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?


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.

download (1)


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.


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.

41VS2Siy+IL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_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.

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!