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7. How do kids learn Spanish?

Children pick up a new language easily is always said. Our experience is slightly different! Especially if the child in question does not want to make mistakes, and is afraid to be laughed at. If adults go to Spain, they can prepare themselves and take language classes. Small children are thrown in at the deep end!

children learn Spanish

Oscar and I took classes before we came to Spain, although I must say that in the beginning are language skills were quite disappointing! With the language training we took we could make ourselves more or less understood and sometimes we even grasped the answer when someone replied to us. But  making conversation?  That’s something different. Slowly and bit by bit we got better at it. The best tip is not to think to much,  use the vocabulary you have and add lots of hand gestures. That is how Oscar managed to find interesting houses and fine pieces of land and how I learned to make the  most delicious Spanish dishes from my neighbors.

Nienke says nothing
And the kids?  Everyone always said, “Don’t worry about them. They will speak the language in no-time. They will pick it up on the street, at school and playing with Spanish kids. No doubt about that…” And yet that appeared not to be entirely true … Our 5 year old did not talk  at school. She did not speak at all. Why? Simple, because she couldn’t speak Spanish and because she is the type of child that doesn’t want to make mistakes. She didn’t want to get laughed at so she kept her mouth shut.

I didn’t worry me at first. Her teacher, Miss Maria,  took the time to teach Nienke some Spanish words to give her confidence. But Miss Maria left after a week. From one day to the other a new teacher appeared, Miss Flora. And Miss Flora was way different from Miss Maria. Miss Flora followed the book and had no time for individual teaching.  Miss Flora had yet to find her own place in the school and the classroom.

Nienke remained equally cheerful. Went happily to school every day. She found it all very interesting, listened carefully, absorbed everything that was going on around her and finished her drawings neatly. But talking? no, she wouldn’t open her mouth.

Stupid joke
After 2 weeks Nienke came home and asked, “Mom, what does ‘habla’ mean?”. “Well, that means talk, why?” “Raquel, a girl from my class keeps saying Nienke habla, habla Nienke, and  I did not like that.”

Surprised, I looked at Nienke. What is this all about? I said, “Well, why don’t you say ‘Raquel habla’ back to her?”. Wrong, completely wrong. The next day I picked Nienke up from school with a very angry face. “Mum, it was stupid what you told me to do, Raquel did not like it and kept saying ‘Nienke no habla’ to me, all day long”.

Time for a good conversation
One of my neighbors clarified the case. When we walked back home together, she told me that Nienke didn’t talk at school. A son of a friend of hers was in Nienkes class and had mentioned this … Time for a good conversation with Miss Flora, and Nienke.

I have now received from Miss Flora the school subjects for the next few weeks and can prepare Nienke around those topics with words and phrases she can use in class. But more important is that the teacher gets Nienkes confidence, then she will really take off to learn Spanish. I am not sure Miss Flora ‘by the book’ understood this…

Anita Schmidt 08-07-2013 Moving to Spain