Teaching My Baby To Read

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Do you want to hear about my 2 year, $2,000 failed attempt to teach my son Spanish?

This is a really depressing page to write.  I was a Spanish minor in college, lived in California for 28 years, and really, really, really wanted Bruce to be bilingual. I have never had a natural affinity for learning languages, and hoped that if I started Bruce out early enough, he would have a head start.

Bruce was a very early talker and by 18 months was speaking complete, more words than we could count sentences. So around that time, I also started teaching him Spanish.
My goal was for him to hear Spanish at least one hour every day.

  • We read books from the library in Spanish
  • We watched Muzzy
  • We watched Vme
  • We sang songs in Spanish
  • We played games in Spanish

I tried for the complete immersion experience.

I wasn’t telling Bruce “Rojo means red in Spanish.” Instead, I was saying “Mira! Hay una pelota roja.” By two years if you did quiz Bruce with Spanish flashcards (which I rarely did), he knew about 50 words. He couldn’t say the words in Spanish, but you could say the word yourself in Spanish and he would give you the English translation.

My own accent is not perfect, and I didn’t want Bruce to learn from my mistakes.
So around 30 months I signed him up for a wonderful immersion program taught by native speakers, for 70 minutes a week. It was horrendously expensive, and a 35 minute drive into the city for us to get there. Since parents were not allowed in the classroom, the separation was difficult for Bruce to adjust to, since he has never been in day care. But I firmly believed in the quality of the program, so I bribed him with ice cream and trips to the zoo, and we plowed through. The school also offered a full immersion preschool, but the distance and the cost made this prohibitive.

By the time Bruce was three, he knew at least 300 words in Spanish.

I know this because we would read books in Spanish together and he would point to whatever I asked him to point to in Spanish. He also asked to listen to Spanish CDs in the car. One day he told me that he couldn’t wait until he was 16 so he could drive a car by himself and listen to Muzzy on the radio! Our Spanish speaking relative use to interact with Bruce in Spanish, and he would always participate and follow directions, if not actually respond in Spanish.

When Bruce did speak in Spanish, it was with a pretty sweet three-year-old Mexican accent. (His teacher was Mexican, and a lot of the programs we watched on Vme had Mexican translators.)

I was really thrilled. My experiment seemed like a success!

The problem was, Bruce hated Spanish.

He enjoyed the CDs and the Spanish TV watching, but that was about it. When it came time for his Spanish immersion class, he had horrendous separation anxiety, even though he loved his teacher and I was sitting in the waiting room on the other side of the door. I could hear him inside doing art projects and playing games, and I knew he was having fun, but it was a battle ever Monday to get him to go. By contrast, he didn’t have any separation anxiety at Montessori.

I made Bruce stick it out with Spanish class until he was four years old and his sister was about to be born. I figured a new baby was enough stress in his young life, so I canceled his Spanish class. My intention was to continue with our at-home work, but Bruce was so sick of Spanish by then that he would yell “I hate Spanish!” every time I tried to say something.

Now, it’s two years later and when he’s in the right mood and I can quiz him on his old Spanish vocabulary cards, he basically remembers nothing, not even 20%. How depressing is that? So my husband and I decided to hold off on Spanish lessons with Jenna until she is older. Also, her language isn’t as advanced as Bruce, and I don’t want to confuse her. In the meantime, some Spanish programs have opened up that our closer to our home.

I’m still hopeful that if I begin Spanish with Jenna someday, that Bruce might be jealous of our private conversations in Spanish and decide he wants to start learning again. Or maybe we’ve hardwired into his brain at an early age the ability to learn another language more easily. Maybe when he takes language in high school it will come naturally.

Or… maybe I just wasted $2,000 and two years of my time.

At least we had a lot of fun trips to the zoo eating ice cream afterwards!


  1. Lisa says:

    Hi there,

    I just wanted to tell you about some programs we are using (for French and Italian but maybe Spanish later):
    Little Pim (for younger children)
    Professor Toto
    Brainy Baby/Bilingual Baby
    The Professor Toto especially has some great immersion dialogue, you may want to try these!

  2. Laura says:

    I know this is an older list, but thank you for sharing! I finally made a big, similar mistake homeschooling my firstborn. She spoke and read so early, I thought how could I not take advantage of those early years! And I made her hate it. 😣 And now as a ten year old, I still struggle trying to convince her learning can be delightful, whereas her younger siblings love school.

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