The Best Way to Make Sure Los Ninos Succeed?

As the global marketplace shrinks, more companies than ever are going to want employees who can speak Spanish fluently. Fortunately, we just need a little determination (and a lot of patience) to teach our children Spanish. There’s no excuse for not giving your children the language skills they need to get ahead. Here’s how:

Start inmediatamente.

Because children have the natural ability to learn multiple languages at the same time, expose your child to Spanish as early as possible and you’ll help her pick up a native-like pronunciation and proficiency. Studies show that the ability to process two languages simultaneously enhances reasoning ability and problem-solving know-how.

Pick one person to speak to your child only in Spanish.

To raise a truly bilingual child, it’s crucial to give both languages—English and Spanish—equal emphasis. The best way to do so? If you’re raising your child with your husband, then choose one of you to speak to her only in English, the other only in Spanish. Research shows that this approach helps a baby more easily distinguish the languages.

Speak Spanish every day.

It’s true that practice makes perfect, so your child must speak both English and Spanish everyday if she’s to become truly bilingual. Even if your child is older, it isn’t too late for her to pick up Spanish—provided you expose her to the language on a regular basis, she can become fluent within two to four years.

Emphasize reading and writing.

If your child is old enough to write, have her keep a daily journal in Spanish, assign her Spanish books to read and have her learn a new word every day. “We keep a Spanish-English dictionary at all times in the kitchen so they can always look up a new word,” says Lourdes Pita, an Ecuadorean-born mother raising four bilingual children.

Be prepared for the terrible teens.

Don’t be surprised if your teenager comes home one day refusing to speak Spanish. Teens want to fit in, and if their friends don’t speak Spanish, it isn’t cool. At this point, your best bet is to emphasize culture. Take her to see Spanish-language films or to eat out in neighborhoods where Spanish is dominant. You’ll help her feel good about where she comes from and, ultimately, about her ability to speak Spanish.

Take a trip

Few things are sure to excite a child more about learning Spanish than spending time in a Spanish-speaking country. Mexican American Guy Garcia, a New York City–based writer, just took his teenage son to Costa Rica during spring break. “I want him to speak Spanish because I know it’s going to open doors,” says Guy, author of The New Mainstream: How the Multicultural Consumer Is Transforming American Business. “It will make him a more capable person in anything he wants to do.”

—Karen Grimaldos