I got lots of hungry


At 2 years and 10 months my little boy is a real chatterbox. He’s speaking well in both English and Spanish and clearly identifies each language by name. He’s able to switch language depending on the situation and he’s getting to grips with grammar and tenses.

Spanish is still dominant, mainly because he has a wider range of vocabulary and he can make more complicated sentences in a range of tenses. He often confuses the past participle with the past simple, such as ‘He jugado con bloques’ and he makes typical grammar errors with irregular verbs, for example saying ‘hacido’ instead of ‘hecho’.

Although he rarely mixes the languages when speaking to others he ‘s starting to use both English and Spanish when he plays on his own. He recently came out with the following during a trip to Cornwall ‘Estamos en England’.

It’s fascinating to see the influence of each language on the other. He uses several phrases in English that seem to show he’s translating from Spanish such as `I got lots of hungry’ and ‘I got 2’. Today while playing in his den in the garden he tried to make up an English word he didn’t know by taking the ‘o’ off the end: ‘It’s fall down my tech’ – ie my roof fell down – se cayó mi techo. You can also occasionally see him applying English grammar to Spanish such as ‘Mamá’s bolsa’.

Has anyone else got any similar phrases to share? What are your little bilingual monkeys up to at the moment?

Starting to use languages in the right context

imagesIt’s been a while since I last posted.  S is now 32 months (2 years and 8 months) and his language skills have come on brilliantly since the start of the year.  As well as increased fluency and range of expressions in both languages, on of the main development has been him starting to use a particular language according to the situation or person.  Until recently he just used a mixture of Spanish and English in all places with a lean towards more English.  Now he is definitely more conscious of the languages being spoken around him, and he is showing a strong preference for Spanish when he narrates his play.

Now at home he rarely uses English and we’ve seen his Spanish vocabulary grow rapidly.  He’s a true little parrot, constantly copying what he hears and trying it the sounds.  He can repeat back almost any words now, even if it takes him a while to get the sounds in the right order (Guadalajara is particularly tricky!)  He’s no longer limited to short simple words but those with several syllables, compound words, little phases and making up his own sentences. He’s also beginning to conjugate verbs correctly in Spanish.   Although he no longer calls himself ‘tu’ (you) directly, he still uses the tu form of the verb instead of the first person . He say ‘quieres agua’, literally ‘you want water’, to tell us he’s thirsty, and another funny one is ‘quieres hambre’, literally ‘you want hungry’.  He thus comes across as a very polite toddler, always checking what other people want.

It’s interesting to see him swap into English (as we do) when we have English speaking visitors at home or when we are among an English speaking group. One particularly noticeable change is him addressing us as Mummy and Daddy in English. We are always Mamá and Papá at home and occasionally I’m Mummy too but he had never called L Daddy until we had some Australian visitors a few weeks ago, and now he uses Daddy quite often when we are out and about.

When did your toddlers start to understand which languages to use where and when? Does anyone else have a little one who thinks ‘you’ means ‘I’?  I’d love to hear your stories!

Quirky toddler language – a few fun things I’d like to remember

'I got tired of webbed feet.'

Pato con patos

I thought it would be fun to capture a few of S’s quirky language traits which I am sure will soon be corrected and before long forgotten.  His speaking is really gaining momentum now at 28 months. We are no longer able to keep track of all his words and phrases which have steadily replaced the sign language he’s been using since about 18 months old.  Even when he does use a sign it’s now almost always accompanied by a word; today for example he said chicha (salchicha) and did the sign for sausage.

Tu? Who?
S refers to himself as tu (you). He points at himself and say tu if he wants a biscuit, or says tu when looking at photos of himself.  He’s pretty sure that ‘tu’ is only him, although we’ve tried to explain it to him and and call each other tu as well. Interestingly he does say ‘mine’ in English, but not ‘me’, ‘I’, mi or yo.

