Al sur

This February half-term we flew south for five days to visit an old friend and his family near the village of Molvizar, in the province of Granada.  We couldn’t have wished for better: catching up wiIMG_20180209_162410th friends by the fire, amazing sunshine, beautiful walks in the surrounding hills among almond trees and aromatic herbs, rich chocolate ice cream on the beach, and lush gardens with orange, lemon and avocado trees for the kids to play in.  And best of all, the children made friends straight away and went off to play – we almost didn’t see S all weekend.


During our trip to Granada, it was so lovely to see them making friends and playing independently and all in Spanish.  The children are also bilingual (their mum is German) and it was lovely to see S and his new friend teaching each other words from their ‘other language’.

Our friends have holiday accommodation, La Casa Redonda, on their off-grid, vegan friendly small holding, which we were lucky enough to stay at.  It really is a lush place to visit. We have already made plans to return next year with a group of friends from university who are now scattered across Europe. What a perfect meeting place!



A jugar – opportunities for play in Spanishños-jugando

Although the children gets lots of Spanish input on a daily basis, it is almost entirely through conversations with adults –  family members, our friends, teachers, babysitters and lodgers. When S started school in September I introduced him to the other Spanish speaking children, but in a school environment, with everyone speaking English in the classroom I think it’s inevitable that they will stick to the majority language.  Also as S gets older, I’ve noticed that fewer of his bilingual friends are able to speak Spanish confidently and fluently, and their play often slips back into English.

Even when visiting family in Mexico, interactions with other children have been limited as S and E don’t have any first cousins on the Mexican side.  L’s cousins do have children and we did manage to meet some of them during our visit last the summer but as we only visit every few years it’s hard for them to really get to know each other properly.

Play and interactions with other children in Spanish is the key aspect that is still missing from our children’s Spanish language exposure.  I have been keen to explore options to provide them with a chance to make monolingual Spanish speaking friends.  I believe it’s important for children to use and develop their language skills with peers as well as with adults, build friendships and start to experience Spanish through play.

These are several ideas that other bilingual families use to increase exposure through through other children.  Do you have any other ideas?

  • Extended visits to family and friends over the school holidays, unstructured free time with cousins and friend’s children.
  • Attending holiday clubs in a target language country (those aimed at local children) – from half-day clubs for younger children to residential camps for older children.
  • Language immersion summer camps, aimed at foreign language learners using based in the target language country.

While it’s expensive for us to visit family in Mexico every year, I think it’s definitely worth exploring options closer to home, ie in Spain.  We have friends living in Galicia, Madrid and Granada that we haven’t seen for many years.  What a great excuse to make it a priority to catch up with old friends, and give the children time to get to know each other.  When S is a bit older, I am keen to explore holiday camps options both in Mexico and Spain.

I’d love to hear how you provide opportunities for play in your minority language both at home and in your target language countries. Do share your stories and ideas!


Books reflecting Spanish/Latin American culture


As well as cultural events, food and music, my recent focus has been on books. I am trying to build up a collection of Spanish language books that reflect Spanish and Latino culture. I feel that many of the Spanish language children’s books that we have are either presented in a cultural vacuum, ie filled with talking animals, or translations and therefore reflect the culture and traditions of the original language.

My aim is to build cultural capital in my children by exposing them to the stories from traditional tales, works of literature, iconic buildings local legends and notable individuals from the Spanish speaking world such as Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Gaudi. I am in fact looking forward to reading about all these place and people myself! After asking for recommendations from a wide range of groups and contacts I now have a very long wish list!

During our recent trip to Spain this half-term, I these gems – La Alhambra, a beautiful flap book; a children’s edition of Don Quijote; and a well-loved collection of poems by Gloria Fuertes.  Ironically I nearly missed out on buying any books at all as I forgot that in Spain the shops shut between 2pm – 5pm! Thank goodness for Fnac! Although I was disappointed to have missed out on a visit to Granada’s bookshops.


Knowledge of the culture behind a language is, I’m sure, the key to deeper understanding.  Shared culture as well as language helps to build common ground when meeting new people, from which positive relationships can flourish.

