Looking for a Spanish-speaking nanny? Have a bilingual nanny but curious to understand how to best support him/her? Here, we discuss a few tips on how to create an enriching language learning environment at home - that doesn't end with just "finding" a bilingual caregiver but "thoughtfully partnering" with him/her.
Note: We know that being able to hire a bilingual nanny is an enormous privilege - and finding a bilingual nanny is even more of a luxury. For our family, we set up a "nanny share" - both to defray cost and provide socialization. There are many families for whom this is not an option - whether because of expense or availability. Still, we were inspired to write this post after a conversation with another mom in the Habbi Habbi community. She was looking for ways to increase Spanish exposure for her kids with their new Spanish-speaking nanny. So, we thought it might be helpful to share some ideas, for those who are lucky enough to have one.
1. Have an explicit conversation with your bilingual nanny about speaking in Spanish
I have to admit that this is not something I thought of at first (but it’s a great place to start). I assumed that if my nanny spoke Spanish, she would just speak Spanish with the kids all the time. But I speak English with her, our house is filled with English books and music, we live in a predominantly English-speaking city, she speaks English, and so it’s natural that she would just use English in my home.
It’s worth thinking about what level of language exposure you are looking for when your child is in your nanny’s care. Are you comfortable with a mix of English and Spanish -- and letting that happen naturally? Do you want to have certain times of the day or dedicated activities that you would like to be “all in Spanish”? Or do you want as much Spanish as possible all the time -- including spoken conversations, songs, books, etc.? There are merits to all of these approaches, but whichever you choose, it’s worth talking it through explicitly with your nanny. She may have some great advice from past experience, and it also allows you to be aligned on expectations.
2. Try to learn (even if just a little bit) yourself, so it’s not just your nanny speaking Spanish
Many of the parents we interview and have featured talk about the importance of modeling love and appreciation for other languages for their children. And perhaps the most obvious way to do this -- is to try to speak the language yourself! Your nanny may be providing the majority of exposure for your child, but you can demonstrate the importance of the language by speaking it, too.
Of course, If you are able to fluently or even conversationally speak with your nanny (and child) in Spanish - fantastic, do it! If not (me!), then you can start by trying to learn some vocabulary and simple phrases and sprinkling them in. Don’t worry if your accent is not perfect! This is more about showing that you value speaking (or trying to speak!) another language vs. you being the pronunciation teacher for your child. For example, our nanny makes eggs for the kids every morning. We talk about huevos instead of eggs and say ¿Quieres comer? instead of Do you want to eat? I also try to listen for phrases our nanny uses frequently with the kids and use those, too. Even things as simple as ¿Qué pasó? (What happened?) and ¡Hasta mañana! (See you tomorrow!).
Another way to help yourself practice - and a great exercise for the kids! - is to have them decorate and cut out these fun printables of household objects, and then hang them around the house. It’s a good way to learn the vocabulary and a reminder to use the Spanish instead of the English vocabulary.
3. Keep Spanish books at home, for your bilingual nanny to regularly read from
Building a collection of children’s books - however small or large - is, for me, one of the most magical parenting responsibilities. Whether you borrow from the library, receive books as gifts, buy them yourself, or even hand down your own, decades-old childhood favorites, I think it’s so important and so fun to curate your child’s library. Like many families, we have lovingly collected books over the years… but, being an English-speaking family, I did not instinctively start with any Spanish books. As soon as we had the Habbi Habbi books at home, our nanny naturally gravitated to them, reading them to our son in Spanish (without the English). It seems so obvious in hindsight -- but if I wanted her to read to the kids in Spanish, I needed to provide the materials! You may want to ask your nanny for recommendations on bilingual or monolingual Spanish books to add to your collection, and / or provide a library card so she can select Spanish books from the local library
And just like trying to speak some Spanish, I try to participate in reading Spanish books, too. We use our Habbi Habbi books with the Reading Wand all the time (our nanny doesn’t need the Wand but we do!) - often in Bilingual mode so that we can all practice our Spanish but still have the English to help us learn. This practice has given me the confidence to start collecting other books in Spanish. “Oso pardo, oso pardo, ¿qué ves ahí?” by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle and “Buenas noches, luna” by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd are classics that you may already know and love in English, and they feel less intimidating to me as a starting place, because they are simple and I know them so well in English already.
As a side note - I’m so inspired by other moms in our Habbi Habbi community when it comes to building libraries at home. For example, Valicia and Eveline, both of whom are huge proponents of multilingual exposure and have amazing libraries of children’s books - including Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, French, and more.
4. Seek out Spanish classes and storytimes for your bilingual nanny to bring your child to
Before the pandemic, our nanny took the kids to music classes and storytime at the library. The kids loved it - and we loved the exposure to music and stories! It may take a little extra research, but many libraries, bookstores and music programs offer neighborhood classes in Spanish. Your local children’s museum or zoo may also offer activities in Spanish. Again, this is a great conversation to have with your nanny, as she may already know the best local classes and programs.
For those in the Bay Area, we will share a list of in person Spanish (and Chinese!) storytimes as soon as more of them (safely!) open up. In the meantime, we have put together a list of virtual Spanish storytimes offered by local public libraries, for those who are comfortable integrating some screen time.
5. Cook and eat Latin foods, for your bilingual nanny to feed to and discuss with your child
In our family, we love to cook and explore foods from all over the world. Food is one of our favorite reasons to travel, and -- much like language -- a critical part of cultural identity. So it makes sense for us to celebrate it at home, too.
Our first nanny was originally from Brazil and would take the kids to the Mercado Brasil in our neighborhood to get pão de queijo (still my son’s favorite!). In addition to building a very strong affinity for delicious Brazilian cheese bread, it also gave him an opportunity to hear more people speaking Portuguese together, since the shop was very popular among Brazilians in San Francisco. Our second nanny was originally from El Salvador and was an incredible cook (who loved feeding everyone!). She would make arroz y frijoles (rice and beans) and homemade tortillas for the kids, and green (unripened) mango (which I had never tried before and is so yummy).
There are so many ways to reinforce language and cultural context around food (which is also just delicious and thus creates an association of joy!). You may want to ask your nanny to incorporate Latin foods into your child’s diet, teach them the names in Spanish, talk about the regions they come from or the importance of the dish.
For more gastronomic inspiration - we asked our amazing Habbi Habbi Spanish translation review board for their favorite kid-friendly Latin foods and can’t wait to share that!
As always, we love hearing your thoughts, reactions -- so if you have ideas that have worked for you, please share!
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