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Friday, May 3rd, 2013

How Immersion Travel Helped My Kids Progress in Spanish

My daughter Lila Eating Paletas in Mexico —

During our trip to Mexico, my children took to Spanish like a fish to water. They have been learning Spanish since September in afterschool time, initially for 20 hours per week and since November for five hours per week.


Our first stop in our 10-day trip was to Puebla for one of my best friend’s wedding. My kids had so much fun playing with all the other kids, mostly nieces and cousins of my best friend’s family. Because they had a need to communicate in Spanish, they actively tried to talk. I frequently heard my older daughter asking, “Quieres jugar?” And yelling as she ran by me with a pack of kids, “Vamos a jugar!”




My youngest daughter started spontaneously using Spanish phrases, “Es muy bonito aqui,” (it’s very pretty here) she commented as we walked on a path from the beach in Tulum, where we went after the wedding. She also developed her Spanglish, interjecting whatever Spanish words she could muster into an English sentence. “Isaballa has ocho buhos,” she ran over to me at one point during the wedding. “And I have only tres buhos,” referring to the little owl decorations that she and Isabella, her new partner in crime, conspired to swipe from the 20-plus flower arrangements on each of the tables at the wedding reception. So that’s where all my owls went, my friend laughed when I told her days later!




Isabella quickly became my four year old’s new best friend. They played together the whole night of the wedding, and the next afternoon. It was incredible because Isabella didn’t speak English and Lila is only a beginner in Spanish. If I was close by, she would ask me how to say something in Spanish or Isabella in English, “Es que no hablo ingles,” (It’s just that I don’t speak English,) Isabella explained. But they got along just fine on their own.


Taking care of the buhos became a source of entertainment the whole trip. Every night Lila carefully put them into something—a shoe, a basket with something soft on the bottom, a chair— so that they could sleep. Sometimes she had to line them up several times to get them just right.


lila-with-owls1 lila-with-owls2 lila-with-owls


She is still calling them buhos, even back in the U.S.


The kids have also taken to playing games using their basic Spanish. Going to the restaurant and ordering, “Un jugo de naranja por favor,” (orange juice please) and asking for “Señora la cuenta por favor,” (the check please) is a current favorite.


When I spoke in Spanish to them in Mexico, they didn’t reject my switching languages as they often do in the U.S. I had the feeling that if we stayed for a few months, they would easily be Spanish speakers. How I long to spend a summer somewhere in Latin America!


Their ease with experimenting with the Spanish they know, and their ability to understand some of what was going on around them, also reassures me in relation to their Arabic. Since they speak Arabic so infrequently (but are spoken to in it by their father), I have wondered about their ability to communicate when we go to Morocco. Watching their facility with Spanish, I now have no doubt, their use of Arabic would likely be even more rapid than Spanish, since it’s the language their father has spoken to them since birth.


Here’s a pic of the whole pack of kids the day after the wedding with the newly weds (including the two French kids who didn’t speak Spanish or English), and they all played together perfectly.




Since we have been back in the U.S., my four-year-old in particular is getting stronger in Spanish. This morning, I found her playing in her room, counting in Spanish (on her own! Exciting!) with the turtles we bought in Mexico.  I grabbed my iPhone to record her progress:



She has also taken to translating Spanish words she recognizes. We always listen to the Spanish radio station 100.7 in the car, and before Mexico, they never commented on the radio beyond songs they liked. Now that we have been back, Lila can decipher words in the music with greater frequency. “I know what corazon means—heart! I know what casa means—house!” She pipes up from the back seat. And then today listening to Marc Anthony’s “Vivir Mi Vida,” “I know what silencio means!” I have a feeling her Spanish teacher must use that one quite a bit!

© 2013, Stephanie Meade. All rights reserved.

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Stephanie is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of InCultureParent. She has two Moroccan-American daughters (ages 5 and 6), whom she is raising, together with her husband, bilingual in Arabic and English at home, while also introducing Spanish. After many moves worldwide, she currently lives in Berkeley, California.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsFrances   |  Friday, 03 May 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Stephanie! How exciting! Reading your post certainly gives me hope! We’re going to Puerto Rico for 2 weeks this upcoming summer. As I read your post, all I did was smile. :)

  2. CommentsLillian   |  Friday, 03 May 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I love to hear about the progress your kids have made with Spanish. I am sure they will be fluent speakers with a little more practice. I recommend reading them stories for bedtime in Spanish. Or getting a few traditional tv shows for children in Spanish that they can watch, like El Chavo del Ocho. I love seeing all the pictures and all the buhos!

  3. CommentsThe Editors   |  Sunday, 05 May 2013 at 6:10 am

    Thanks so much for your comments! Yay for PR for 2 weeks Frances! I was amazed at what just 10 days did. Hope you have a fantastic trip!! Thanks for the recommendation Lillian. The buhos were put to good use :)

  4. CommentsTop 10 Ways to Learn Through Travel {School’s Out: A Top Ten Series from KBN} | All Done Monkey   |  Thursday, 06 June 2013 at 12:15 am

    […] them courage by trying something new.  If your child has already been exposed to another language, immersion travel – and particularly connecting with other kids – can give a tremendous boost to their […]

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