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.


  1. Tracy,

    What a great idea and great method. It sounds like you’ve created an environment in your home where your kids may feel pushed and challenged, but they can see that the motivation is pure love so you all can be light-hearted about it.

    I’m making mental notes and will follow your progress as I figure out how to work my own two boys.

    I´m curious (chismoso) – I noticed while watching the “Mosca Hunting” video that your husband was speaking English to the boys. Maybe you address this in a different post, but what’s the reason? I’m mostly asking because I see a scenario where, as my boys get older, it might be easier to communicate in English with them. Tell me everything!


    • Hola chismoso! jajaja ;) … Always love your comments, Rubén and you know I’m an open book and will answer any question. I was wondering how many noticed Carlos speaking English to the kids. You win! … (I’ll have to think of a prize later. LOL.)

      I don’t think I’ve covered this in a post, other than a sentence or two.

      The reason Carlos speaks English to the kids:

      When we first met, he spoke almost no English. We got married, moved in with my parents and had our first baby all within the span of a year. Carlos’s English was pretty basic. I wish I had video of us communicating back then – the mental gymnastics we had to go through to understand each other sometimes! We had to draw pictures, use a dictionary, etc. (My Spanish was only a little better than his English.)

      My family, and Carlos himself, saw it as a priority that he learn English so he could get a good job and support his new little family, (and HOPEFULLY, move out of my parent’s house. LOL. They were very welcoming but were very open to the idea of us flying the nest as well. LOL.)

      So Carlos was completely immersed in English living with my family and when the baby was born – of course, the baby was immersed in English as well. I suggested to Carlos that he should speak Spanish to the baby on various occasions but it felt awkward to him. Maybe he felt subconscious doing it around us? … And then as the baby grew and quickly learned to understand commands and say his own words – Carlos worried that if he spoke Spanish to the baby, that the baby wouldn’t understand him/bond with him/love him. Eventually it comes to a point where it feels like it’s “too late” (though it isn’t) – and Carlos also had the typical immigrant concerns of wanting his child to exceed in school – he worried that Spanish would mix him up.

      We did move out, and then Suegra moved in. So the baby was exposed to Spanish, though not enough that he became fully bilingual. Along came baby #2 … Now Carlos was just so set in his ways of speaking English with our first son, he still refused to speak Spanish with child #2 …. Eventually child #2 starts understanding/speaking (mostly English) —- and he communicates with his brother in English.

      These days Carlos tries to mix in Spanish but it’s a hard habit to break…. I know I felt funny when I started speaking Spanish to the boys. You feel sort of like an actor on a stage, performing, rather than simply speaking to your kids — but eventually it becomes comfortable. Carlos just hasn’t done it enough to break through to that point – but I’m pushing him to speak to them more in Spanish. He understands now that it’s important and that we screwed up…. With a trip to El Salvador looming in the next month or two – maybe I’ll convince Carlos to step it up. Vamos a ver!

      Let me know if you have more questions!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I think that it is great that you keep speaking Spanish to them so that they will learn. In college, I took one linguistic class in particular called “Linguistics and Growing Up Bilingual” and it taught that children have the most success learning two languages when one parent speaks solely one language and the parent speaks solely the other language. It makes sense because it kind of forces the child to learn both of the languages to be able to communicate and it exposes them to each. I have a lot of friends who only speak Spanish to their children and say “No es problema. Ellos van a aprender Ingles en la escuela.” I’m not entirely sure I agree with this method, however, my kids are pretty young (age 1 and 5) so I havn’t figured it out yet. I think you’re kids’ signs are super cute! Do you save cute pieces of artwork that they do? I do and that would be a perfect piece to save LOL. When I met my husband, he spoke great English and I was fluent in Spanish and now he usually only speaks Spanish to the kids and I speak both…I’ve noticed that I speak more Spanish when I’m mad which my parents say might not be a great idea because they may associate Spanish with mad feelings :). I’m also the Spanish teacher at my daughter’s school so I really passionate about teaching both of the kids. I would say that they are doing great so far. My son is almost two and he speaks (the little that he does) both and my daughter understands everything and can speak although her grammar isn’t perfect. She will say things like “Yo tiene un camisa azul.” Wrong conjugations and mixing up the masculine and feminine but I’m glad that she tries. As long as they continue to be exposed, it will come to them don’t you think?

  3. Hi Tracy. Congratulations on your continued efforts to reinforce Spanish in the home. My youngest, who attends a Spanish immersion program, will be out of school next week for vacation. My husband and I have decided we are going to speak to him exclusively in Spanish several days a week, just to keep him progressing. It’s amazing how quickly he has absorbed it, including spelling correctly with accentos. I wish we had a similar program for our older kids. They get Spanish at school but it’s not enough. I hope that our Spanish speaking summer will benefit them too. I know it will benefit me. I need a lot of practice. We’ll see how it goes.

