Minority language magazine subscription: a review of Caracola. 


We’ve now been subscribed to Caracola, a monthly Spanish magazine aimed at 4 to 7 year olds, for six months.  Time for a review!

Firstly, the quality of Caracola is well ahead of most magazines aimed at children in the UK.   These tend to be spin-offs of children’s TV, full of ads, wrapped in plastic with a free toy stuck to the front.


Here’s a quick snap of the children’s magazines from our local shop 

Caracola is fun and educational with a good selection of fiction and non fiction reading material and activities.  I find it’s pitched at just right level for my nearly 5 year old bilingual boy.

Each edition starts with a fully illustrated story, like you would find in a picture book. This was a big selling point for me as it is effectively like having a new book each month. This story is also available as an audio track, which is a great idea. However you have to access the audio through a specific app and you can’t save the files for later or transfer them to another device. Unfortunately, this means that the audio book version isn’t very practical to use so we don’t often listen to it.


A page from one of the cover stories, el Árbol de Julia

One of our favourite sections are the illustrated features on non fiction topics, such as animals or science. My son loves non fiction books but we’ve mainly got English ones so it’s great to get regular Spanish content. I often learn new facts and vocabulary myself!



Facts for curious minds

There are regular comic strips too, about a little space hero called SamSam, a little brown bear and a family.  S enjoys all these sections and looks forward to the new magazine each month.


Comic book strips

As well as reading material there are always craft type activities to do and large busy pictures where you have to find certain objects.  S often doesn’t want to complete these sections, but prefers the reading, however I’m hoping he’ll try them one day and then we’ll have all the previous editions to work through!


Juegos: puzzles, games or crafts

Overall I’ve been really impressed with Caracola.  I think a quality children’s magazine subscription is a great way to get new monthly reading material in the minority language.  We’ve signed up for a year’s subscription with international shipping to the UK and will definitely be renewing. The publisher, Bayard, produces a range of children’s magazines for all ages. We will try the next one, Leo Leo, when S reaches seven.   The magazine is printed on high quality paper and should last well.  I am to keep them all for my daughter when she’s old enough.

Do you subscribe to any children’s magazines in the minority language? I’d love to hear about any others you would recommend.



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!

The signs and sounds of todderhood

S (nearly 22 months) is becoming quite a proficient communicator, now regularly using over 70 signs, along with sounds (like animals, train etc) and a few words.  The introduction of signs has really expanded the range of things he can tell us about and has significantly reduced his frustration.

As well as using individual signs he now combines words, signs and sounds together in mini sentences such as:

  • ‘drink’ uh oh (The cup fell on the floor)
  • ‘where’ ‘daddy’ ‘bath’ (Is Daddy in the bathroom?)
  • allí (pointing at sofa) ‘milk’ (Sit down and breastfeed me!)
  • ‘nursery’ ‘bike’ (We’re going to nursery by bike today)


S loves to point out the things he notices around him (like animals) and comment on what’s happening (like it’s raining) by doing signs.  He can make requests for food (especially biscuits) or ask to go to the park, and he often lets us know he’s paying attention to our conversations by signing the words he recognises as he listens along.  This has made me more aware of words and their component parts. The other day we were talking about someone getting married and S starts to do the sign for house.  At first I was confused…was he asking to go home? Then I realised he had heard se casa (he’s getting married) not ‘casa’ as in home! Another time I asked him to move into the shade (sombra) and he started doing the sign for hat (sombrero). I’d never really thought of hat and shade being similar, but in Spanish they obviously are!

Another interesting development is how S babbles with his hands and makes up new signs for words he doesn’t know.  This keeps us on our toes as he tries to teach us these new signs and we attempt to work out what they mean.  Some of the signs are intuitive and turn out to be similar to BSL, such as the sign for hot spicy food, others seem entirely random (eg for avocado he puts one pointed finger up from the top of his head – who knows what that’s all about!).

I’d love to hear about how others are getting along with signing or bilingual language development. Please leave your comments below!

Toddler signing anyone?

P1060968I heard about baby signing when S was a few months old.  A friend of mine had a lovely illustrated book called ‘My First Signs’, another was going to a ‘sing and sign’ baby class.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the concept, the idea is that babies develop the motor skills to communicate earlier than the skills to start speaking.  By introducing specific gestures alongside speech around 7 months, you can help your baby to express themselves and therefore reduce frustration and crying until their speech catches up.

I liked the idea of being able to communicate with with S and be in tune with his wishes before he could articulate them… but at the time it seemed another thing to do, another thing to think about and I thought I probably wouldn’t do the signing consistently enough for S to really pick it up.  I figured Spanish and English would do for now!

Fast forward another year… and we have decided to introduce a few signs to S at 18 months.  He is already very keen on using his hands and body to communicate.  I noticed he was consistently using the same gestures for a few words like crocodile and hot, so we thought we’d give some baby sign language a go.

S loves the signs!  I borrowed my friend’s book and he picked up several signs really quickly – not surprisingly for my little milk monster, his favourite signs are milk and more!  He has also got the hang of a few animals signs like bird, elephant and caterpillar. We are using signs based on British Sign Language with Spanish spoken words…. so an interesting linguistic mix!

I think starting at this age, when he already had a good understanding of the spoken words and good motor control, has meant he’s been able to start using the signs straight away.  It seems like a really useful tool for late talking children.

In fact, I have been enjoying learning the signs myself!  I was surprised at how intuitive and easy to remember they are.  It has also sparked my interested in sign languages in general.  I remember learning to fingerspell when I was about 10 years old.  As a group of school friends, we thought it was so clever of us to learn sign language so we could chat when we were supposed to be being quiet!  It was only quite a few years later that I realised that I had only learnt the alphabet and not actual sign language. Still, it is quite a useful thing to know  – not to use with babies perhaps, but some sign language words are closely linked to the fingerspelling (like ham which is H and M).

