Spanish Summer

Many niños Latinos in the United States learn Spanish each summer when they’re shipped off to live with their Abuela. My problem? The Abuela lives with us and my children’s Spanish is still not on grade level with native speaking children. The problem of course is that they have never experienced 100% immersion. They’re in the United States, they speak English with their friends, with each other, with me, even with their father. They watch T.V. in English, they listen to music in English. The Spanish they get is just a small dash each day, heard in the bedtime story, when they are nosy and try to understand what Daddy and Abuela are fighting about, or when their Abuela demands, “Cipote! Pongame el televisor! Quiero ver las noticias!”

It’s not enough and so I decided to do something drastic. This summer at our house is going to be…

I think it would sound better in the voice of a fútbol commentator. That would excite the niños much more than the way I say it. (They weren’t even impressed with jazz hands added in.)

Maybe they have reason to be cynical though. They know something you don’t. You see, ever since my children started school, I’ve always tried to make the summers slightly educational so that their brains wouldn’t turn to mush over their 3 month break, but let me be honest here. I hate schedules and I hate rules, so usually my good intentioned plans to “home school” my children, dissolve into chaos within days. This is a big commitment for someone like me, but I’m determined to stick to it. The main rule of “¡El verano de español!” is that I will speak only Spanish to my children. They are to answer me back in Spanish when they’re able to, but if they can’t, they can reply in English or Spanglish, at least at first. I will try to get my husband on board, but he has stubbornly spoken 90% English to our children all their lives. He made the common and unnecessary mistake of many immigrants who worry that their children won’t learn fluent English and will fall behind in school if they speak the native language at home, but all this does is rob your children of an opportunity and of their roots.

The one drawback of this “Spanish Summer” idea is that Suegra will be privy to our every conversation, but if I must sacrifice, so be it. Besides, I suspect she understands more than she lets on and I’d do well not to become too comfortable in the illusion that she doesn’t.

Anyway – here is where you come in. ¡Sí, tú! … In the comments, leave me your best idea for an activity or lesson I can use this summer with my children. It can be a nursery rhyme, song or poem in Spanish that you learned as a child which you think they should memorize, a recipe they should make, a movie they should see, a book we should read together, a field trip we should take – (we’re in the DC Metro area), or something else entirely – keeping in mind, the theme of this summer is to teach them Spanish.

As an example of what I mean, here are some things I’ve considered doing…

• Having them practice and memorize Spanish tongue twisters, particularly ones that teach the “rr” trill, (which neither child can do.)

• Playing Lotería often and having them read the dichos on the back of each card aloud.

• Going to the Latino market where they can buy a dulce, but they must complete the entire transaction at the register by themselves.

• Watching favorite movies with the Spanish language option turned on.

• Reading Latin American nursery rhymes together.

• Buying a tape recorder for them to play with and recording them speaking each week so they can hear their improvement.

• Teaching them traditional recipes.

• Having them write a letter to relatives in El Salvador in Spanish.

• Having them keep a daily journal/diary to their father, where they must write one sentence per day telling him what they did while he was at work, (in Spanish.)

• Taking a geography test and filling in the country names on a map of Central and South America.

Alright, now it’s your turn! (Best idea wins a Spicy Maya Chuao chocolate bar!)


  1. Ola!

    That’s the extent of my Spanish speaking lol….

    however there are lots of great activities out there for ESL… so why not google those and change them to SSL! I think you’d be surprised at what you find :)

    I also like for reproducibles… I’m sure there’s a similar site with Spanish stuff on it too.

