I get a bit jealous when I read about other contributors’ travels to visit family in Spanish speaking countries. What a great way to not only connect with family, but also to reinforce the Spanish being taught at home in the United States. Unfortunately, I don’t have family abroad to visit, but I was convinced that my own children would greatly benefit from the experience of visiting another country and being immersed in Spanish.
Back in high school I started studying Spanish, but it was during a semester study abroad program in Spain that I actually achieved fluency. There is nothing like being completely immersed in the language to learn how to speak it with confidence and ease.
For our family study abroad experience, I chose Peru. My husband and I had traveled throughout Peru prior to having children and just fell in love with the country, its culture and people. Before our sons were born, we rarely planned our trips, having only a rough itinerary and our plane tickets. Traveling with children changed my usual travel style, and so, I started planning our trip eight months prior to our departure. I began to research different schools and programs so that our whole family could spend time immersed in Spanish and the culture of Peru. My plan was to duplicate many aspects of my own study abroad adventure, and I was able to pretty much achieve a similar experience for our entire family.
My sons both spoke Spanish well before our trip, but now they are experts. We spent a month living in Arequipa with our home stay family. Living with a Peruvian family was a rewarding experience, and we were fortunate to have been placed with a family that was friendly, welcoming and supportive. Our host mother Marta went out of her way to help us feel welcome and at home.
Living day to day completely surrounded in Spanish was wonderful. My sons were also fortunate to have had lots of opportunities to play in Spanish with other children too. We were able to visit a preschool to play with other children, and the grandchildren of our host family were always coming over to play.
Originally I had planned to put the boys into a preschool program, but my son’s bilingual preschool teacher suggested private classes instead since it typically takes children a month to adjust to a new pre-school. Fortunately, I found a school that had teachers who specialized in teaching young children. The situation was actually perfect. My husband and I took Spanish classes while our sons were taking classes each with their own teacher. My older son was being taught to read using the Coquito method which is a Peruvian method of teaching that I think is one of the best in the world. My younger son spent a lot of time singing, reading and just playing with his teacher in Spanish. The boys’ teachers were wonderful, and for two hours a day, I was able to work with my own teacher studying Peruvian literature and furthering my own language skills.
We also traveled while in Peru to expose the boys to more than just life in the city. We spent time visiting an ancient religious site of the Wari Civilization and seeing the Inca terraces and small villages of the Colca Canyon. I was pleased that my sons loved to travel as much as their father and I do.
This trip has been a wonderful experience for our entire family. My husband and I plan to use Spanish with each other so that he will not lose the fluency that he acquired while living abroad. As a non-native speaker raising bilingual children, I am more confident in my own abilities and am inspired to continue reading in Spanish to further my own language skills. Most importantly, living in Peru was a wonderful experience for my own children. Being immersed in the language has really helped develop their Spanish and their traveling and playing with Peruvian children is helping them become citizens of the world.
I highly recommend this experience for other families. I will post our school information in the forum. Our host family is also interested in hosting other families. You can email me if you would like their contact information.