We got in touch with book authors, bloggers, curricula writers, and other important people that share a passion for raising future generations bilingually. They will bring you a breath of fresh air into the world of Spanish language education through their story, their experience, and their advice.
The BEST Spanish advice comes from families that have spent their efforts figuring out what works for their families; adjusting, and continuing to move forward. The best advice comes from real-life experience and involvement with the language for many years.
Last time we interviewed Corrie Wiik from Mama Llama Linguist. It was a delightful interview and Corrie shared her wisdom and experience with us. If you missed last episode, you can read it here.
Today, we will be talking with Anne Guarnera from Language Learning at Home. One of the most visited blogs in the United States regarding Bilingual (Spanish)education. Anne holds a PhD in Spanish and is the creator of the curriculum Living Legends: Latin America. She has dedicated part of her life to learning spanish, immersing herself in the language and culture and using her knowledge to equip other families interested in raising bilingual children. We hope you enjoy this interview!
Anne, thanks for being here. We are really looking forward to getting to know you better today and explore your ideas behind bilingualism. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit of your story. Tell us about background.
I was raised in a monolingual English-speaking family in New Jersey, and like most people, I didn’t actually start learning a foreign language until high school, when I chose to study French. I actually went to college planning to be a French major, but when I did so poorly on the speaking portion of the French placement exam that my college placed me back in French 101, I gave up that dream! I decided to start over with Spanish and was able to learn it much more quickly and fluently. Having that initial experience of language learning failure taught me a lot about what it takes to learn a language and strongly influenced my teaching methods when I later became a language teacher myself.
That is a fascinating story! I love that you didn’t give up and instead used the obstacles to figure out a plan for the future. It shows that you are person who perseveres!
Tell us more about your educational background
After switching my language study from French to Spanish, I majored in Comparative Literature at college and spent a few years working at education non-profits that served Hispanic students. Those were great organizations, and I was very happy to be using my Spanish in “real life.” Finally, when I was 24, my husband and I decided to return to graduate school. I wanted to pursue a PhD and knew that it would be a long road ahead! I graduated with my Ph.D. in Spanish in 2017 when our first two sons were three years old and eight months old. While in graduate school at the University of Virginia, I taught Spanish to undergrads, which I adored.
I think it’s wonderful that you had the experience of using your new language skills in a real Spanish speaking setting! Also, being a graduate school while having a 3 year old child and an 8 month old baby is not for the faint of heart–That’s remarkable!
Could you share a little bit about your family today and what you enjoy doing together?
I’m married to my high school sweetheart and we have three wonderful boys, who are now 9, 7, and 4 years old. We live outside Washington, DC and despite the challenges of this area, we love our city. We feel so privileged to have access to the incredible museums, the historic sites, and even the outdoor spaces that we have here. As a family, we love to spend time outdoors, visit new places, play board games, and read. We are always reading, in both languages. We’re also very involved in our church, which is filled with people from many different countries, and spending time with them is a big priority.
That is so neat! It sounds like you guys are so close and like to have fun together! We are a big board-game family over here too!
Tell us about your decision to raise bilingual children. What kind of conversations did you have with your husband, what stirred up that desire, and what was agreed on regarding how you would start?
My husband shares my passion for language learning and has learned three other languages himself, so our initial conversation about raising bilingual kids was pretty short. It was something along these lines:
Me: I think I should speak Spanish to the kids.
Before having kids, we had imagined sending our children to dual-immersion bilingual schools and my oldest did attend a bilingual preschool that we loved. As the time approached to put him in school full-time, however, I felt increasingly convicted that we needed to homeschool him. The Lord gave me a vision for what a classical, Christian, bilingual education might look like in our home and the courage to step out and try it, and by His grace, we’ve been home educating ever since! We’re now entering our fifth year of homeschooling.
Hahaha! I love spose conversations like that! Not agreeing on things are, of course, a big part of a relationship but it is neat when just a few words show you are on the same page about something. Right?!
And, you decided to homeschool your children, congratulations–Such wonderful blessing!! Sounds like we have been homeschooling for the same amount of time as well. Like you, we started the kids in school but after just a few years, we brought them home so we could homeschool them bilingually.
