Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Children's Books to Get You Started

The best way we learn as children--through literature--is also one of the best ways to start learning a new language!  I love children's literature, and reading it in Spanish is just as fun, especially because I get to practive my Spanish that way.  Here is a list of four books I have enjoyed and learned from...

Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match / Marisol McDonald no combina
I found this book recently at our local library.  This story goes beyond learning things like numbers or colors in Spanish, and tells a fun, rythmic story about Marisol, a very original, to-the-beat-of-her-own-drum kind of girl.  Each page has the story written in English and Spanish....bilingual books are great to help you understand the story when reading it in Spanish; however, remember that Spanish and English do not always use the same expressions and translation are not written word for word.  So if you are curious to know a certain Spanish word you see on the page, look it up in a Spanish-English dictionary like

Build a Burrito: A Counting Book in English and Spanish: (Bilingual) (English and Spanish Edition)
Another fun bilingual book is Build a Burrito.  This story provides an entertaining way to practice counting to ten in English and Spanish.  You can also learn some fun new vocabulary words about food--like tomatoes, meat, cheese, and everything else that tastes delicious stuffed in a burrito!  The pages are even shaped like the food--this book is great for the younger set.

¨Eres Mi Mama? (Bright & Early Board Books(TM)) (Spanish Edition)
You might be familiar with this story about the little bird who falls out of his nest and has to search to find his mother.  This story will help you practice using verbs in the past tense, using the verb ser in the present tense and using vocab centered around birdiness.  Author P.D. Eastman wrote this book in English, but you can buy a Spanish version.  I almost prefer this method to bilingual books, especially with well-known stories, because we have a tendency to want to translate word-for-word, but if we read a well-known book completely in Spanish, we will do better to learn the Spanish instead of trying to translate from English to Spanish.  In other words, we are learning and hearing the story purely in Spanish, instead of being sidetracked by translating.  You can find Spanish versions to many classic children's stories like Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and more.

Growing Up with Tamales / Los Tamales de Ana (Hardcover w/CD)
I found this book about a year ago, and it is one of my favorites!  I love that it highlights the Mexican tradition of making tamales.  In the story, we see a young girl wanting to make tamales like her mother and sister, and each year she grows older she gets a few more tamale responsibilities, until finally she can make them all on her own.  This story is great for practicing the future tense in Spanish, because the narrator talks about what she will be able to do next year when they make tamales.  (Notice even in the title, how bilingual translations are not word-for-word; Growing Up with Tamales is translated to Los tamales de Ana which means "Ana's Tamales.")  Happy bilinualing!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Top 5 from Medical Spanish

Last night I had the last class with my fall semester Medical Spanish class.  My experience prior to this class with medical Spanish consisted of the work I did as an interpreter at a local Early Childhood center with the nurse there.  I love learning new things and expanding my Spanish vocabulary, so I was very excited to offer this new class last August.  We used McGraw Hill's Complete Medical Spanish textbook for the class, and I would use it again.  Each chapter offers a TON of useful vocabulary for the medical field, great dialogues to read and practice the vocabulary, and the authors introduce grammar concepts in a very organized and understandable manner.  What I liked most about this text is that each chapter contained adequate information and instruction for many different levels of speakers--enough basic instruction and vocabulary that beginners could start using simple phrases right away, yet also tons of vocabulary and cultural tid-bits for those who speak fluently to learn more and improve their interaction with Spanish-speaking patients.  If you work in the medical field, sign up for the next Medical Spanish class coming JANUARY!!  

Not only did I get to see a fine group of nurses and medical assistants go away each week having learned something new, I also learned things each week.  This list highlights the Top 5 things I learned from this awesome class:

Medical Spanish class Fall 2012

1.  There are a lot of cognates (words that sound similar in different languages) between English and Spanish in the medical field...probably because we derive many of our medical terms from Latin (but what do I know?)  Like:

hallucination =
recuperation =
constipation =
contusion =
laceration =
irritation =
secretion =
maternity =
contagious =
infectious =
immunization =
hematology =
radiology =
neurology =
epilepsy =
therapy =

2.  Using certain phrases, you can communicate A LOT in the medical field without having to learn how to conjugate verbs—which is awesome for Spanish beginners.  (For example: favor de + the infinitive = a great way to give commands without having to learn the Imperative Mood.)

