Home Exchange: Bristol – Huesa

img_20180803_141007-e1534251197901.jpgI am always looking for ways to increase our children’s exposure to Spanish – and one of the best ways, of course, is to travel to Spanish-speaking countries. Unfortunately annual trips from the UK to Mexico for a family of four do not come cheap and we are currently averaging a visit every three years.  We are lucky to have friend we have visited in Barcelona, Madrid and near Granada.

However this summer we were limited to travelling during the school holidays as our eldest son is now in primary school.  We started to look into renting a place in Spain for a holiday and were shocked to see the cost of accommodation during peak season.  I quickly started to look into other options.  After discounting my first idea of renting a camper van, I stumbled upon a website called homeexchange.com where for a $150 membership fee, you can exchange your home with other families around the world with no additional costs.

The Home Exchange website is pretty straight forward to use, and as we have previously been airbnb hosts it was quick to create a profile.  Finding a successful match, however, took a lot of perseverance and I think I must have sent around 200 requests! Finally, the hard work pulled off and we arranged to swap our family home in Bristol with a casa de campo of Fernando and his family of five from Madrid.

Leaving your home to strangers is always a bit nerve racking, but we felt assured by the communication with Fernando, first through Home Exchange and then via Whatsapp.  Luckily our Spanish-speaking lodger Michelle would be around to help Fernando and his family settle in.  Likewise, Fernando has family in Huesa and they were our point of contact on arrival.

IMG_20180803_112803We have just returned from our first home exchange, where we spent around nine days in a lovely house with a pool on the edge of the a small town called Huesa in Jaen, Andalucía.  During this time, the family stayed at our home in Bristol, using it as a base to visit attractions across the South of England.


Huesa is a typical pueblo, a world away from busy city life and the tourist beaches.  The house had amazing views down over the town, across olive groves and the surrounding mountains.   Embracing Spanish culture, we turned our British routines on their heads, and headed our with the children to play around 10pm, when the street, parks and playgrounds are full of life.

The town sits on the edge of the Sierra de Cazorla natural park, and IMG_20180804_115017there was a wealth of scenery to take in and walks to explore.  Despite visiting in August and with small children, in the height of a heatwave, we were able to get out and see some local sites and scenery early on most days before coming back to the house to lounge around the pool and take long siestas. Fernando’s family also arranged for us to visit the local extra virgin olive oil factory, producing one of the world top olive oils.

Our home exchange to Huesa was a great success and we would recommend it to bilingual families, especially those without family or friends they can visit easily.  By exchanging rather than renting a holiday home, you not only make the whole trip more affordable, but by staying in a family home, you have access to children’s books and toys in the minority language, and have more opportunity to connect with the local culture and community.

We hope to do another exchange next summer, and ideally combining it with local kids activities or holiday camps so the children get the maximum chance to interact with their peers.

Have you ever done a home exchange to promote your minority language? I’d love to hear about it!



La cumpleañera at 2!

lighted candles on cupcakes

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

E will be two in a couple of weeks and she’s in a period of language explosion! Spanish is definitely her strongest spoken language at the moment but she does understand a lot of English too. I couldn’t begin to count her words but I am sure there’s over 100.

She uses lots of everyday words like household items, greetings, clothes, toys, numbed, parts of the body, food, animals, feelings, vehicles, colours, people’s names. She’s also using phrases such as vamos, siéntate, muevate, dame, ayudame. She’ll put words into short phrases too such as: calecetines quitar, triste gato, papa llegó, camisa papa, turno mamá, paleta rica, mas pasta, vaso leche, gaviota robó pan, tengo paleta, gatos pelos, camisa loros donde esta? She’s also beginning to use verbs correctly of the most common being caei, and cayó. In fact, she’s using new words every day now in Spanish.

In English she says: today, I do it, ready go, let’s go, what’s this, this, that and a few animals like cat and pig. What I’ve noticed recently is if I’m reading and I stop before the end of the phrase, she’s able to complete it.

She’s also starting to sing along to songs in Spanish and French including Los Pollitos Dicen, Fait Dodo and Sur le Pont d’Avignon. She loves books and we read everyday in all three languages. I’d love to hear about your 2 year olds too! Do share your stories.

Update : less than two weeks after her birthday we have full sentences. The first being, Donde pusiste el cojín? and Que estas haciendo papá? She’s also singing a lot now, particularly Feliz cumpleaños and Las Mañanitas as well as Sol Solecito.

On the hunt for second hand books



At 50p per children’s book –  you can’t really go wrong at Bookbarn International! It is an immense warehouse full of second hand books, there’s a large children’s sections with toys and a cafe.  The selection of books for children in other languages is small but worth checking out.  They don’t have a catalogue so you don’t know what you’ll find til you get there!  So far I’ve only found French books but I will keep hoping some Spanish ones appear too!

I’ve also used eBay and Gumtree to look for deals on Spanish children’s books in the UK. Do you know of any other places? I’d love to hear about them!

DIY bilingual picture books

We have lots of picture books in English. Paperback picture books are relatively cheap in the UK and you can easily find deals and offers as well second hand books.

I’ve been trying extra hard to expand our collection of Spanish books since reading How to Maximise your Child’s Bilingual Ability.

I’ve bought a few Spanish book bundles on eBay and Gumtree and from a local Spanish speaking mum I know. And I’ve visited Bookbarn International on several occasions (unfortunately I’ve yet to find any Spanish books but it’s been great for French!).

