Learning Spanish, Even in the Midst of Chaos

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2 cousins, 2 pregnant bellies, 3 children and a whole lot of fun (or is disaster the word I am looking for?) Sounds like the makings of a silly joke, right? Well, no joke! It has been our lives for the past 4 months and it has turned out to be a wonderful experiment in co-parenting, co-working, learning English and learning Spanish. 


Becky, Learn Safari’s Community Manager, and I happen to be cousins. When I say cousins, I mean that we’re almost like sisters (primas hermanas is what we call it in Spanish). We grew up together, playing and visiting each other regularly, staying at each other’s houses and even after I moved away, we have remained very close.


When the Learn Safari project began, I was excited to be working with a great team of programmers and designers, many whom were also Venezuelan like myself. When the need for a Community Manager came up, I was super excited to get Becky on board! (Yay! Nepotism hahah…no seriously, she has the skills, passion and dedication for this!)


So, when the opportunity came for Becky to come visit me for an extended period in order to work together on Learn Safari, we were both super excited for the opportunity! But we were also daunted by the facts: We would be two very pregnant women at home with 3 busy, busy girls, two husbands that were often away at work, and two different language learning goals.  


Starting the Experiment and Entering into Chaos and Confusion


Coming together those first few days was really exciting and fun! The best part, however, was seeing our little girls interacting with each other, much in the same way that we had when we were young. Now, I have been raising my girls bilingually with English as the community language and Spanish as the target language. She, on the other hand, has been raising her daughter with Spanish as the community language and English as the target language. So, my goal was for my daughters to learn more Spanish and Becky's goal was for her daughter to learn more English. 


What you heard was a serious mish-mash of languages! Becky speaking English to her child as I spoke Spanish to mine. Her child speaking mostly in Spanish and throwing in some words in English, while my kids speaking in English, but throwing around some Spanish. And then Becky and I trying to reverse languages with each other’s children! AGHHH! It was crazy!


At this point I was thinking, if there ever were a chance for confusing the kiddos with language, this recipe would sure be it! I couldn’t even keep it straight in my head! What language was I supposed to speak with whom? At some points I would be speaking full-blown, full-speed Spanish with my husband (who only speaks a little) and getting really flustered when he looked at me like I was crazy! How would my kiddos learn Spanish more if I didn't even know what language I was speaking?


Even through the chaos, however, I watched the girls blossom! It was amazing to see that even though I was not being fully interactive with my children (I don’t do pregnancy well! In fact, it’s my own version of torture) and I was spending so much time just trying to breathe instead of speaking (Little Cami Cakes was squeezing the air out of my lungs something fierce), my girls were learning Spanish more and more! Even after some regression in the language due to my lack of interaction during a lot of my pregnancy, I hadn't permanently damaged my kids and their ability to become bilingual! (Even as I write this, I'm patting myself on the back!)

In fact, my four-year-old daughter started having full blown conversations with me in Spanish and then she would proudly claim “Mami, I am talking in Español!” And Becky’s 4 year old, Twinkle Toes as she lovingly calls her, is now learning English at an exponential rate and for the first time she responds to her mom in full sentences in the target language and is even learning her letters and letter sounds in English as she gains all of her pre-reading skills.


Reinforcing The Outcomes


The experiment in co-parenting (It’s the reality of what we are doing, even if it’s for a short while) has really shown us how much children can learn from each other. It has also shown us that even in the midst of chaos, kids will thrive and learn as long as they are surrounded by love, attention and care. But to take full advantage of it, we are adding a few target activities to our days.


Apps for Learning Language


The girls sure love their tablets! In fact, we have to closely monitor their use so that they have a limited amount of time on them and the time they spend on them is with high-quality apps. Since Spanish is the target language for my girls, they get to spend a 20-minute session on Spanish Safari each day. And little Twinkle Toes gets 20 minutes of English Safari.


Preschool Attendance

The girls and I go to preschool every morning. I teach the older two girls in the VPK class. All of the classrooms, however, are bilingual classrooms and they learn Spanish and English with plenty of exposure to both languages.  Most of their social interactions are in English (I think that has to do with my eldest’s strong personality, she tends to set the tone…more on that on a different post!). The circle time activities are in English on Mondays, Tuesday and Fridays and they are in Spanish on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Their table time and one on one sessions are done according to their target language.


Learning English With Chores Around The Home

We try to get the girls to clean up after themselves and help around the house. Honestly, wrangling the girls into these activities happens in a mish-mash of languages as we will try ANYTHING to get them to help! However, one activity they always happily participate in is cooking with their Tia (or mommy) Becky. She’s an excellent cook and we sure have been eating well! But the girls love to help her and they learn so much language (English) in the process.


Reading in English and in Spanish

I may sound like a broken record, if you have read any of my posts before. But I am a huge advocate for reading and literacy! There is no better way to ensure academic (and life!) success for your kids. We read every day and alternate books in English and Spanish. I like to ask them a lot of open-ended questions about what they read it’s really fun to see them even act out the stories we read during their playtime!


T.V. Exposure

So, I would love to say that we don’t watch T.V. Heck, we don’t even have them in our home! That’s a lie!! We are a bit of a T.V. family, but as we are trying to consciously raise our children, we want to limit how much they watch. So, no more than 2 hours a day and we have successfully had a lot of days in which we don’t ever turn it on! But when we do, I try for the settings to be in Spanish so they can get some additional language exposure that way.


Learning Spanish with Music and Movement

Kids love music and dancing! And luckily, so do we. In fact, that’s how my husband and I met! We were both salsa instructors at the same dance studio. But, we just love music! And often we listen to music and sing and dance together.  So, our kids learn Spanish and learn a lot about our culture culture through music and dancing, especially with their daddy (Or as Twinkle Toes calls him, Tio Brandon)!  


It’s been a roller coaster ride! We have had struggles and many victories. Our house is messy, but our home is happy. We’ve seen such growth in our daughters, we have seem them learn Spanish and English more, and we have gotten to give them time to grow up with their primas, just like we did! Now, we have added two more littles to the family and as the time nears for when our cousins will no longer be with us, I simply think about how much I am going to miss them and this wonderful experience!


What about you? Do you have any stories of when your children were learning in spite of a challenging situation? Share your story with us in the comments!


About the Author

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on    Reading Safari, a game to help children learn to read in English.  You can follow her and the rest of the team on  Facebook ,  Instagram , and  Twitter.

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Reading Safari, a game to help children learn to read in English. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.