  2. Ok, so here is what I do with my kids. I play “La Viejita Mejicana” where I pretend I’m a little old lady who is half senile, and I ask them a lot of questions about themselves: full name, age, family information, personal likes and dislikes, relationships they may have, where they work (the giggle immensely at that one), who they are married to, what subjects in school they like, what they like to do in their free time, and I ask these questions in a little old lady voice with little old lady responses and movements (hunched over, lots of “Ay, que linda! Que preciosa!”), I give tons of compliments, and never understand anything in English. For the silliness of it, they play along and will answer me as best they can (mostly horrid) and I never critique, only assist with this game. I also bought my older one a Webster Spanish Dictionary and I’ve asked her to read it at night when she goes to bed, a few words here and there can’t hurt. And since purchasing this book, I’ve seen her refer to it twice (once while being nosy) to see what something meant. A few years ago, I bought her a workbook for her grade level and sat with her and we went over everything (nothing stuck, but I felt proactive anyway). And I also feed her sentences word for word and ask her to repeat them for me, for example if she asks for an apple I will say “Si, pero primero me tienes que preguntar in Espanol. Asi tienes que dicer- Ama, puedo comer un manzana?” If she really wants it, she’ll do it, otherwise, she’ll go without. (She usually complies.) The final thing that I recommend is to have your husband explain to the boys WHY it is important TO HIM that his children be able to speak his native tongue and to be able to fully communicate with his family. When my husband did that, she was 1) really shocked how important it seemed to him, and 2) not just getting it from me, and 3) was able to see the united front and realized that it wasn’t some passing fad or silly idea we had come up with that we were not going to care about it a few days. I don’t know, but it seems that since then, she has taken it a tad more serious, though she still never talks in Spanish unless told :( I wish you luck on this endeavor friend!

  3. Your ideas are great! I live in DC and the Mexican Cultural Institute on 16th St has really awesome programs. (I’m not sure if they have a Salvadorean version.) The best way to raise bi-lingual children, in general, is for one parent to only speak Spanish and the other English. My parents were the same as your husband though, worried that my brother and I would fall behind in school. We’ve got to spread the word!

    Enjoy el verano de espanol. I think it’s a really great idea and I just may do it too. :)

  4. We have had the boys share one good thing they liked about their day at dinner time. (I had one that was starting to focus on the negative things in life. Ugh!) Maybe your family could share one thing good in the day, but only in Spanish.

    Just an idea. I wish I could totally immerse my boys in sign language. You know, now that I said it, maybe we will have sign only days this summer. What do you think?

  5. Great idea! I do the same thing when I yell out “dia de espanol!” and my kids sigh and protest like champs. Too bad, I say. My husband is definitely on board, but forgets often. I’d check out spanglishbaby if you haven’t already. But it sounds like you’ve got some good ideas already! I might just have to try some.

  6. Another good source is:
    “Pronouncing the Spanish R” from site:
    Read it, it has nice advices.

    But in the following pages you will find the best sources. The
    homepage of the website is “Phonetics: The Sounds of English and
    Spanish – THe University of Iowa”:
    “This site contains animated libraries of the phonetic sounds of
    Spanish and English. Available for each consonant and vowel is an
    animated articulatory diagram, a step-by-step description, and
    video-audio of the sound spoken in context.”
    Take note that the Flash and Quicktime plugins are needed, at the
    bottom of the page you will find info related to this and you will see
    if you have them installed or not.

    To read about how this page can help you go to its “About” page:

    The link to the required page for R pronunciation diagrams and sound samples is:
    “Spanish sounds library”:
    In this page to find the r and rr pronunciations select MODO first and
    in the row that will appear below select VIBRANTES, the two sounds
    will be available now. Press the Play buttons

    The following “Articulatory Anatomy” page will be useful to you to
    work with the instructions on Rolling r:

    Additional sources and helpful samples can be found after the following links:
    “pronunciation – rr y r”:

    “CCSF Language Center Spanish Links”, from City College of San
    Francisco Language Center:

    “Sample Pronunciation” from Web Spanish Tutor:

  7. COMMENT # 1

    As a native Spanish/English speaker I can suggest you to start imitating the
    growl of a hostile dog: GRRRRRRRR!!

    During this act take note on the position of the tongue and how the
    sound is emitted.

    Remember that in Spanish language we have two “different” sounds for the R:
    gorra, rojo, rápido
    arado, trueno, erario.

    These two sounds are not so different, and the second one is basically
    the same as the first one, but expressed quickly and very shorter.