Were your extended family members and friends supportive of your decision to raise bilingual children?
Our family and friends (many of whom speak other languages themselves) have been nothing but supportive. Honestly, I have never experienced any criticism for this choice, which is a privilege that I don’t take for granted. We live in a neighborhood with many native Spanish speakers and they frequently compliment our family on the fact that we speak Spanish in public. Total strangers have stopped me to tell me how meaningful it is to them that we’re teaching our kids their native language. The fact that we are blond-haired, blue-eyed Spanish speakers draws a lot of attention.
Wow, can see the level of commitment here. I feel like your children are gifted with very caring parents! And how special that you do speak to the kids in Spanish in public! I bet that is a memory that they will always remember! I am sure it hasn’t always been the easiest thing to do, but will be treasured in the long run nonetheless.
Not even mentioning how the regular practice promotes confidence, motivation, cultural awareness and ever grammar “on the go”. They are getting such an immersive experience!
Anne, Why is bilingualism so important to you?
When my kids were little, I encouraged them to speak Spanish by saying, “Double the languages, double the friends.” While this was really practical advice on the playgrounds in our neighborhood, it’s also more profound. I have seen first-hand how being able to speak another language has given me a deeper understanding of and love for other people. My Spanish skills have allowed me to learn, work, and worship alongside others from different backgrounds and that’s enriched my life (and hopefully theirs’ as well). For me, language learning isn’t about verb conjugations and vocabulary—it’s about other people. You have to “get out of yourself” to learn another language. You have to put aside your own comfort and be willing to make mistakes–like looking ridiculous when you can’t remember a word or say the wrong thing–and you have to be willing to take risks like that. When I’ve done that, however, I’ve learned much from others and had opportunities to serve them. My life has been enriched by that, and I want my kids to have the same experience.
I completely love this, Anne. It is beautiful to look at a language from the perspective of outreach and not just the skill itself. It’s like adding a soul to the task!
2.About Anne’s Blog:
What have been some of your favorite tools for teaching your kids a second language?
As a bilingual parent who is not a native Spanish-speaker, I’ve gotten really good at hunting down resources to provide my kids with exposure to native Spanish. My number one most important tool is the library. I have been reading aloud to my kids in Spanish since they were born, and most of our books have come from the library (or we would be bankrupt!). We also love audiobooks and podcasts in Spanish, which have allowed us to fit in lots of authentic language while we’re going about daily life–driving in the car, eating lunch, doing chores, etc.
The library is our jam! We attend it regularly and I deeply enjoy scrutinizing the Spanish section-ha! It’s almost like a challenge…”how many new amazing Spanish books will I find today?” 🙂
How have those changed as your children grow up?
As my children have gotten older, we’ve added in live online classes in Spanish, which are just one of the greatest things about this Internet age. My oldest son has taken art classes in Spanish since he was five with amazing teachers from Mexico (www.mexicanstorieswithart.com), and my second-born does conversation classes and piano with two different teachers who are from Colombia.
Check out our new Cultural/Geography unit study about COLOMBIA
What were some of your family’s biggest challenges while teaching your kids a second language, and how did you overcome them?
Two of the challenges that we’ve faced have been the following:
As a non-Hispanic family raising our children bilingually, we’ve had to be very intentional about creating a positive, Spanish-forward community for our children. Since we don’t have grandparents or cousins who share our family language, we’ve had to build that real-life community from scratch. Luckily, we’re found enough Spanish-speaking homeschoolers in our area to make that a reality, but it has taken coordination and drive on my part to organize that.
