Childcare Advice & Guides, General News

Learning New Words

learn words in spanish

Children learn new words incredibly quickly. In fact, the human brain is designed to start learning words from birth. Whether children are learning English, Spanish or Urdu, everyone starts out learning a language in the same way, with three stages to master.


  • Learning sounds


Did you know that all over the world, in all the languages, there are around 150 sounds? That’s in 6500 languages! However, none of the languages of the world use all 150 sounds.

The sounds that make up a language are called phonemes and English has 44. Some sounds that we don’t have in English include the rolling RRRRR sounds that Spanish has.

As babies come across sounds, they quickly learn to distinguish the ones in the language that is spoken around them. Babies can hear all 150 phonemes, but lose this ability if they don’t regularly hear them. For example, that’s why sometimes Japanese people can’t differentiate between L and R – they’ve lost the ability to hear that there’s a difference.


  • Learning Words


Next children learn about how words all have different meanings. At first, babies will make a string of sounds, like maa, ah, ee, meh which will all mean ‘mum’ – the being they know will feed them and give them cuddles. This is quite a feat – they’ve worked out that those are the sounds that make up the word mum, so they have learned to distinguish between the sounds that they hear and are practising making them.

It’s not quite words though yet, it’s morphemes – a sound that has meaning. For example, a child knows that mummy and mummies have meaning, that the ‘-s’ sound is a morpheme that means more than one. That’s pretty smart stuff!


  • Learning sentences


Once children have learned words, next comes learning how to form sentences where they put the words in the right order. So if they want a red apple, they learn that in English we say ‘I want a red apple’ and not ‘I want apple red’ or ‘want red I an apple’.

Steve Pinker the linguist, in his book The Language Instinct, talks about how grammar is innate – part of how our brain works. In English, we learn the rules for adjectives going before nouns – the red apple. In other languages where they learn that it comes after – the apple red – this rule becomes fixed in the child’s mind. That’s why sometimes when we learn a language that works the opposite way, it can be hard to understand; because the rule is fixed in your brain when you are learning how to talk.

Learning new words in many languages

Studies from Harvard University have shown that learning more than one language helps children with their critical thinking skills and creativity. When a second language is learned, the rules don’t get ‘fixed’ in the brain allowing thoughts to form more freely, leading to smarter kids.

At Tiny Tree we learn Spanish as well as English through a range of activities. Children are taught to count to ten, the Spanish names for all sorts of everyday items and work with Carla to learn how to sing regular nursery rhymes in Spanish too!

Spanish in the home

One way which we help the children to learn is with songs that they know already. You can learn and encourage your children with their Spanish at home too with nursery rhymes. Try singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with them in Spanish. A pronunciation guide is shown under each line to let you know how the words should sound.


Estrellita Dónde Estas


Estrellita dónde estas,

Estray-eeta don-des-tas,


Me pregunto quién seras.

May pray-gunto kee-en se-rass.


En el cielo o en el mar,

En el thee-ay-low o en el mar, (hard “th” as in think, some pronounce is see-ay-low)


un diamante de verdad.

Oon  dee-amant-ay de verdad


Estrellita dónde estas,

Estray-eeta don-des-tas,


Me pregunto quién seras.

May pray-gunto kee-en se-rass.


So now you can help improve your child’s brain power and enjoy singing Spanish like a native. Give it a go and have fun.

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