  8. COMMENT # 2

    I found several documents in the web that can help you in this task:
    “r Pronunciation:
    As opposed to the English r, which is formed in the back of the mouth
    with the back of the tongue, the Spanish r is formed using the tip of
    the tongue on the upper palatte, behind the front teeth, more like the
    English d.”
    From “Web Spanish Lessons – Lesson 1” by Tyler Jones and Jennifer Chambers:

  9. COMMENT # 3

    “rr Pronunciation:
    In Lesson 1 you learned how to pronounce the Spanish r. The Spanish rr
    is pronounced differently than the single r – it is made by rolling
    the r on the upper palate, to produce a quick series of the Spanish r
    sounds. If a single r occurs at the beginning of a word (as in rojo),
    it is pronounced as a double-r (rr). Otherwise, only the rr is
    pronounced this way, as in marrón. If you are old enough, you might
    remember the “R-r-r-r-ruffles have r-r-r-r-r-ridges” commercials –
    this is the sound you are trying to make. It takes practice to do it
    From “Web Spanish Lessons – Lesson 2” by Tyler Jones and Jennifer Chambers:

  10. I’m trying to give you a link but the system doesn’t let me for some reason, so I had to do it this way.

    june29 dot com

    Just add the “http://www.” In front of it and change the word “dot “ for a dot.

  11. My personal system to learn another idiom is to get a word a day and use it all day long in any way possible until you got it right and learned, next day you get another word and do the same thing, and so on, in 3 or 4 months you are ready to hold a conversation and understand most of whatever they tell you, to hold a conversation in any idiom you don’t need more than 100 words.


  12. Senora Lopez, so good to hear you’re not perfect either! My soon to be 4 year old son and I will greet his baby sister later this month (or early next month), and I’ve been hoping we can all focus on Spanish more this summer too, so she’ll have a stronger start than he has had so far. I’m Latina-ish too, so I also lack the childhood songs and rituals that I’m hoping folks share with you to use with your kids.

    Music has worked wonders for us. When in the car, while taking a bath, just in the background, by playing the same cds, he catches on to new words and we can incorporate them in our day. Singalingo has a great one that just arrived to us.

    Along this line, videos have been beneficial too. Little Pim and Baby Abuelita are current favorites. I wish we got more children’s programming in Spanish, but we have to rely on Saturday mornings with Univision or these videos.

    As a reward, by giving toys or outings is another thing that has worked recently. My son knows that when he learns so many new Spanish words, he will get a new toy that he has been talking about for weeks. Even at 3, he is motivated by this. I just have to keep reinforcing the words so that he can reach this goal. He wants a bigger toy, but we worked on a smaller goal first, to show him that he can do it. (5 words versus 50 words.)

    Please share how you do this summer and perhaps we can keep each other motivated. Bendiciones for your summer Spanish challenge!

  13. Este comentario mío hoy fue un desastre, por alguna razón el sistema no me dejaba ponerlo todo junto como yo quería y lo tuve que poner en secciones y a lo mejor no hace sentido pero ármalo como puedas por favor como si fuera rompecabezas je je je je.

    “R con R cigarro, R con R barril, que rápido ruedan los carros cargados de azúcar del ferrocarril.”

  14. @ All – I’m seeing some excellent ideas here! I will have to let my family help choose a winner.

    For those who have expressed an interest in joining me this summer and doing something similar, (even if with a different language) – LET’S DO IT! … I could post weekly updates and you can tell me how you’re doing or leave a link to your blog update in comments. Feel free to use the “¡El verano de español!” banner as well.

    @Humincat – Oh man, you had me laughing. We have our own version of “La Viejita Mejicana”, but I use a stuffed rabbit. She doesn’t ask nice questions though and she can be quite violent. I’m not sure how that game developed. LOL. You and me, we are both weird, hermana ;)

    @ Cuty – Por dios that’s a lot of comments! You really want that chocolate bar, huh? LOL ;) … The “R con R cigarro” is one of the ones I wanted to teach my kids, but personally I didn’t use any specific method to learn the “rr”. It took a few years of just speaking Spanish, and one day it just happened. I was so shocked. LOL.

    @Amanda – Wait, you thought I was perfect before I posted this?! LOL. Darn it. The illusion has been shattered. Hee hee.