Feliz Navidad – the importance of culture


So far our bilingual journey has focused mainly on language and family, but recently I’ve been thinking about the importance of culture, not just Mexican culture but other Spanish speaking cultures and traditions.

We are lucky in Bristol to have an active Spanish speaking community hosting a range of events throughout the year.

Most recently we celebrated Las Posadas with a Mexican friend and her family at their house near Bristol. Although I had experienced the tradition once before in Guadalajara, I had a bit of a practice with Youtube before attending to learn the traditional song, Canción para pedir posada, that accompanies this celebration.


We also attended the annual Día de Reyes event organised by La Casita, a group of Spanish speaking families that run events in the city including a regular Spanish playgroup. We enjoyed seeing the kings in their fine costumes and singing along to the Spanish carols (we knew a few such as Campana sobre Campana but need to learn a few more for next year). After the visit from the fabulous three kings, below, we share food and then the children climbed up onto the stage and all started dancing, led by the amazing Natalia! Despacito was a hit of course!


It’s now March, although it has been snowing and feels very wintery at the moment, I’ve just realised its not long til Easter. In a couple of weeks’ time we are hosting a taquiza with some Mexican friends and I just starting to think about any Easter traditions and children’s activities we could include in the celebration.

Beginning to learn to read


S has just returned to school after the Christmas holidays.  Last term was his first term at primary school and formal literacy was introduced midway through the term using the Read, Write Inc method.  He has been enthusiastic about learning the letter sounds and is starting to blend the sounds together to make simple three and four-letter words such as C-A-T and M-I-L-K.  I have invested in some resources to help him at home including flash cards and a Parent Pack.  We’ve stuck up the letter friezes on his wall which has been great as a visual reminder and he likes to talk about which letter he’ll be learning the next day.

In parallel we’ve introduced Spanish literacy at home – albeit as a much slower rate (at school they learn a new letter sound each day – whereas he only has Spanish once a week).  Unfortunately the arrangement I had in place with Noelia fell though, but luckily I found another teacher at short notice to take over the slot I had arranged with his school.  The one to one classes with Lorena have been great and I hope to continue them for as long as possible.  Although we’re currently focusing on literacy, I like S to cover all sorts of topics too in this class.

As well as focused 1-2-1 support, I think it’s important to work in a group and make friends with other bilingual children.  This term, he will also be starting a Spanish afterschool club. The afterschool club is a new initiative which will focus on reading and writing skills for bilingual children.  One of S’s friends from nursery will also be attending so I hope he will enjoy it.

I struggled to find beginner reading books in Mexico despite visiting several bookshops. Instead I recently ordered some from Spain on Amazon.  32 Cuentos de la A a la Z  is a great collection of little stories with a book for each letter sound.  Best of all they have short, simple sentences and great illustrations.  The set wasn’t cheap but I am sure we will get a lot of use out of them.  The only disadvantage is that they are in cursive so I am having to type out the sentences on the computer so S can read the letters!

Exploring bi-literacy


It has always seemed natural for us bring up our children to be bilingual, there being a myriad of positive impacts for children learning two languages from birth. Being bilingual however, does not automatically mean you can read and write in both languages. In fact, most bilinguals receive their schooling in the majority language and this language will always be the one they feel most comfortable with in reading and writing. True bi-literacy is hard to achieve without bilingual education which unfortunately is uncommon here in the UK.

I know S will probably prefer English as he progresses along his educational journey, but we would like him to have a working knowledge of Spanish, and be functionally literate in both languages. This will open up opportunities for study or work in a Spanish-speaking country in the future, more than just having oral fluency.

We have decided to introduce reading and writing in Spanish at the same time as S starts school here in the UK. Both languages share an alphabet and many of the letters have the same or similar sounds. Having researched the advantages and disadvantages we think learning to read and write in both Spanish and English at the same time will help reinforce key literacy skills and do not feel S will be any more confused than he is currently using both languages on a daily basis depending on the situation.

S will be starting school in September. Here in the UK children start in the reception class at primary school at 4-5 years old and this is when they formally start to learn to read and write. S loves books and he’s excited about being able to read stories to his little sister.

