French – for the big brother (age 5)

downloadS is now at school and is lucky to have started French lessons in Reception (first year of primary school in the UK).  Languages are often not introduced into age 7 in other schools although they are now part of the national curriculum for primary education.

Trips to France

My mum and step-dad live in South West France and we visit them at least once a year, usually in the summer. This year we will be going at the end of the school summer holidays and again at Christmas.  So far our trips have focused on family and haven’t included much French to be honest, except for a few short conversations with the neighbours.  As the children get older, I’d like to explore options to expose them to more French while we are visiting.  They live in a rural area so I am not sure exactly what activities might be on offer but it’s would be great for them to do some sort of immersion programme or summer school.

In the meantime we’ve subscribed to One Third Stories, a monthly box language subscription service for 4 to 9 year olds.  I thought it was an innovative idea for introducing a new language to school age children.  S who is now 5 won’t listen to me read to him in French books for long unlike his little sister.

One Third French Stories

One Third Stories is a monthly picture book, audio book and activity pack that uses stories to teach key vocabulary – there are currently both French and Spanish editions. The books are mainly written in English with certain words in French.  The idea is that you can work out the meaning of the French words from the context due to the repetition in way the text is written.  As a language enthusiast, I thought it was an interesting concept and was keen to try it out.

We enjoy the books together but S I find that is a bit young for the activities at the moment.  He’s happy to read the stories with me and I’m sure he’s picking up some of the vocab and getting used to the sounds.  The books are good quality and will last well.  I am saving all the activity packs for when he’s a bit older and a more confident reader so we can go back over them together.



Fun reading practice with Spanish games

I recently invested in a few games to promote reading in Spanish with my 5 year old. He’s only just starting to read and finds books a bit intimidating at the moment. I am aiming to use games and other activities to build up his confidence in a fun way. I’d love to hear about any games or puzzles you’ve found that support literacy in your minority language.

Race to Madrid

This is a board game aimed at people learning Spanish as a foreign language, aimed at age 6+. My idea was to adapt the rules for reading practice. The game, also available as a card game and in other languages, works by using cards to build sentences, gain points and then move around the board, passing through different Spanish cities until you reach the capital. In the original game you have to translate the sentences into English to gain points. In our version we are just reading the sentence aloud instead to practice. S enjoyed the game and wanted to play until the end although he was obviously tired (it was after school as as he’s new to reading it is tiring for him). We’ve only played once so far and the topics that came up were mainly to do with shopping and buying clothes (not highly exciting for a 5 year old boy). Nevertheless, is was an interesting way to do a bit of reading practice as well as introduce some of the main Spanish cities and their landmarks.


Flash cards

There are lots of Spanish flashcards available, but I wanted ones that I could use for reading practice. I decided to go with these Every Day Words in Spanish flashcards as there are over 100 two-sided cards with photo images. They have a good selection of words covering a range of topics like body parts, professions, food, colours etc. The words range from short simple ones like ‘el ojo’ and ‘la mano’, to longer ones like ‘la computadora’. I’m generally happy with the flash cards although they’re a bit thin and prone to getting bent by little hands! I look forward to trying out different activities with these cards. So far we have looked at the cards and read them together, noticing any words S didn’t know (see photo below). Then I turned over the cards and had him read them before turning them over to confirm his answer (video below – you can hear my daughter in the background too – learning a new word ‘vaca’). I am quite new to flashcards (this is my first ever set). I’d love to hear how use them.


Trilingual puzzle – colours and shapes

I was looking for Spanish word puzzles and came across this chunky trilingual puzzle set. It’s a good size and the pieces look well made and durable but unfortunately there were some errors in the Spanish text which was disappointing – it looks like someone used Google translate 😦 Nevertheless, we were able to make corrections and S was able to read almost all the words and match up the pieces.


French – a third language for my toddler

petit ors

Now I’m feeling confident about our ability to pass on Spanish to the children I’ve decided to give French another go, particularly with E as she’s only one and at an age where she’s still receptive to being spoken to in French despite not understanding.


As she loves books she’s been quite happy to listen to me read to her in French, which I figure might help her get used to the sounds if nothing else.  My mum and step Dad live in South West France and have given the children a few board books in French which get read over and over. We particularly like the Kididoc series. They have lots to keep little ones interested with texture, moving parts and flaps and a short amount of text. Petit Ours Brun books are also fab as they are small and low cost, as well as easy to get in the UK (available on  The simple, little stories are perfect for toddlers.

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I’ve also been running French rhyme time at the library once a week since September.  I bought a couple of song books, CDs and made good use of YouTube to find a good selection to learn. I enjoy the challenge of having to learn new songs in French and leading the group makes me ensure that I know the songs well enough to teach others.


We also watch the occasional YouTube videos of French songs (she loves Un Elephant), usually when I’m trying to learn them myself! Otherwise I try not to give E any more screen time as she’s only little and already likes to join her brother for his daily ration before dinner (his current favourite is Alphablocks – E gets so excited by the theme tune she does a little dance around the sitting room).


I am also looking to have a French student come and play with us, which as well as giving me conversation practice, will mean E gets to hear a lot more spoken French.

Are you introducing a third language? I’d love to hear your stories and tips.


Easy Spanish literacy games/activities for emerging readers

To help him practice reading and writing in Spanish and improve his confidence I’ve been playing a few games with S which I thought you might be interested in. Here are three cheap, simple activities you can do at home. I have also ordered a few board games and puzzles with a literacy focus and will write up a full review once they arrive.


S loves colouring so this type of activity is perfect. He needs to read the colours in Spanish to find out what colour to use and reveal the picture. There are lots to download online – I just searched for dibujos para colorear con números. I prefer the ones where the picture is hidden as I think they are more fun.