3.   Nurses are really smart (and they care a lot too).

4.  Culture plays a huge role in communication, diagnosis, and treatment.

5.  I should have paid attention better in high school biology and anatomy.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Benefits of Foreign Language Study for Kids

When I stepped into Dr. Brown’s Spanish 101 class in the fall of 2003, I did not imagine it would bring me here—teaching Spanish to children and adults and working on developing a business centered on helping families learn Spanish together.  My declared major was Art and English, with the intention (or hope) of writing and illustrating children’s literature.  The college I attended required two semesters of a foreign language and, having no exposure to any, I chose Spanish thinking it would present the least amount of trouble for me.  I had no idea I would fall in love with the language, the cultures it represented, and the opportunities opened up to me by speaking it. 

My first trip abroad to Madrid, Spain
with Cottey College in 2005
My newest venture for the coming semester is the Mommy & Me or Toda la familia (The Whole Family) Spanish class.  I cannot wait for this class, because teaching young children might be one of my favorite things—young children think learning is fun, which in turn makes teaching fun.  But my excitement is twofold, because I cannot wait to show parents that learning a foreign language as a family is completely possible.  One mother and language expert interview by the The Darien Times newspaper says “language acquisition is actually a natural process [for young children] and acquired passively” (“Playschool expands”).  Anyone who observes a young child learning his or her first language observes that children delight in language and conversation, and are eager to learn new words and expressions; the newness of language for children is exciting, not daunting, and they try at it without any inhibitions, full of curiosity and excitement.

Reading bilingual books at Spanish Summer Camp 2012
Even though parents may realize that childhood is a prime time for learning new things, they may wonder why learning a foreign language is necessary or even beneficial for their children.  Over the years of learning Spanish, I have learned that foreign language study is beneficial for all ages for so many reasons, but especially the younger set.  As I prepare for the Mommy & Me class, my research shows that foreign language study reaps the most benefit in younger children, and it has to do with how our brains work.  Studies and brain research show that, “foreign language training improves not only students’ English language skills, but their reading and math performance as well” (Hulsey).  One mother even cited that her child, who had a learning disability in language arts and writing, actually improved in his studies due to the foreign language course he was taking (Hulsey).  The skills that students acquire when learning a foreign language go beyond being able to speak that foreign language: “some brain research has shown that learning a second language early creates neural pathways in younger students’ brains ‘that lead them to be better thinkers, better problem solvers’” (Hulsey).  A York University professor of psychology seconds that notion with this statement: “bilingual children develop crucial skills; in addition to the double vocabularies, they learn different ways to solve logic problems and how to handle multitasking skills that are often considered part of the brain’s executive function” (“Playschool expands”).  The information available about the benefits of bilingualism and second language learning is endless strongly convincing. 

Beyond the brain benefits, there are practical reasons parents should encourage their children from a young age to learn a foreign language.  Learning language at a young age makes it less difficult when students have to begin taking foreign languages in high school or college; knowing a foreign language makes job applicants more marketable and in-demand in the workplace.  Give your children the gift of foreign language—and do not be afraid to try something new right along with them.  The resources for doing so are endless.  Check your local library's website for foreign language lessons; find instructional videos or children’s songs on YouTube that teach Spanish or French; make new friends who speak a different language than you and ask them to teach you; buy the book 52 Weeks of Family Spanish; take a Spanish class as a family!  Make a brave step in 2013 and start a language learning adventure as a family—you will all be better off for it.  I would love to hear how it goes for you!  Connect with us on Facebook, leave a comment below, or email  Happy brain expanding!

Works Cited

Hulsey, Lynn.  “Early Birds Catch the Words.” Dayton Daily News 12 September 1997: 3B.

“Playschool expands with foreign language immersion classes,” Darien Times 1 March 2012: A11

Friday, December 7, 2012

Busy Box Viernes--La comida

Today we will start a new series called, “Busy Box Viernes.”  Viernes is the word in Spanish for Friday.  The “v” letter in Spanish is pronounced like a mix between the English “b” and “v.”  For that reason, I chose Fridays to showcase a new “Busy Box” idea—I thought “Busy Box Viernes” had a nice ring to it. 