I thought I’d share with you some resources I’ve been exploring to start us on this journey of learning to read and write, both in Spanish and English. I am interested in both online materials in the form of ebooks, videos and apps, and real books and activities for supporting the process of learning to read and write.

ENGLISH (majority language)

S will be learning in English, his majority language, at school. Reading and writing well in English will be important for him throughout his school career. As well as encouraging him to learn to read and write in Spanish, I am keen to support his English literacy skills and to find out more about how these key skills are taught in schools.

There are two main systems in use in the UK for teaching literacy to primary school children, Jolly Phonics and Read Write Inc, I understand both are based on decoding and blending synthetic phonics sounds and the visual recognition of commonly used words known as ‘sight words’. The school S will be attending uses the Read Write Inc method and I look forward to finding out more about it when he starts in September.

I recently picked up an English activity book aimed at 4-5 year olds by Gold Stars which S has enjoyed. I was actually surprised at how much he already knew and how well he concentrated as we worked through the book together. I also like the Julia Donaldson Songbirds phonics readers and activity books which S will be getting for his birthday. You can buy the whole set of 36 books online at The Book People at great value. I’ve only recently discovered this online bookshop. I was wondering if there’s an equivalent online discount bookshop in Spain but I have now found out that the price of books in Spain is set nationally to protect small bookshops, and only second-hand shops can offer large discounts. Siete Vidas is one of these second-hand bookshops which I need to check out.

In preparation for our long-haul flight to Mexico in a couple of weeks time, I’ve also been looking into apps and games for my phone. We’ve been recommended the following apps to try out for our journey: Teach your Monster to Read and Hairy Letters.

SPANISH (minority/home language)

S will be taking Spanish lessons twice a week starting at the end of September with Noelia from De Colores. The full details still need to be confirmed but the idea is to pick him up early from school twice a week for home-based tuition. The lessons will be focused on learning to read and write in Spanish, as well as covering the topics he has been working on at school. The aim is this arrangement to continue all the way through the school, changing the timings to suit the timetable.

I am hoping to pick up some ‘learn to read’ and ‘first reader’ book collections this summer while we are in Mexico, as well as any activity books or games. I’ve found out that in Mexican schools they don’t teach individual phonemes, but syllables, and I have been recommended this system: Mi Libro Mágico. I look forward to sharing more about what I find out during our trip to Mexico once I get back! There are also these fun videos to explore – Mono Silabo. These are some beginner reader books that have been recommended so far for me to investigate: La Serie Blanca, Torre de Papel Naranja.

There are also lots of online resources, which are free to download as pdf documents including all official public school text books from the Mexican education authorities, and the text books for first and second grade in Chile.

I have also been investigating ‘learn to read’ methods in Spain, and have discovered Letrilandia, one of the systems used in Spanish primary schools. This appeals to me and it uses stories to help the children remember the letters and has accompanying stories and videos. I only worry slightly that the cursive text will confuse him as he’s only ever been exposed to print! I will wait to see what we find in Mexico and what Noelia suggests, but I may invest in the Letrilandia reading and exercise books.

Buying books online from abroad


When ever we are visiting a Spanish speaking country I always have books on my mind. I try to sneak into bookshops and make time to browse.  However, I usually feel rushed and don’t really have time to find what I want.

To compensate for this unorganised approach to Spanish reading material, I have been building up a wishlist of books on Amazon Spain for about a year.  I try to read blogs and follow Facebook groups (I highly recommend ‘La biblioteca de los peques: literatura infantil y juvenil’) to find out which are the best children’s books in Spanish and add them to my wishlist.  The Facebook groups are especially useful as they are full of native Spanish speakers who are passionate about children’s literature and keen to answer questions and provide links and recommendations.

A few months ago I got a promotion through from for Día del Libro and decided to bite the bullet ordering a massive 23 books! Amazingly the international shipping was around £15, which I thought was excellent value for a very large, very heavy box of books!


I’ve now got a good stash of books for both children, fiction and non fiction for upcoming birthdays and Christmas. It was definitely a good idea, so if you’re hesitating about ordering abroad for your minority language books I would encourage you to go for it.  I should have done it earlier!