How Immersion Travel Helped my Kids’ Spanish

girls and frogI knew our trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica would provide a little boost to my kids’ fledgling Spanish but I wasn’t sure realistically how much they would understand and speak. They have been learning Spanish for about a year now, during after school time, a few days per week. My older daughter also went to six weeks of Spanish immersion camp last summer.

My seven-year-old, I quickly realised, understands most conversations I have in Spanish now, so much so that I could not arrange her surprise birthday celebration with the hotel in front of her. On another day we met a man from the Maleku tribe who showed us these incredible Costa Rican frogs with bright orange feet and eyes. I started to translate for her and she told me, “I already heard that. The frogs lay their eggs on the leaves and take 23 days to hatch.” She was right!

But the most amusing evidence of my kids improving Spanish was at a restaurant on one of our last nights in Costa Rica. My girls asked for “limonada” and had waited all day for it as I gave them the choice of juice at lunch or dinner and they chose dinner. When the waitress first came over, she asked, “Agua por todos? (Water for everyone)?” “Si, por favor.” I replied.

My older daughter, who had been playing with her Nicaraguan doll, suddenly became sullen and angry, so angry she was unable to even speak at first. When she was finally able to express why she was making such a stink, she scowled, “Why did you tell her we wanted water? You promised we could get lemonade!”

“I didn’t order water for you two. You can still have lemonade.”

Then why did you say, ‘Yes’ when she said ‘por todos’ (for everyone)?”

And I had to smile.

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Stephanie Meade is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of InCultureParent, an online magazine for parents raising little global citizens. After living in four countries and working in many others as an economist in international development, she can speak four languages, including Spanish, French, Portuguese and English. She is passionate about all things related to language, especially raising bilingual children, as well as bringing up children with a global perspective. She is raising her own Moroccan-American daughters bilingual in Arabic and English at home while recently introducing Spanish. She always assumed she would speak Arabic by the time her oldest child was able to talk (which was four years ago now!) and she is finally making the time and effort to learn this year.

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