Picture matching

This Montessori style literacy activity is matching words to pictures. Traditionally you start with the pink series – which can be downloaded in Spanish here. I’m also using images from a lovely set of syllables posters I downloaded from Teachers pay Teachers. Here we are focusing on words starting with the syllable LI.

img_20180309_1753581529741422.jpgTreasure hunt

The activity involved both writing and reading practice as S helped me to make the game as well as playing it. Together we wrote on to small pieces of card the Spanish words for things like table, chair, and bed. I then hid the cards, treasure hunt style around the house. To play S had to read each card to know where to look for the next one, and so on until he had collected all the card and reached the prize. He loved the game and surprised me by independently writing and reading the majority of words.


Do you have any other ideas for simple literacy activities? Do share below.


Emerging bilingual reader – S at 5.5 years

S is now half way through his first year at school and is gaining great confidence in his reading in English, the community language.

We introduced reading and writing in Spanish at the same time through a variety of methods which we’ve been trying out over the last 6 months.

The main element is a weekly one hour individual lesson with a Spanish teacher. This is now every Friday during term time and I pick him up early so the class takes place during school hours.  The idea of this was the make it feel like a normal part of his school week and hopefully avoid any resistance which can occur with additional classes when they are added at the end of the school day.  The school have been supportive so far in allowing him to leave a couple of hours early and I hope this arrangement will continue as he moves into year 1 and beyond.

Other things we’ve tried included a weekly after-school club for bilingual children called Aquí Estoy, set up by an Argentinian mum who also runs Grupo Mamarracho who put on Spanish language children’s theatre, puppetry and drama workshops in Bristol. Although the after-school club seemed perfect on paper, S didn’t enjoy it (despite having a friend attend too) and as it was on the other side of the city it also proved a little complicated logistically.  The classes seemed well organised and interesting but I think perhaps he was a bit tired after school and just wanted to play instead.  There are plans to extend the offering in the future and I hope we can try again when S is older as it would be great for him to learn as part of a group.

We also tried out a new Saturday school called La Escuelita, aimed at 1 to 6 year olds, but unfortunately it was very busy and noisy and he didn’t take to it either!  Such a shame! You can make all sorts of plans, and find all sorts of activities but at the end of the day the children have to want to take part – I don’t want to force him to attend reading and writing lessons or any kind of activities at this age.  The positive thing is that there were lots of parents and hopefully this means there will be more groups and activities opening in the future for both my children as they grow up.

As well as structured activities I’ve started to introduce a small amount of reading at home using some very short simple bilingual books by Scholastic and a few games. I will go into more detail about the reading materials, games and literacy activities in future posts but first I am excited to share this video with you of my son reading in Spanish. He’s now nearly five and a half.

E at 20 months – first words

E is now 20 months old and saying quite a few words although most of the time she babbles away in her own little language as well as an expanding repertoire of animal noises. Her comprehension is pretty good too in both languages, although she understand a lot more words in Spanish. I recently showed her some flashcards that I used with S a few years ago, and out of interest I tested her to see if she understood the words on the cards. She got them all correct in Spanish and only a few in English. She can now nod and shake her head for ‘yes’ and ‘no’, so you can ask her simple questions and be fairly confident of what she wants (or doesn’t).

I thought it was time to make a list of the words she uses before there are too many to count.


As with S when he started to talk there is an interesting and eclectic mix of words. E is a real book lover, and is already able to concentrate and listen to relatively long stories with a fair amount of text and pages. She loves nothing more than to sit on someone’s lap and be read to book after book after book.

I find it fascinating to watch how toddlers pick up certain words from books (such as name of George the dog from Oh No, George or the word for eagle from the illustrations in The Snail and the Whale) for example, yet don’t even try to use some words for familiar everyday objects or names.

Here’s the list:

English: Alphablocks, teeth, shoes, Mummy, mine, me, ubble (Hubble), bye bye, Nanny, George, duck.

Spanish: Mama, Papa, águila, popo, pipí, más, nieve, agua, adegee (mantequilla), loro, oso, hola, pie, gidegee (calcetín), bici, weewee (pingüino), barco, búho, bébé, bus, pizza, pez, árbol, otro, casco.

Animal noises : chicken, tiger, cow, sheep, cat, crow, seagull.

What words do your toddlers use? Are there any quirky ones? Do they invent words too? I’d love to hear from you.

Raising kids in a non native language

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I am an active member of several groups and forums on bilingual parenting, and I often see people wanting to raise their child with a language that is not their own.   It is not as uncommon as it once was, although some people still find it strange. In our case it has allowed us to increase the children’s language exposure massively by using Spanish at home compared with the OPOL method.

There seem to be several concerns people have:

  • Will it feel unnatural? Will be able to relate to my child in another language?
  • What if I make mistakes?  Will they copy me?
  • I don’t have good enough pronunciation.

My question in response is usually the following:  ‘Would you be happy for your child to speak at your level as an adult?’. If so then give it a try!  If it feels wrong you can always stop and introduce the language through books, games and songs instead of total immersion.

And yes it did feel strange at the beginning taking to S as a baby in Spanish.  Babies don’t take back, I didn’t know any baby related vocab or any nursery rhymes or songs. But that is half the adventure too.  You learn together.  It’s now been nearly five and half years and I still mainly speak to both my children in Spanish.

And it feels perfectly normal.

Yes, they have picked up my mistakes…. like lilebula (libelula – dragonfly) and celebro (cerebro – brain) and we laugh about it as I’ve been saying these words wrong for years without noticing!  They also invent their own mistakes too – giato (gato – cat), jardrin (jardin – garden)!

Are you raising your child in a non native language? I’d love to hear from you.