Busy boxes are like busy bags or work boxes, containing a simple, hands-on activity that focuses on a particular skill set or theme.  For example, in today’s Busy Box, we are learning and practicing vocabulary words about food (la comida).  In our box is a set of index cards with pictures of food.  Each card has a corresponding clothespin with the Spanish word for that food.  Students get to match the clothespins to the right card as a way of practicing la comida vocabulary!  I like this method better than flash cards, because students get to match the word to a picture, so they start visualizing the picture with the Spanish word, instead of translating from the English word to the Spanish word—it is a way to start thinking in Spanish.

Here’s what you need:
Some advertisements from your local grocery store
or newspaper.

Clothespins, tape or glue, scissors, index cards (4x6 is a good size),
and a permanent marker.

Here’s what you do:
Cut out your favorite food pictures and glue to a card.

Look up the Spanish word for each picture
at and write it on
a clothespin.  Be sure to find out if it is
feminine or masculine, singular or plural.
Write the correct word for "the" before each
word.  El for singular masculine, la for singular
feminine, los for plural masculine, and las
for plural feminine.

"La pera" means "the pear."

"Las galletas" means "the cookies."

"El elote" means "the corn."

Sort all the feminine clothespins in one bag
for storage...

...and all the masculine clothespins in another bag
for storage.  Then assemple it all in your busy box.
(You can also use a gallon baggie if you do not have a box.)

Then label your box (or gallon baggie)
"la comida" (food).  

Here’s a list of vocab from our Busy Box:
Masculine Singular Nouns
el pan
el melón chino
honeydew melon
el arándano
el helado
ice cream
el jugo de naranja
orange juice
el sándwich
el bocadillo
el perrito caliente
hot dog
el yogur
el cantalupo
el melocotón
el durazno
el aguacate
el pimiento
el queso
el té
el elote
el maíz
el limón
el pastel
Feminine Singular Nouns
la tarta
la hamburguesa
la hamburguesa con queso
la mantequilla de cacahuete
peanut butter
la mantequilla de maní
peanut butter
la mora
la zarazmora
la naranja
la pera
la frambuesa
la Coca (cola)
el agua*
la mantequilla

Masculine Plural Nouns**
los refrescos
los tomates
los pimientos

Feminine Plural Nouns
las galletas
las uvas
las cerezas
las cervezas

*The word for water “agua” is actually feminine, but because it begins with an “a,” the masculine definite article “el” is used in front of it—because “la agua” would be awkward to pronounce.

**To make a noun plural follow these guidelines:
If a noun ends in a vowel add an “s” to make it plural.
If a noun ends in a consonant add an “es” to make it plural
If a noun ends in z, change the z to c and add “es.”
If a noun ends in –ión, add “es” and drop the accent mark.

Have fun making your Busy Boxes!!  And be sure to post a picture of yours on our Facebook page!

¡Nos vemos el viernes! (See you Friday!)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Describing You and Your Family

In our high school class, we are learning how to use the verb SER (to be) to describe people and their characteristics.  The different forms of SER (in the present indicative) are:

I am
we are
you are (informal you)
y’all are*
you are (formal you)
he/she is
you all are
they are
* used mainly in Spain

Each of these forms corresponds to the different subject pronouns:

I or me
femenine we
you (informal)
usted (Ud.)
you (formal)
ustedes (Uds.)
you all
they (the boys)
they (the girls)

Now that you know all these forms, you can say things like, “I am tall.”  Or “He is blonde.”  Or “They are short and nice.”  All you need to learn are a few adjectives.  Watch this video to learn some great describing adjectives.

Here is a short list of useful adjectives:


Look at the subject pronoun grid.  How do you say he? That’s right, él!  Now, how do you say he is?  Yes, él es.  Okay, look at the list of adjectives.  How do you say tall?  Well, there is alto and alta.  Anytime an adjective (describing word) ends in an “O” or an “A”, you have to choose one of those endings.  Use the “O” ending if you are describing a masculine noun and an “A” if you are describing a feminine noun.  So for he is tall, you would choose alto, because he is masculine.  So “He is tall” in Spanish is “Él es alto.”  See how that works?

You are ready now to answer the questions:

¿Cómo es?*  (What is he/she like?) or

¿Cómo eres?* (What are you like?)

In other words these questions ask, “Describe him or her,” of “Describe yourself.”

*Cómo means how.  So literally these questions say, "How is he/she?" or "How are you?"  But they are translated as "What is he/she like?" and "What are you like?"