  15. Okay guys – I couldn’t pick a winner so I used to keep it completely fair. The random winner of the Chuao chocolate bar is…

    (Click the link to see a screen capture of the results!)

  16. I am definitely going to try this at home. I think one thing that might work with my bebas that are party girls is a fiesta day a week. On Fiesta Day, we celebrate a Latin American country (music, food, and some craft). You can find tons of free stuff online.

    For example for Mexico, a great mini documentary on mariachis:

    Thanks for the great idea!

  17. Te amos,
    Me Amas
    Somos una gran familia
    con abrazos y besos para ti
    di me que me quieres tu ami

    (Okay, I learned this in spanish in high school and I can still sing it–it’s the barney song–sorta–or at least a loose translation)I might have misspelled some of the words, but it’s always good to put learning to music. :) Good luck!

  18. I have similar good intentions around Summer break. I have a schedule, a plan of what I want the kids to accomplish over the 2 months off, and then within days it somehow gets sidetracked and the rest is bunk.

    We don’t have the exciting opportunity to speak any other language though (we are so very anglo for better or worse) but my kids are not up to grade with reading and their penmanship is terrible. It makes me wonder what they have been doing all this time at school sometimes.

    Good luck!

  19. Hi, i am venezuelan with colombian roots, in kinder i learn this colombian- nursery rhyme, IS kind of sad but is the kind of tale good for learning spanish:

    el renacuajo paseador ( traslated freely like: the party tadpole)

    El hijo de rana, Rinrín renacuajo

    Salió esta mañana muy tieso y muy majo

    Con pantalón corto, corbata a la moda

    Sombrero encintado y chupa de boda.

    -¡Muchacho, no salgas¡- le grita mamá

    pero él hace un gesto y orondo se va.

    Halló en el camino, a un ratón vecino

    Y le dijo: -¡amigo!- venga usted conmigo,

    Visitemos juntos a doña ratona

    Y habrá francachela y habrá comilona.

    A poco llegaron, y avanza ratón,

    Estírase el cuello, coge el aldabón,

    Da dos o tres golpes, preguntan: ¿quién es?

    -Yo doña ratona, beso a usted los pies

    ¿Está usted en casa? -Sí señor sí estoy,

    y celebro mucho ver a ustedes hoy;

    estaba en mi oficio, hilando algodón,

    pero eso no importa; bienvenidos son.

    Se hicieron la venia, se dieron la mano,

    Y dice Ratico, que es más veterano :

    Mi amigo el de verde rabia de calor,

    Démele cerveza, hágame el favor.

    Y en tanto que el pillo consume la jarra

    Mandó la señora traer la guitarra

    Y a renacuajo le pide que cante

    Versitos alegres, tonada elegante.

    -¡Ay! de mil amores lo hiciera, señora,

    pero es imposible darle gusto ahora,

    que tengo el gaznate más seco que estopa

    y me aprieta mucho esta nueva ropa.

    -Lo siento infinito, responde tía rata,

    aflójese un poco chaleco y corbata,

    y yo mientras tanto les voy a cantar

    una cancioncita muy particular.

    Mas estando en esta brillante función

    De baile y cerveza, guitarra y canción,

    La gata y sus gatos salvan el umbral,

    Y vuélvese aquello el juicio final

    Doña gata vieja trinchó por la oreja

    Al niño Ratico maullándole: ¡Hola!

    Y los niños gatos a la vieja rata

    Uno por la pata y otro por la cola

    Don Renacuajito mirando este asalto

    Tomó su sombrero, dio un tremendo salto

    Y abriendo la puerta con mano y narices,

    Se fue dando a todos noches muy felices

    Y siguió saltando tan alto y aprisa,

    Que perdió el sombrero, rasgó la camisa,

    se coló en la boca de un pato tragón

    y éste se lo embucha de un solo estirón

    Y así concluyeron, uno, dos y tres

    Ratón y Ratona, y el Rana después;

    Los gatos comieron y el pato cenó,

    ¡y mamá Ranita solita quedó!

    i dont have the traslation, but i hope that still works

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