Sneaky Spanish: 5 yrs old

Bilingual Baby: “Daddy, today I got to watch Daniel Tiger.”

Daddy: “Oh, cool. In what language?”

Bilingual baby looked at me inquisitively. But I shrugged and let her answer. She replied confidently, “In English!”

I scrunched up my face, and Bilingual Baby’s dad said, “Are you sure?”

Bilingual Baby was sure, “Yeah! English!”

Finally I chimed in and let her know that she’d actually watched two episodes of Daniel Tiger back-to-back in Spanish. “But,” I told her, “you didn’t even notice because you understand it just as well as you understand it in English.”

But she wasn’t convinced. “No!” she said indignantly. It was in English! If someone speaks Spanish, it sounds different. And, to prove her point, she said, “Si alguien habla en español es diferente. Yo sé la diferencia.”

I didn’t argue with her. I consider it counterproductive to draw attention to what language her show is in. If I don’t point it out, if I don’t ask her “English or Spanish?” she never complains. She doesn’t care. When she asks if she can watch a show, if the answer is yes, I just turn it on in Spanish. If that’s your default, and you don’t make a big deal, it works. See my post from when she was 2.5 years old about my early approach to Spanish vs. English.

At that age, she knew there were two languages but was confused about which was which because I rarely labeled them. One evening, when she was 2, she asked me to read her a book in English and I said “OK” but proceed to read it in Spanish and she never ever caught on. All she knew was that she understood the words coming her way.

If your child whines and says they want a show in English instead, simply offering two choices: Let it play in Spanish or turn it off. This will do it if you hold firm. I promise.

Right now she’s listening to stories in Spanish from an audio book downloaded from the library. She’s drawing while she listens, occasionally looking up to make a shocked face, or to cringe. But because I’m writing this, I’m not following the story. So I just mimic her faces back to her.

With so little Spanish input from real people because of the pandemic, every little bit helps.

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