Similarily he uses the tu form of the verb when referring to himself, so he’ll say caes (you fall), instead of me caigo when balancing on something precariously. He’s obviously copying us when we tell him, ‘cuidado, te caes!‘ – what’s interesting is the comparison with English here where the form of the verb ‘fall’ in ‘you”ll fall’ and ‘I’ll fall’ are the same.  In fact (at least at this level) English seems a lot simpler, with nouns and verbs such as ‘rain’ often using the same word, compared with the Spanish llover (to rain), and lluvia (the rain).

Silent H
Another little quirk is his silent h’s for English words such as (h)ouse, (h)at and (h)ot. Funnily, despite not pronouncing it he seems to like the letter H and it’s one of the few he can recognise, along with S and A.  He loves to say ‘Mama Abbi, Mama Abbi‘ whenever he sees an A printed on a cereal box, a road sign or in a book, and Sep for Seb when seeing an S.

Inventing his own abbreviations
Interestingly a significant proportion of his new Spanish vocabulary is just the last part of the word, such as tines – calcetines (socks), patos – zapatos (shoes), nicas – canicas (marbles), quilla – mantequilla (butter), quillas – cosquillas (tickles).  He hasn’t done this at all with English words, perhaps because the words are shorter he doesn’t feel the need to abbreviate.  He often combines these Spanish half-words with an English preposition, a couple of favourites are ‘patos off’ (shoes off) and ‘nicas inder’ (marbles in there – he had a marble run for Christmas).  I’m growing quite fond of his little abbreviations and often find myself saying ‘no, tines on’ in response to his constant sock removal, which is invariably accompanied by him saying ‘tines off’ with a cheeky grin.

Mixing it up
At this stage, he seems to use both Spanish and English in no particular contexts.  If he knows the word in both languages he might say both, such as ‘agua más, más, more’ or just swap words from sentence to sentence.  He combines words from both languages into little phrases such as ‘eating aqui’ and ‘oscuro sleeping night-time’. There has also been a bit of Spanglish he’s invented including moona, and buggycita.

English is definitely dominant now, as to be expected, I guess, living in an English speaking environment.  Although we are still speaking Spanish at home, he is now at nursery two days a week, and nearly all of the activities and people we see outside the home are English.  He does however still use a lot of Spanish words and he understands well.  His favourite phrases at the moment are ‘up top’, ‘up Sky’.

I’d love to hear any quirky words or phrases from you bilingual toddlers.  It’s a really fun stage and great to be able to communicate with S so much better and get a real idea of his thoughts, feelings, wants and desires.  It has also given me a new way at looking at both languages.

The peculiar world of toddler word acquisition

I am fascinated to watch how S is picking up new words. I would have thought he would start with easy to pronounce words that he hears most frequently, this seems logical. However, he has picked up some words very quickly after only hearing them a few times, while others he’s heard for over 2 years… he doesn’t even attempt.


S’s current favourite words – Puff and mist!

According to the Language Development Survey, these are the most common first 25 words for toddlers.  S can say 9 of these, the one’s in bold, in either Spanish or English.

Mummy (Mama)
Daddy (Papa)
Yes (Si (ee))
Cat (Ca)
Thank you
All gone
Bye bye

However, he has also got a strange array of vocabulary including crack, mist, twist and stick.  He’s definitely progressing faster in English now… today he came home from nursery with two new words…. home and work!

I’d be interested to hear about the words your toddlers are using, are they sticking to the usual suspects or picking up some more exotic ones?

First trip to Mexico. Part 3 – Language Development

This is the final part of my series dedicated to our summer trip to Mexico, a first for our toddler.  It focuses on the most talked about aspect of bilingualism – language development.

We are excited to report that S is finally saying a few words!  Whether or not the relaxed coastal atmosphere of Puerta Vallarta or being surrounded by Spanish speaking family members helped trigger his speech, who knows.  But his first few words certainly had a tropical feel to them.  In fact, yesterday we were looking at a book and he saw a drawing of a box of apples and said ‘coco’.  I laughed to myself thinking there can’t be many English children who mistake apples for coconuts!


Coco was one of S’s first words

During our stay in Mexico he learnt to say the names of several family members including Tía (eeaa), Quique (kiki), Alejandra (nana) and really got the hang of no, Mamá and Papá which he’d just began saying before our trip.  Tía Ingrid was also very proud of the fact that she taught him to say GOL (with arms outstretched) to match his mini Chivas football shirt.