Although it’s quick and easy to order books online from Amazon.es. Books in Spain are considerably more expensive than here, with each picture book costing 12-15 euros. For example for the price of one Julia Donaldson book in Spanish I can get a set of 10 in English!

My daughter is nearly 2 and loves books. She can concentrate well and enjoys stories with quite a lot of text. She’s particularly into Julia Donaldson at the moment. We have most of her books in English. To buy all the Spanish versions it would quickly add up to over £100! Similarly I’d love to get all the Mr Men & Little Miss books in Spanish too. In the UK you can buy discounted box sets of the whole collection. However I’ve contacted the publishers and they don’t offer box sets at all in Spanish. I’ve not yet decided whether to buy the set in English or slowly collect the Spanish ones individually.

My latest plan to bring more Spanish reading into our lives is to create bilingual books myself for free!

I do this by searching online for the translated text of books we already own and copying then into our English versions. YouTube is a great resource people often film themselves reading children’s stories. I’ve also found some pdf documents to download on Scribd. It’s digital service I’m trialing for free for 30 days.

Once I’ve found the Spanish text, I’m trying out different techniques depending on the book. Sometimes there’s space to write the Spanish text alongside the original words. For other books with more text I’ve just printed out the words and stuck the Spanish over the original text using masking tape. If you don’t want to write directly onto the book you can use masking tape or stickers.

Another advantage of making your existing books into bilingual versions is the space you save! I’m constantly trying to find new places for all our books! It’s also a change to read the stories in another language – as you know toddlers just love to have the same story over and over again!

Here’s a list of my DIY bilingual books so far :

  • What the ladybird heard
  • Where the Wild Things Are
  • The Gruffalo
  • The day the crayons quit
  • Can’t you sleep, little bear
  • We’re going on a bear hunt
  • Dear Zoo

What are your favourite picture books? I’d love to discover more!

Reading progress

Just a quick post to update on our progress with reading in Spanish.

We’re working our way through these bilingual mini books from Scolastic, aiming for one per day. We usually only read the Spanish text but he wanted to do both for the video. I am now keeping them in the kitchen so we can read in the morning too. As you can see from the video, he’s made a lot of progress from just a couple of months ago. I am hoping once we’ve read all the mini books he’ll be reading for level 2 of Cati y Tomi.

So far my attempts to introduce other Spanish homework have not been very successful. He hasn’t wanted to complete any of the workbooks so I’ve decided to focus on daily reading for now instead.

Resources for Spanish homework (age 5)


I have recently introduced regular Spanish homework for S (5.5 years old) to complement the 1-2-1 lessons he’s been having once a week since he started primary school in September.  He can now read and write simple sentences in Spanish and my aim is to ensure his literacy skills continue to develop through 10 – 15 minutes of daily practise.

Our current homework routine takes places daily after bath time and prioritises his school reading books (two per week).  On top of that he reads a short amount of Spanish text to me daily.  We are currently working our way through two sets of bilingual mini books.

As well as reading, I have been collecting a range of workbooks and activity books for him to choose from.  I am starting by suggesting we complete one page of his choice per day – and I will report back later on our progress.

Here are the current resources we have (see photo above):

I’d love any other ideas. What resources do you use for your ml homework?

Establishing a minority language homework routine


I’ve recently finished reading Maximize your Child’s Bilingual Ability by Adam Beck.  One of the main ideas behind his thinking is the importance of regular daily exposure to the minority language. If your aim is to raise children who are not just bilingual but also biliterate, then this also means daily reading and writing practice. And if minority language or bilingual schooling is not available – this means establishing an effective homework routine.

This advice particularly stood out to me S is now at school almost full-time in the ML (English). We have had permission this year to collect him early once a week for a 1-2-1 Spanish class focused on literacy,  and we are hoping the school will allow us to continue this arrangement. However. is education is, and will always be, overwhelmingly in English.

Since starting school over six months ago S has started to use more English at home especially when recounting his school day. He will mix languages, mainly starting in Spanish but adding in words or phrases in English. However he’s still strong in the minority language and thankfully starting school hasn’t made him want to stop speaking Spanish at home.

Aware of all ML exposure he’s getting at school, I’ve been thinking about increasing the amount time we spend on Spanish reading and writing and not just relying on his weekly lesson.

S is now in his final term of his first year at school and we’ve settled into a good routine for his school reading homework.  This is how our daily after school routine looks (at least this is what we aim for) :

  • 4.20pm – PLAY –  Free play, inside or outside
  • 5pm – VIDEO – The children watch videos in Spanish while I cook dinner.
  • 5.30pm – DINNER – We chat about the school day and sometimes I read to them in Spanish while they’re eating.
  • 6pm – BATH.
  • 6.30pm – HOMEWORK
  • 7pm – PLAY – Free play with Daddy.
  • 7.40pm – BEDTIME  – Bedtime stories and to sleep

As S is in Reception is only school homework is reading. He gets two books per weeks which take about 15 minutes over two to four days to complete.  We’ve recently incorporated daily Spanish reading books (ie he reads to us) into our homework session. Now S is able to read short sentences in Spanish he is also reading a short mini book or a couple of pages of a longer book as part of this routine.

My aim now is to slowly add in some Spanish workbooks and other literacy activities on top of the reading book, still keeping within 30 minutes for the whole homework session (both English and Spanish).

My next post will discuss some of the resources I am planning on using for this homework session.  I’d love to hear any suggestions? What are you using for this age group?