Have you used baby signing with a bilingual child?  It would be lovely to hear your stories.  Please do leave some comments below.

Confused about language development in bilingual children? I was!

first wordsIt’s been a while since I last posted.  This blog is about the rewards and challenges of bringing our son up bilingual and aims to track the emergence and development of his languages.  Except there hasn’t been much emergence, at least in terms of speaking, so far! S is now 18 months… and still no first words.  He does now understand quite a bit, including simple instructions like lavamos los dientes (let’s brush your teeth), sientate (sit down), and the names of some body parts, animals, clothes, food and toys.  He is generally very vocal, noisy and communicative using facial expressions, sounds and gestures.  He also makes a few animals sounds.  However at the same time, despite looking out very hard for it, we have been unable to recognise anything vaguely like a word, no dada, mama or bubye.  

Everyone keeps saying, ‘boys take longer to talk’, ‘he was an early walker so he’ll be a late talker’, ‘oh don’t worry, bilingual children always speak later’,  ‘bilingual babies’ language development is slower’ or ‘bilingual speech can be delayed by a few months’ (one speech therapist that I met informally told me language could be delayed by 6 months!).  I was finding this reassuring… until I started to notice other toddlers, both bilingual and boys, had already begun talking.

If you google ‘bilingual children language delay’, it easy to find a lot of forums and sources that cling to these assumptions.  However, with a more discerning look, it is clear that current research suggests that monolingual and bilingual children meet major language developmental milestones at similar times.  ‘While a bilingual child’s vocabulary in each individual language may be smaller than average, his total vocabulary (from both languages) will be at least the same size as a monolingual child. Bilingual children may say their first words slightly later than monolingual children, but still within the normal age range (between 8-15 months)’.   Here are a couple of links to some interesting articles at multilingualliving.com and hanen.org on this topic.

I know all children have their own time-scale for development, but when you keep reading that ‘by the time they’re one and a half, toddlers are usually using at least 10 simple words like daddy, cup and dog though these aren’t always clear.’ (NHS Information Service for Parents) and your little one hasn’t even said ‘mama’, you do start to wonder.  I am speaking to him enough? Is there something else I should be doing? Is there some problem?

I spoke to the health visitor, making a conscious decision not to mention our household’s bilingualism as I didn’t want my concerns to be dismissed, to see if she had any recommendations.  She asked me about S’s hearing, which it hadn’t occurred to me could be a problem – he seems to respond well to noises, music and turns when spoken to. Apparently Bristol is the glue ear capital of the UK (the audiologist didn’t seem to know why!)  This is a condition where fluid get trapped in the ear, blocking sound and it can be the cause of temporary language delay in small children.  S has now had a hearing test, but the results were inconclusive so we are due to go back again in a couple of months.

In the meantime…. perhaps he’ll start to talk!

Childcare and maintaining the minority language

We chose to do minority language at home (ML@H) to try to maximise S’s exposure to Spanish – but what about childcare?  Would I be able to find any Spanish speaking childcare to continue his learning outside the home when I return to work part-time?

My search for any local Spanish speaking child minders or nurseries came to a dead end. It seems the options would be a nanny (which would be cost more than I would earn), nanny share (if I could find one), or an aupair (only once S is over 2 years old).

After a bit of mulling, I started to think that it would better to focus on finding good quality childcare instead.  At least to begin with S will still have most of his week in Spanish at home, although once he moves on to preschool and then to school, obviously there will be more and more English influence.  Of course I do want to him to learn English – I just think this is inevitable.  It won’t be long before he realises that everyone else is speaking English and quickly English will come his dominant language.

Unfortunately there aren’t any bilingual education programmes for Spanish in Bristol (there are for French and German), so we will just have to make sure we give him lots of input at home…. and take lots of holidays of course!

Chosing a name…the legal complexities of cross-cultural naming

We wanted to choose a name for our little boy that could be both English and Spanish… something that people in both countries would recognise and be able to pronounce.  We found out we were having a boy at the 20 week scan and had settled on S as a firm choice within a few weeks.  I would have liked to give him a middle name…. but L was not having any of it!  The surname, however, was a lot more complicated.

When L and I got married in 2007 we decided that it would make sense for me to take his full surname as is the custom here in the UK.  We didn’t really give much thought to the impact of our choice of surname on any future children at that point.  The assumption was that as we would be living in the UK then any children would also take on our surname.

Fast forward six years with the birth of our first child fast approaching, we started to look into how to register a birth and apply for Mexican citizenship for the new baby.  Although it is not the Mexican tradition for all family members to have the name surname, we did not anticipate any problems with registering our surname.


However, it seems that surnames in Mexico are strictly dictated by law and must be the first paternal surname followed by the first maternal surname.  We checked with the Mexican Embassy in London, explaining that I had changed by name on marriage and under the normal UK circumstances the baby would take our surname.  They replied that whatever he may be called in the UK, as a Mexican he would be have to be called by Paternal Surname followed by Maternal Surname.  Looking into the law on surnames in the UK, I found out that you can in fact give your child pretty much any surname you like – it does not need to relate to the parents at all!

I would have liked us all to have the same surname, however, we thought that having two different names in two different passports might confuse things if we were ever to move back to Mexico and need to prove school attendance or qualifications.  Useful if you are planning to train up your baby as an international spy but otherwise probably best to stick to one name.

We decided in the end to name our son according to the Mexican tradition, although for most every day business we will just use the first part, so superficially we do all have the same surname!