S has had a slow start with his language resulting from temporary hearing problems. It’s so exciting to finally hear him say some words.  Since we returned from Mexico, he’s added más (ma), pipi (titi) and popó to his Spanish vocab along with agua (wawa) and a few English words – key, car and more.  I am hoping his English will also develop further now he’s started two days a week at his new Montessori School.  In fact, we’ve been lucky as he’s been allocated a key worker from Madrid.

During our trip we noticed his understanding of Spanish also growing.  I think it must be helpful for him to hear a range of different people speaking to him in Spanish and not just Mamá and Papá at home.  It’s been funny to hear him confusing words with similar sounds like huevo with juego and llave with agave.  Another funny moment was when la Abuela told him to be careful of the ants because they bite. From then on every time he saw ants (which is quite a lot) he began to do the sign for spicy food (the verb picar is used for to bite and to be hot/spicy in Mexico)!

I was also excited to find an excellent selection of Spanish language children’s books in Guadalajara at a book shop called Gandhi.  After my disappointment while shopping for books for toddlers in Madrid I didn’t have high expectations.  However we found a few gems which scored points not just for language but especially for culture, here are a few below. I’ve added linked to amazon.com where they are available in the US.

Que te pico la hormiga de los pies a la barriga? – I love this little board book because it rhymes and it chimed with us as we’d seen lots of ants, and joked about them during our stay in Mexico.


Suena México – This book has brilliant quirky illustrations, but best of all, it evokes all the sounds from the streets. During our stay we heard el gassss and aaggguaaa being called out in the streets, and S was fascinated by the characteristic whistle of the afilador de cuchilos (a mobile knife sharpener).


de la A a la Z Por Jalisco – Another cultural gem, this book works its way through the alphabet and around Jalisco naming a local tradition, place or person. An excellent way to learn about local history and culture, with beautiful illustrations. S particularly loves the Mariachi singer on the back cover.  They also do a version for Mexico as a country which I would like to track down.

download (1)

I’d love to hear how your toddler’s language development is going? Do you have any funny tales or books to recommend?

First trip to Mexico. Part 2 – Family


Getting to know all the family

This is the second post in a series reflecting on our son’s first trip to Mexico.  This post focuses on one of the most important reasons parents aim to raise their child bilingually – family.  I decided to blog about this aspect before writing about language development, because at this age and particularly as it was S’s first trip, the main focus has been on family.

At nearly 2 years old S has revelled in the attention showered on him by the extended family –  from abuelos, tio abuelos and tios to little primos.  He surprised us all by quickly feeling at ease with all members of the family (even those he’d not yet met on Skype); seeking them out for company, games and tickles and even comfort.

L’s parents are not strangers to international relationships.  His mum is originally from Colombia; in fact many relatives from the Colombian side of family have set up home abroad, mainly in the US or Canada.  L’s younger sister also recently married a Texan and is currently living in Houston.  S also has a very international family as just to add complications with another international dimension – my mum and step dad live in the south of France.  Unlike visiting Mexico however, they are less than two hours away by air and we still see each other several times a year – in fact I think we’ve seen them more times this year than my brother (he’s 4 hours away by car)!

As an international couple when you start a family you begin to realise that you need to work harder to maintain family bonds and relationships to carry them over into the next generation.  Even within a country, families are often spread across different locations and require effort and organisation to ensure regular contact.  However building family links between the UK and Mexico has the added complication of requiring both ample time ( think longhaul flights and jetlag) and of course the rising expense of travelling with a growing family.

We are fortunate that with modern technology keeping in touch is both accessible, affordable and allows even babies and little children to interact in ways that were impossible only 10 years ago.  Since L’s parents returned home after visiting us shortly after S’s birth we have been connecting several times a week with the Mexican family via Skype.  They have been able to watch him grow and develop through a window into our daily life, and share those first moments as he begins rolling, then sitting, eating, crawling, cruising, babbling and walking for the first time.

