Preschool art and stimulating language through story telling

S has recently started to try to represent ideas and objects through drawing.  He’s been making lines, crosses and circles for a while, from there he moved on to train tracks, magic wands and brooms.  The other day he even drew me the Nazca Lines!   Usually when he wants to draw something more complicated he asks me to do it for him. (The usual request is a witch on a broomstick with a wand).

Instead of just doing it for him, last week I decided to help him to do it himself by suggesting the shapes he could draw to make a witch. This technique worked really well and he was so proud with himself!  Here’s the first witch below (with her wand and broom of course).  PS If you are unsure what’s with the witch obsession – it all stems from this book.
IMG_20151016_103351 (1)So after doing several witches, I suggested we draw some people in the countryside. The resulting picture (below) really fascinated me because it was such a fluid process for him.  As adults I think we see drawings as static objects, whereas S was almost trying to animate his picture. He added things to the drawing and narrated a story a he went along, changing some aspects to adapt to his story.

First he drew the tree, the people, the grass and some small flowers. Then he drew the sun and said it was very hot and the flowers had died.  After that he drew a big rain cloud and lots of rain – which made the flowers grow big and tall.


What a great way to combine art and story-telling! He used a lot of language in this activity and really took ownership of the drawing and developed it a lot further than my initial suggestion.  He did this drawing a few days ago but has come back to it several times to talk about it excitedly.  It has made be think about how activities that seem unrelated to language actually hold a lot of potential.  Have you done anything similar? As always I’d love to hear your ideas about stimulating use of the minority language.

Building Vocab

vocab building

S is now a little chatterbox.  At home he’ll mostly be chatting away in Spanish, with some English along with made up words and sounds mixed in.  Recently he’s been asking me for the English word for the vocabulary he knows in Spanish.  This morning, while we were stuck in traffic on the way to nursery and I was complaining about us being late, he asked, ‘Cómo se llama tarde, Mamá?’, which is his way of asking how to say something in English.

When other children come over to play he’ll switch into English and address me in either Spanish or English. In this case he is mirroring my behaviour as I tend to speak to him in English when we are around other English speakers, but not always!

He continues to make up words in English by applying English grammar and sounds to the Spanish he knows.  For example, when he couldn’t think of the word umbrella, he called it a ‘par-ah’  –  the word ‘paraguas’ without the Spanish sounding endings.

Occasionally he makes something up that does actually exist.  He was playing with his pirate ship with his friend and I heard him say he was looking for a ‘pistol’.  I thought it was strange that he knew this word.  It’s quite old fashioned and I didn’t think we’d read it in any books. Then it dawned on me he was just saying ‘pistola’ without the a!

It’s really interesting how he’s using each language to build the other.

Songs in Spanish for S (Age 3)

S is starting to be able to remember song lyrics. It’s an exciting stage and he quickly picks up new songs and is soon singing along to favourite tunes. He’s acquiring new vocabulary from the lyrics and will often ask when he hears a word he doesn’t understand.  I am excited to share these songs with you today as it’s been a while since I’ve blogged about Spanish language resources.

I want to start with the amazing animated songs by Vivienne Barry from Chile. If, like me, you generally find the animation for children’s music uninspiring, or even ugly, you will love this beautiful stop animation.  They are not only brilliant to watch but the songs often reflect culture and traditions from Latin America.  There are many to choose from but I’d like to highlight, ‘Duermete Negrito’, ‘Rey de los Flores‘, and ‘La Cocinerita’. S also loves ‘La Vaca Lechera’ and laughs hysterically each time the cow moos.

‘La Bruja Loca’ is a song which has captured S’s imagination due to his on-going fascination with witches and magic. An unusual area of interest for a three year old? Yes, and it’s nothing to do with Harry Potter.  S’s favourite book for at least the last eight months or so has been ‘Room on the Broom’, a story about a kind witch and her travelling companions. We read the book at least once a day, and we’ve also got the animated DVD and have even been to the theatre production.  One of his favourite games is to pretend to fly on his broomstick and do spells with his magic wand.  This enthusiasm also spilled into his preschool where the teachers commented: ‘S demonstrates amazing story telling skills as he retells the story (Room on the Broom) with just a few prompts. He uses fantastic intonation and rhythm, changing the pitch of his voice to give the story a really exciting energy!’

Another favourite introduced by Tia who visited from Mexico recently is ‘La Serpiente de Tierra Caliente’, which my husband reckons is from Colombia.  Finally I want to mention ‘Salta, Salta, Salta, Pequena Langosta’, which also gets S moving, jumping, dancing and laughing, and ‘En un bosque de la China‘.

All these songs are very catchy and you will find them going round and round your head long are the kids have gone to bed.  Have your children got any favourite songs at the moment? I’d love to hear from you all.

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?