Like many, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I suddenly became a full-time stay-at-home parent. It was stressful at first, but it ended up being a really special time for me and my daughter. Besides giving us one-on-one time before her sister arrived in June, the silver lining of the whole situation is that she also switched to speaking to me in Spanish.
It’s been amazing to see how comprehensive her speaking abilities are. She has always understood everything I say in Spanish, but she hasn’t used it as her default language since she began speaking in full sentences. I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that she has no problem saying in Spanish just about anything she can say in English. And I have noticed that she actually thinks in Spanish too. How do I know she thinks in Spanish? Here are a few of the signs:
Applying grammar rules
My daughter conjugates all kinds of verbs in all kinds of tenses in Spanish and mostly gets it right. It always amazes me how she uses the subjunctive without even thinking about it (e.g. “mamá, quiero que vengas“) – one of the hardest concepts for learners of Spanish to master. She also applies the common conjugations to verbs when there’s actually an exception, which is how I really know she’s thinking in Spanish:
|Regular yo form (first person)||What she says||Irregular verb SABER yo form||What she says|
|Comer → como||yo como||Saber → sé||yo sabo|
|Regular yo form past tense||What she says||Irregular verb PONER past tense||What she says|
|Hablar → hablé||yo hablé||Poner → puse||yo poné|
Using direct translations from Spanish to English
|English||Spanish||What she says|
|Light blue||Azul claro||Clear blue|
|I don’t have anything||No tengo nada||I don’t have nothing|
|We ate dinner||Nosotros cenamos||We dinnered|
|It’s not Smaug’s treasure||No es el tesoro de Smaug||It’s not the treasure of Smaug|
Using the wrong words in English
|English||Spanish||What she says|
|I will go alone||Iré sola||I will go lonely|
|It reminds me of||Me recuerda de||It remembers me of|
Making up Spanish words
These days if I’m not sure of a word in Spanish, my daughter will sometimes speculate what it could be. She also makes up words while playing or in stories. Although they are made up, the words she comes up are obviously “Spanish” – recents include tipitar, corinar, and pulino.
Sometimes her inventions are extremely logical for a Spanish-thinking mind. For example, she was describing how to use dot markers yesterday and said they were for “dibujación”. The verb to draw is dibujar and often -ing activities end with ción (e.g. swimming is natación, training is formación).
Reading in Spanish
My daughter has always loved books and from a young age she’s been hearing what the letters sound like, but mostly in Spanish (e.g. “A es para avión“). A few months ago, she started sounding out the magnet letters on our fridge and putting them together to form words so of course I jumped on that to start fostering her ability to read and spell. Her default now is to sound out the letters with their Spanish pronunciation. It’s been frustrating for her at times when she goes to read English words and they sound nothing like how she’s learned the letters sound! I can relate.
Other cute things
While I’m on the topic of my daughter’s language, there are two more things I want to note for age 3: She still uses L for R (e.g. lojo for rojo, calo for carro). And she occasionally adds or mixes consonants in certain words like “eleflante” and “hitopótamo”. So cute if you ask me! But I’m biased.