Often S will play along while the abuelos watch and we chat.  He often likes to check they are watching him (and waits for an applause) when he finishes a puzzle or does a little dance!  He also interacts directly with the family coming up to the screen and asking for their dog Pascal (a great dane) and playing peek-a-boo.  As he grows older and both his communication and concentration skills improve there will be new ways in which we can use Skype to interact and continue to build family relationships.  And I’m sure there will be other issues and challenges (like embarrassment or not wanting to speak the minority language etc), which we have to look forward to!

Despite the wonders of modern technology there is nothing better than a hug with la Abuela, sitting on Abuelo’s lap to watch youtube videos or sneakily changing the tracks on his Ipod or dashing around in hysterics as Tia tries to teach you to be a good Chivas supporter and shout out ‘GOL’ with both hands in the air.  These moments build relationships; they are developed through spending time together and sharing activities.  Our three-week trip this summer provided an important opportunity to strengthen these bonds and build a base for the future.  I hope we continue to make time and space in our lives for regular visits to Mexico, to allow S to grow up feeling part of and identifying with his Mexican family, culture and language.

I’d love to hear how you build family relationships internationally.  Please share your stories and tips below.

First trip to Mexico. Part 1 – Air Travel

It’s now September and everyone is busy rushing around sorting themselves out, going back to school or to the office.  It’s easy to fall back into everyday life and forget to reflect on the summer and any language or cultural trips; building and strengthening family bonds across oceans and boosting language acquisition and everyday practice.

We returned from a three week trip to Mexico last week, a first for our toddler, who turns two next week.  The air travel wasn’t as bad as we imagined in the end (S didn’t scream the plane down for 9 hours straight), although it’s taking him a while to readjust to UK time and his normal routine and in the meantime he’s refusing to go to sleep until the wee hours.

In this series of posts I am going to reflect on several aspects of our Mexico trip including air travel, family and language – S has finally started talking. I am also excited to share some excellent Spanish language books for young children that I found in Guadalajara.


downloadThe outbound journey went surprisingly smoothly. As luck had it we flew out from the recently revamped Heathrow terminal 2 which was, in fact, quite a civilised experience. Efficient check in, friendly, helpful staff and few queues (I know, it doesn’t seem possible!).  We even got a seat in a decent restaurant overlooking the planes so S was kept pretty happy before boarding the plane, despite the flight being delayed by an hour.

We flew with United Airlines to Houston, a flight of about 9 hours.  Luckily S slept for over 2 hours shortly after take off, and we managed to successfully distract him with a suitcaseful of toys and activities along with the on board entertainment. (If you are interested in which toys/activities worked best and which to avoid, take a look my previous post – Warning: Toddler in Transit.)  The only complaint really was that no food was provided for S as he was travelling on an infant fare sitting on our lap. We bought snacks but didn’t expect to need enough food for a 9 hour flight!

We arrived very tired at Houston, where unfortunately we encountered long queues and painfully slow immigration staff.  At least we would soon have a bed to climb into. We were glad that we weren’t in transit direct to Mexico at this point. A couple of days in Houston with L’s sister and brother-in-law provided a welcome respite.

The next flight from Houston to Puerta Vallarta on Mexico’s pacific coast, a mere two and half hours, then seemed like a breeze. Especially as we waltzed through passport control on arrival passing hoards of queuing foreigners, L’s Mexican passport in hand.

Fast forward three weeks and we are headed home also via Houston but this time from Guadalajara.  The main US-UK leg of the journey was a night flight.  S managed to sleep for about five hours and the flight passed relatively painlessly although we slept very little arriving very tired.  Unfortunately making it home to Bristol took an eternity; once we had figured out how to find the central bus station, we struggled with full buses to Bristol compounded with a lack of taxis on arrival and then rush hour traffic.  Next time we’ll look into flying directly from Bristol airport I think, going via London was supposed to save us time as we only had to make one connection, but it didn’t really work out like that.

How did your summer journeys go? I’d love to hear about your experiences with toddlers, especially if it was your first time going long-haul.