering my hopes for a quiet swim.

“Want to play with me?!” he said to my sons. My boys are 8 and 11, but they’re kind, so they obliged, at least for a little while. When they grew bored with the baby games, they swam out to deeper waters to join me. After a few minutes, the little boy began calling them earnestly from the shallow end of the pool.

“Hey guys! Come back! Come play with me!”

The father of the boy relaxed in a lounge chair, making no attempt to silence the boy as he called after us over and over again.

The boys looked at me pleadingly. “Don’t make us go back, please.”

I answered in Spanish, “Diga le que estas descansando y puedes jugar más tarde.” (Tell him that you’re resting and that you can play later.)

My 8 year old cupped his hands around his mouth to amplify the sound and called out, “¡¡MÁS TARDE!!”

My 11 year old and I burst into laughter and my 8 year old had no idea why.

“You just told him in Spanish, baboso!” My older son told his little brother.

My 8 year old cupped his hands around his mouth and called out again,


Spanish Summer Mutiny

The other day I began “El verano de español”. My youngest son said, “We’re starting el día de español already?”

I corrected him, “Verano, not día. Día is only a day. We’re doing it the whole summer. Verano means summer.”

“Oh, Mommy!” he said, “The whole summer?!”

Within minutes he was acting more enthusiastic though, opening the freezer and telling me, “Te quiero una popsicle.” (“I love you, a popsicle” … he meant “Quiero una paleta” = I want a popsicle.)

But it isn’t just the kids who need work. Old habits die hard. When I was in Miami surrounded by the “tiki tiki” of Latinas, I fell into the rhythm, but here at home, it’s different. I think it’s natural for a mother to want to communicate with her children in her native tongue and making demands of them in Spanish strips me of some authority. Not only do I sound less certain of my words, but the kids, while they manage to extract the meaning of what I’ve said, they don’t react to it with the same sense of urgency.

If I tell the kids to “behave” in English, there is an unspoken but known threat in the nuance of it. “Portanse bien” feels fluffy in my mouth – a flashing lighthouse in the fog warning of sharp rocks, instead of a bold red stop sign. My motherly threats in Spanish don’t give fair notice of the discipline to come if my words are not heeded. Perhaps in time they’ll learn, and I will too.

I’m reading a book right now and some of the text jumped off the page at me because I related so much to it. Here one of the characters, a native Spanish speaker, talks about how her words lose meaning in English. (Of course, for me, it’s vice versa.)

“No,” I said, and again, the English words failed me. In Spanish, I could make a man tremble, force a woman to bite her tongue. But not in English…The words didn’t sound angry like they would have in Spanish, didn’t poke through the air with the same fire or conviction…”

-The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse

The first day of “El verano de español” was the hardest for me. When the kids misbehaved, I stood there like a stuttering idiot, the words danced past my tongue, almost within grasp, before disappearing, like playful dolphins breaking the surface, smiling teasingly and sinking back into the depths of the ocean. That night, as if my brain short circuited, I dreamed the entire night in Spanish, which is rare. I typically have occasional dreams in Spanish, but not an entire night’s worth.

The next day at the grocery store, as I shucked corn with the boys, I chatted with them in Spanish, (though they replied to me in 90% English.) At one point in the conversation, my oldest son couldn’t understand what I was saying and became frustrated. Throwing down a corn cob he said, (loud enough for nearby families to hear), “Stop speaking Spanish! I can’t understand you! Can’t you just speak English!?”

¡Qué vergüenza! My cheeks reddened to match the color of the nearby apples. Full of embarrassment and anger, this time, my Spanish did not fail me.

“Inglés? Tú quieres inglés?… Mira, voy a darte inglés cuando regresamos a la casa y estoy dandote un chancletazo! ¿Cómo crees que vas a hablar con tu mamá así en frente de todo el mundo? Nunca me hables así, me entiendes?”

Believe me, he understood that.