Any parent raising bilingual kids knows what a struggle it is to make using the minority language fun and engaging when “all the other kids” get to speak the language of power. At our house, we use Minority Language at Home (ML@H). As our kids get older, though, more English creeps into our lives, whether it be through school, in playgroups, television shows, or just the music on the radio. It’s hard to keep ML@H fresh and fun sometimes, but inspired by Olga Mecking’s awesome pro-screen time article, we’ve since started to let technology be our ally, and wanted to share our top three free Spanish apps.
Remember, however, that putting the screen in front of our kids is not enough. As engaged parents, we need to also take a bit of time to vet content and to debrief with our kids after they have engaged. Check out the #BilingualWe link to a WIDA rubric (WIDA is an educational consortium of state departments of education) that helps us determine if an app is high quality or not. A must-read!
Without further ado… our top three Spanish apps for language learners!
Top Three Spanish Apps
We had been using the YouTube app to let our daughter watch videos in Spanish. However, there were three problems that arose for our family with this system:
- It was hard to set an “end time” limit for using the phone without a fight,
- The suggested videos were not always kid friendly (we had an incident with a cartoon Elsa and Hans on the beach, a parody, that went downhill very fast and left LOTS of unanswered questions!), and
- The ads between the videos were numerous and definitely not kid appropriate. (The Conjuring 2? Don’t think so!)
Here’s why YouTube Kids is great for bilingual kids:
- There is a timer on the app. Children who read numbers would be able to unlock it, but if your littles can’t read numbers yet, they can’t unlock the parental settings. As a parent, you can set the amount of time that you want to allow your child to use the app, and they will be given a two-minute warning before the app goes to sleep. No more arguments about “how much longer?” There are also very few, if any, ads.
- The search bar allows you to search for the video that your child wants to see, and then the app populates related content. So, when we search for Spanish content (our current favorites are El baile de la fruta from Pica Pica, and El mono sílabo from Lunacreciente), the app will then populate related content in that language. This gives our kids the freedom to choose the videos they most want to watch, and we can be sure that the video is quality programming for our kids!
If you want to try YouTube Kids and aren’t sure where to start your search, hop on over to Pura Vida Moms’ YouTube channel and subscribe, then check out our relevant content!
We stumbled upon this app when it first emerged on the market, and it is still the only app that I will happily open and hand the device to my daughter for an unlimited amount of time. Dominicana Carla Curiel Castro (a mom who raises bilingual kids using ML@H, too!) created Mundo Lanugo, a free app for U.S.-born Latino kids and designed to emphasize language and culture… well, let’s just say we were floored! Here’s why:
- It’s fun! The app is super easy for little hands to navigate, but they have to think a bit in order to complete the activities. When your child opens the app, she will scroll through the virtual “world” of Lanugo, and can choose various activities based on music, art, storytelling, language, and games. The color palette is beautiful! The app works offline, which makes it perfect for use when we are traveling.
- The videos. Mundo Lanugo includes seasonal updates, and the video content in the update changes accordingly. Christmas brought us beautiful videos including El Burrito Sabanero and summer has brought us refranes that are explained in a cultural context through situations that are easy for young minds to grasp. After watching the refranes reel one day, my three year old came over and scolded me for speaking English. She said “Mami, hable español. El mejor maestro es padre diestro.” Incredible!
- The language. Mundo Lanugo makes sure to incorporate standard language from countries throughout Latin America, as well as music, art, and colors from around the world. We often find applications from a specific country, and while the content is high quality, there is just something about having comprehensible input that reinforces how we speak and understand Spanish as Latinos in the United States.
Mundo Lanugo is now a television show that is part of PlanetaU, the children’s television block of programming on Univision on Saturday mornings. They also have a spectacular YouTube channel that they update weekly with relevant, high-quality language content. Kudos to you Carla, for creating a phenomenal app!
Baby Radio is an app from Spain, and is created for Spanish kids ages 0-8 to reinforce pre-reading and reading skills. It is totally awesome because…
- The home screen emphasizes reading skills, but it is super engaging for kids who want to choose what they watch. There is a scroll bar at the top with touchable images for interactive content focusing on numbers and letters. An entire section of the app focuses on building pre-reading skills through identification of sounds and syllables. We also love the animated videos of popular songs in Spanish, with the lyrics embedded into the animation, which is great for pre-readers who benefit from seeing and hearing sight words at a high level of repetition.
- The menu includes a “contenidos a la carta” section where parents can narrow the countless activities down by type (math, language, creativity, and daily routine) and by age group (0-3, 4-6 or 7-8). This is super helpful in engaging this app as a support for a homeschool curriculum, or to reinforce in Spanish what our kids are learning in school in the dominant language.
- The music is incredible. There is a live feed of Baby Radio songs from both Mexico and Spain, and includes instrumental lullaby music at night. We love to put the radio feed on the stereo and listen to it during playtime.
There is paid content within the Baby Radio app, but it is subscription-based, and it isn’t possible for a child to inadvertently make an in-app purchase. We haven’t vetted the paid content because there is so much free content that we haven’t needed to!
And that’s it! What Spanish apps are you using with your kids to promote language learning? Share your ideas with us in the comments below!