I have vivid memories of my mom trying to get my attention as she shuffled through Spanish vocabulary flashcards in the living room. She lured me in with the promise of a card game, or so I thought. I split once I realized this wasn’t a game of concentration. I didn’t want to learn Spanish. My mom tried again, but had a different idea. She let me put Muy Bien! (very good!) stickers on quizzes as she graded them. They beat my Lisa Frank collection by a long shot.
Little did I know, she was trying to teach me a crucial skill. Spanish is the most-spoken non-English language in U.S. homes, according to an August 2013 Pew survey. More than 37.6 million people over 5-years-old speak Spanish at home. The language has grown due to Hispanic immigration and population growth and has immersed itself into many aspects of American life. You can’t go anywhere without toddlers referencing Dora the Explorer or seeing ads for Spanish food, among other things.
There are numerous benefits to foreign language education, like better reading skills and more confidence. Children who start learning at a younger age have a better chance of developing a natural-sounding accent, something older kids have a hard time with if they learn later. Learning another language can also help with listening skills. A study at Northwestern University showed that people who knew a second language could better identify another speaker’s voice among distracting noises. Most importantly, kids will develop a broader perspective of the world.
By the time I got to high school, I was able to conduct basic conversations and conjugate verbs with ease. I wanted to challenge myself to master the language. Spanish was pretty easy to learn and I welcomed each class as a break from the rigor of honors coursework. I also watched Selena, The Motorcycle Diaries, and Bajo La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon) not for extra credit, but to gain a better understanding of Hispanic culture.
Encourage your kids to take Spanish if languages are a curriculum requirement. A majority of the vocabulary is similar to English, which can make it easier for kids to grasp basic terms. Learning another language at a young age may inspire a love of languages. You might have a multilingual child in your house before you know it!
Image: Boy in school via Shutterstock