  4. Yay for you! It will get easier and easier I’m sure. I’m attempting more this year too. We now have more Spanish children’s programming on tv, which I will implement as needed too. My kids spend so much more time with me, since my husband works so much, so I’ll have to get out of my comfort zone a bit. I want it to be easier for them than it was for me or my husband to learn a 2nd language. Here’s to this summer’s attempt! :)

  5. Great inspiration. Dare i try it again in our house? OOOhhhh, my middle child will hate me. His dislike for Spanish is quite ridiculous, knowing it’s his dad’s first language and half his family only speaks Spanish. But I think it’s a great idea. I may just have to bribe him though, to make it through.
    For me, it always becomes tricky when we’re out and about. Unless my husband is with us, I always start feeling self-concious if there are other people around…like they’re thinking ‘why is she talking to her kids in spanish’ or ‘she sure is saying that wrong.’ I’m gonna have to get over it though.
    Loved the sign your boys made. I think they’ll embrace your verano de español this summer, knowing they’ll need it soon.

  6. ¡Muchachita bonita!
    Ay me mató con eso!!! He is just soooo adorable! Y un coqueto… this little man will get his way with words!
    You are an awesome parent amiga, anima a Carlos para que les hable en español!
    Abrazote enoooorme!

  7. I love it. I’m taking notes (I mentioned your “Spanish Summer” to Mi Esposo last year and told him we’d be doing that too, when the kids got older). I’m looking for tips to get our 2-yr old to respond en Espanol since ignoring her at this age probably wouldn’t work. ;-)

  8. I feel horrible. My son is four and already struggling with Spanish. I feel like I’m failing him. Starting TODAY I have to start speaking in Spanish to him. But it’s awkward and not too late. What you’re doing is great for your kids and they’ll definitely thank you for it later. Again, you’re always an inspiration :)

    • Trina – you are so lucky that he’s only 4. I triple dog dare you to speak only Spanish to him for the next few weeks. I bet that you’ll be absolutely blown away by how much he picks in a short amount of time.
      This will be harder for you than for him so good luck. You WILL feel awkward – like really, really, awkward – but just keep pushing along. You will feel stupid, you will make mistakes, you will go through a lot of frustration and self doubt – but just do it. It gets easier – I promise. (And this from a gringa who didn’t grow up with the language – so you have an advantage over me.)

  9. Great job! I need to do a Spanish Only Summer! My son gets so frustrated when we try to get him to speak in spanish and will burst out in tears saying he doesn’t understand although I think this is his way of getting out of it! I like the ignoring idea! LOL
    My husband speaks little Spanish around our son and I am the one who has taught him most of what he knows. Which really makes me mad since, #1 hubby is fluent, #2 my spanish is NOT perfect!!!!!
    I’m going to have to do the best I can. I really want my child to be bilingual!
    Congrats on your kid’s success! Looks like they are doing great!

  10. I love your blog! I too am having trouble teaching my son spanish. My husband is Mexican but doesn’t speak much Spanish to our son. I do an much as my very limited vocab can stand. Do you have any advice from one latina de corazón to another on learning Spanish?

    • Hi Megen! I empathize with what you’re going through. I encourage you to really encourage your husband to speak Spanish to your child and tell him all the benefits it will bring to your son:

      He will be more in touch with his Mexican heritage, and better able to visit there to explore his roots.

      He will be able to communicate with his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Family is so important and if he can’t speak Spanish, they won’t be as much a part of his life.

      Being bilingual, particularly English/Spanish bilingual, means that his job opportunities increase as an adult, plus he is likely to make more money than monolingual employees!

      Research has shown that children who are raised bilingual perform better academically in seemingly unrelated subjects like math, music and multi-tasking.

      Research has shown that bilinguals have a lower incidence of Alzheimers later in life.

      — So like I said, tell your husband all of this. Sometimes men just need to know concrete ways their child will benefit to jump on the wagon :)

      As for learning Spanish yourself, immerse yourself as much as possible: the music you listen to, the TV you watch, the books you read, the friends you make… Surround yourself with native speakers as much as possible and SPEAK. Even if you feel awkward, make a million mistakes or people laugh at you. Speaking Spanish, more than anything else, will help your brain “click.” The more you speak, the more comfortable you become and the more vocabulary you learn, (even if you have to stop mid-sentence and ask what something is called, or carry a little English/Spanish dictionary with you.)

      I hope this helps! Suerte! (Good luck!)

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