Prioritizing language learning also requires that we invest our time and money accordingly. We don’t participate in organized sports, for example, or other co-ops, so that we have the time and resources to pursue Spanish classes and plan worldschooling trips. Sometimes when I start to think about adding additional things to our schedule, I have to hold myself back and ask, “What would we have to drop in order to do this? Is this actually aligned with our priorities as a family?” It does take focus to keep language learning at the top of our priority list. The second challenge–the one that tends to keep me up at night–is that of balancing my own expectations with the actual needs of my kids. One of our children has some learning disabilities, and writing in both languages has proven to be a big challenge for him. Another one of our children is very resistant to speaking Spanish with me–although he’ll happily speak it in other contexts–and another child speaks only Spanish with me. Challenging and supporting each of my kids in these circumstances requires some juggling! It hasn’t been as simple a process as I imagined at the beginning of our homeschooling journey, yet the Lord has blessed us at each step. As with every other subject in homeschooling, I do need to remind myself that this is a long game and to focus on progress over arbitrary timelines or “milestones.” After all, I’m still a language learner myself–in English and Spanish. I’m still learning new vocabulary in both languages and learning to use them in different circumstances. When I remind myself of that, I can empathize with my kids better and keep the focus on my own consistency as a teacher rather than on outcomes that are beyond my control.
The level of commitment is so important, isn’t it? I think you have such motivation regarding your children’s bilingual education. So neat to see!
3. Anne’s encouragement:
You are the Creator of the Language Learning at Home Blog (Which I absolutely enjoy!). Tell us how that project started, what fired you up to begin, and where did you start?
Before I even began homeschooling myself, I met a lot of families who had questions about how to homeschool foreign languages. I started the blog as a way of answering those questions and using my education and experience to be a resource to the homeschooling community.
Your blog has been a fantastic resource for my family and has helped support our language learning goals positively! I am a native Spanish-speaking mom, and I have found so many valuable tips and resources on your website. Thank you for putting your time and ideas out there for the world to benefit from. I guarantee that, like me, many parents share the same sentiment!
Please tell us a bit about the language resources that you offer to the community
Most of my resources are free and can be found at the articles page on my blog. I always recommend that families start there to find the advice or encouragement that they need.
In addition, I offer Living Legends, a bilingual curriculum that I designed for elementary school students. Living Legends is a literature-based curriculum designed to immerse families in the history and cultures of ancient Latin America. Each week focuses on one picture book or story and includes discussion questions and hands-on activities in history/geography, poetry/music, and art. The curriculum is “flexibly bilingual”—all plans are written in English, and the curriculum can be completed completely in English, but Spanish-speaking families can also complete read-alouds and activities in Spanish (both options are included in the curriculum).
I’d love to develop more curricula like this in the future. While I think there are a number of excellent resources for learning the Spanish language at home, there’s still plenty of room in the homeschooling community for resources focused on Hispanic history and culture.
Yes, I 100% agree. Each creator also brings a unique flair to the cause, and plenty of families have different learning styles, goals, and desires, so diverse resources are a positive thing!
What encouragement would you give to families with low income or limited access to teaching resources?
I would encourage them to access their local library and to become friendly with the librarians. If there is a book that you’re interested in, ask your library to purchase it, and don’t be afraid to supplement with free online resources, like podcasts. Language learning doesn’t have to come from an expensive curriculum, especially if you speak the language yourself. It can simply be a part of your home atmosphere. Secondly, I would urge them to network among local families for support. We have found other Spanish-speaking homeschoolers through Facebook, but you can also network through churches, local libraries, or other groups. Many, many families want to encourage bilingualism in their children, so you might consider partnering with them and starting a Saturday Spanish playgroup or book club. If you can take on the role of organizer, other families will want to participate.
Thank you for that, Anne. Lastly, If you could give a piece of advice to families that are considering teaching their kids a second language, what would you tell them?
I would tell them to start taking consistent baby steps and to keep building off of that. This year, set a goal to practice Spanish for 10 minutes a day. Next year, it can be 15 minutes. But do it every day, just like math practice or practicing an instrument. It will add up over time.
Thank you for your time, Anne. I feel inspired and encouraged by your story and it’s been a pleasure chatting with you today. I wish you the best on future endeavors regarding your children’s education, your blog and resources!
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Thank you for reading this interview. We hope that through these interviews, you can leave fired up and ready to continue pursuing your language learning goals for your family and students with new ideas, resources, and motivation.
If you have any questions, ideas to share or comments please get in touch with us through email, contact form or in the comments below.
Here is Anne’s website.
¡Hasta la próxima!
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