Easy Tips to Help You Raise Bilingual Kids as a Non-Native Speaker
In this post: Learn my top tips to raise bilingual children as a non-native speaker.
I can’t even tell you how many times people have said this to me: I wish I could raise bilingual children but I just don’t speak another language. Ever since my own children were born I have heard over and over this desire from parents who want to raise bilingual kids, but they have no idea where to start.
I am here to set the record straight, you do not need to be a native speaker to raise bilingual children! You don’t even need to speak the language right now! You are capable of learning right alongside your children as you cultivate and nurture a bilingual home that fits your life.
Once I get people on board, the next questions is always…but how? How do you raise children to speak another language if you are learning it yourself or if you are a non-native speaker? It feels like the perfect time for me to stop telling you to do it and start telling you how to do it. This is what I do in my own home and though it isn’t perfect, my children are growing up in a bilingual environment with Spanish playing a large role in daily life.
Here are my tips and tricks for raising bilingual kids
as a non-native speaker:
1. Release the need for perfection
This is number one, my friends. You need to let go of the fact that you won’t be perfect, it won’t be perfect, and it is okay. I have had so many people ask me if I worry about raising them in an “inauthentic language setting” meaning they won’t have the normal nuances or idioms they would get if they were being taught by a native speaker. To that I say, nope. Not worried at all. Do you want to know why? Because the alternative for us, and so many others, is no Spanish. So it is either daily life filled with Spanish that may not perfect all the time or my children won’t be raised immersed in a bilingual environment. I have lots of tips to make up for it that I’ll talk about more in a minute.
The most important part of raising bilingual children as a non-native speaker, let yourself be imperfect and embrace the lessons you will learn right alongside your children. They have their whole lives to perfect it, don’t wait.
2. Let your children learn Spanish while watching TV!
Whether your children watch tv shows every day, only on weekends or just a family movie night, this is my biggest tip for helping them hear native Spanish speakers consistently. Our screen time is only in Spanish with the rare exception of The Sound of Music. My husband is learning right alongside my children, so we have English subtitles on when we watch, but my children have never in their lives complained about it.
If you start early enough, they won’t even notice a difference and will just absorb language the way they do with the primary language you speak at home. Will they understand it all 100% of the time? Probably not. Remember though that they don’t understand all of the English they hear 100% of the time either.
Don’t worry about them being confused, they will pick it up and this will be a huge help with their language input so that it doesn’t just all fall on you. Read more about my favorite Spanish nature shows for kids here!
3. Spanish Audiobooks & Podcasts
Again this is a great way to help increase the language input that your children are exposed to on a daily basis. Find Spanish audiobooks or Podcasts that you like and listen to them in the car, during quiet time or even while you’re cooking. You children will soon fall in love with the stories and will ask to hear them again and again!
For audiobooks we love The Spanish Experiment and I think now it is rebranded on The Fable Cottage where you can subscribe and pay to hear more. We just listen to the free stories though and we love La Ballena y el Pajaro.
For Podcasts, I’m not going to lie to you I don’t listen to a lot of them! I have found a few Spanish ones that are worth checking out though that I am really excited about listening to with my children:
4. Spanish music
This is one of my favorite ways to bring Spanish into our days! We listen to music in the car, while baking, while cleaning, we have epic dance parties…there are so many ways to bring Spanish into your home! Part of my Con mi Familia Spanish course is getting a weekly themed playlist and I have SO much fun finding music that is great for kids but isn’t that typical annoying kids music.
Here are some of my favorite Spanish music artists that I listen to with my kids:
- Elizabeth Mitchell & Suni Paz – Tú Eres Mi Flor
- This entire album is GOLD. I love that it is folk music in Spanish and we listen to it all the time.
- Canticuénticos – pretty much any and everything by Canticuénticos is incredible but our absolute favorite song is Cumbia del Monstruo. Seriously they are so good!
- 123 Andres – I love this duo! They have such fun Spanish music for kids and my children love them!
- José-Luis Orozco – an absolute classic! His music is so engaging and my children love singing along.
There are so many more that I love that I share with my Con mi Familia community!
5. Read to your children in Spanish!
Books, books, books, books. In a world that is so saturated in English, I make sure that we always balance out our reading with one book in English, one book in Spanish. In order to do this I make sure that I have just as many engaging stories in Spanish as I do in English so it never has to be forced – they love the Spanish stories! This also helps increase their vocabulary and a wide variety of Spanish sentence structures. I have SO many books that I love to recommend. See more lists here at my Bilingual Bookshop.
I also love Habbi Habbi books! Having them at home not only helps us read more in Spanish but it also increases their language input from native speakers. I love the interactive nature with the reading wand and that my children can read these books all on their own just by tapping the wand on the page!
6. Be consistent, flexible and let go of any pressure.
Raising bilingual children isn’t easy, no matter what! You are going against the grain a little bit, at least in the United States, and it can feel kind of lonely at times. Also, it can feel weird speaking to your children in another language at first! I remember when my twins were 6 months old and I started speaking Spanish to them it felt so awkward. I’m sassier in Spanish (anyone else feel like their personality changes when speaking another language?!) but slowly, with time, I came into my own. Now I speak Spanish to my girls every day throughout the day and it feels normal. I found my voice as a mother in Spanish and trusted the process.
So, trust the process. Be consistent, go with the flow and let your children’s interests guide your learning and try to let go of the pressure. I also always recommend not forcing your children to repeat Spanish words or quizzing them – they will speak the language when they are ready! Some parents may feel frustrated feeling like your children aren’t actually speaking the language but trust me, they will. It may be years down the road but if they grow up with a solid understanding of the language and consistent input, it will always be with them.
7. Find your community
Find your community to lean on and find inspiration! I hope that the community here with Niños & Nature is a great starting point for you but dive in and find people who you connect with. We will all have off days or weeks, moments where we wonder if it’s even worth the effort, so make sure you find your people to help keep you going.
8. Take my Spanish courses!
Did you know this was coming?! I love creating hands-on Spanish courses for families!
Check out Con mi Familia if you are looking for a play-based Spanish immersion course for your kiddos 2-6.
If you are wanting hands-on Spanish learning for your elementary students or teens, look into Spanish in the Wild. This course is all about taking your language learning outside. With Spanish STEAM activities, art projects, Spanish literature, songs and more – this bilingual nature study is perfect for learning Spanish all year long.
Do you feel ready? Do you feel empowered?! Even if you barely know a word of any other language, you can still do this. You will be giving your children a life-long gift of connection, knowledge, compassion, discovery…I could go on and on! It doesn’t need to be perfect, you don’t need to be perfect, all you need to do is jump in! Whose with me?