Hola Bebe: The 101 for Bilingual and Spanish Children's Programming

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The 1st Gen

As a first-generation American, my parents spoke little-to-no English, so Spanish was my first language. I actually didn't begin speaking English until I entered a head-start program at the age of three (now they're referred to as Pre-K-3), where I was more frequently introduced to it by way of bilingual teachers. I had a fine-tuning of it verbally by the age of four and once I entered kindergarten I was completely bilingual without the slightest need for language assistance in my completely English-speaking classroom. 

Looking back, and even discussing it with my mom, it seemed like a pretty seamless and effortless process. She never spoke English with me so her worry never came with the need of having to learn English - she just knew that eventually I would pick it up. Besides, how could she teach me something that she barely knew herself?

I think that also goes for so many of my peers that grew up the same way. The truth is that, so many of our parents (*us - the millennials, those from generation x, etc.) who came to this country speaking their native tongues, kind of  all handled it the same way. They stuck to what they knew (i.e.: their native languages) and were confident that eventually their kids would adapt to English. And, we all did. 

What Happened?

Things are a little different now however. I can't help but notice that it is becoming a less and lesser practice to preserve native languages here in the states, since the ease of English is just that...so easy. With a growing wave of ethnically ambiguous children, and even without; the simplicity of just using English as the language of choice, when majority of surrounding things and items are all in English already, just make it the effortless pick. And, that’s fine if that’s what works for a household – but for me, I hold the preservation of languages with hardcore priority.

Global Citizen

Being bilingual for me has been a cherished skill in my career and without a doubt, an asset to each of my employers. I’ve sat at tables and have been the aide to negotiating deals worth millions of dollars with clients that would not have happened otherwise had it not been for the familiarity in language. Outside of work, I’ve used it day in and day out to navigate life, and have even found resorting to it in the most unexpected of scenarios where the English language was of absolute no value to me. For example; in countries like France, Italy, and even in the Sunni Islamic country of Morocco – all locations that are not native English speaking, but often the natives are in fact multilingual and fluent in other tongues; there were many times where speaking English for me was useless. It wasn’t until I asked this person and that person, if they spoke Spanish and immediately they would smile and respond with a warm and embracing ‘¡Si!’. 

Tactic and Discipline

Experiences like this have been more motivation to the reason of why I am tirelessly enforcing the teaching of Spanish to our little guy, and I hope that it’s something we keep up because we certainly have every intention of doing so! No one said it would be easy though, and if there is a time that the introduction to multiple languages needs to happen is right now. 

We currently have a One Person One Language system at home which we have been great about sticking to. We also make every effort to purchase all of our books in either Spanish-only or Spanish-English versions. Yeah, we do have some that are just in English, but the majority are either both or just in Spanish. As for toys, either they’re all bilingual, Spanish only, or non-language bearing at all (meaning non-catering to any specific language). Lastly, although we keep screen time to its limit, we specifically only allow it to be in exclusive Spanish broadcasting – for now, anyway.

A La Carte

It’s easy to just turn on the TV and flip to the Disney Junior, Nick Junior, PBS, or the other networks dedicated to older kids; but these are all English speaking.  For the parent looking to avoid it, like me, here are ways to seek out children’s programming in other languages if you’re eager! While a lot of these options listed do come at a cost of some sort, this is how we go about it in our home and the Spanish programming we make available to @LittleMrGray:

  • Call your Cable Provider – (Paid)

Start here. If you have access to cable TV, contact your cable provider and ask if they offer an international package in your language of choice. Our provider offers a fantastic Spanish package that comes with about 50+ channels. The only downfall here is that cable company agreements with networks usually change. What started for us as having our package with eight amazing age appropriate Spanish children’s networks, brought us down to four since 2018 kicked in, all due to contact changes. For us though, this was fine because we still appreciated all of the other channels we had, it just meant that I had to find another way to get those missing channels that I grew so fond of.

  • YouTube – (Free, mostly)

YouTube is another way of gaining access to international children’s programming. If you know the programming that you’re looking for and can search for it by title, then it’s an excellent way of going about it since it’s free! There are optional features available like YouTube Red, where you can save videos for watching later even if you’re offline with no access to wifi or mobile signal. It comes at a monthly premium however; just throwing that out there!

  • Neflix – (Paid)

Netflix offers the option on some of it’s programming to have the language of it translated from English to Spanish. This becomes super handy for shows like Clifford and PJ Masks!

  • App-Based Television – (Free, Sometimes)

At home both of our TV’s have Roku. Roku is an awesome app-based system that let’s you install and uninstall different streaming channels from all over the world. This works awesome for us because we have came across so many great Spanish toddler channels on Roku that we love! 

  • Sling TV and Other Similar Digital Cable Providers – (Paid)

Digital cable providers like Sling TV, DirectTV Now, etc, are slowly taking over the standard cable TV box set up. It’s a monthly paid system that lets you select the channels you want and pay only for those, and usually you have access to watch your shows anywhere as long as you have an internet or streaming connection! For us, SlingTV became the answer to our prayers when our cable provider terminated their contact with BBC which wiped out some of our favorite channels. SlingTV has an awesome Spanish package that included all of the channels we lost and some more, all super age appropriate for Gray. 

Ones to Watch

Now that you’re familiar with how we source all of our Spanish children’s programming, here’s a rundown of some of my favorite shows and TV networks that we tune into:

Doki - (Animated Series)

Available to us on Discovery Familia, check with your local cable provider; some episodes can be found on YouTube

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Doki is Canadian cartoon series, that is based on the leading character named Doki who is a dog and his group of friends which are all different animals. Curious and optimistic dog, Doki happily leads his pack of friends to visit different countries around the world to discover and learn about their culture and local customs. I myself have learned a thing or two watching the series and love that each episodes goes beyond the stereotypical facts that one may already know about each location - at first glance. In each episode they usually encounter a problem as well which they have to work together as a team to solve as they go along. I like Doki because they don't just visit the easy and obvious cities like Paris and London. You'll catch them globetrotting to places like Madagascar, Hong Kong, Seychelles, Senegal and more!

El Mundo de Luna - (Animated Series)

Available to us on Discovery Familia, check with your local cable provider; some episodes can be found on YouTube

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El Mundo de Luna is a Brazilian cartoon series, that is based on the leading character Luna, her little brother Jupiter and their pet squirrel named Claudio. Luna who is naturally a super curious 6-year-old girl, often embarks each episode with an imposing question that comes with a scientific answer. The questions could be anywhere from where are the seeds in a banana, to why do primary colors create secondary colors. In each episode the world is a giant laboratory, filled with opportunities to learn more about what things are, and why and how scientific actions take place. She sets out to obtain the answers by any means necessary along with her brother and pet squirrel and at the end of each episodes enthusiastically demonstrates her findings to her parents or grandparents.

Cbeebies - (Television Network)

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Cbeebies is a toddler and preschool television network that is produced by the BBC. It's an amazing network that includes awesome shows translated to Spanish from British programming, which I absolutely love. A few shows that have American familiarity like Hey Dugee (which can be seen now on Nick Jr.), and Sarah & Duck (available on Netflix) are available; but mostly they're all UK shows. We originally had Cbeebies offered to us by way of our cable provider but once they terminated their agreement with BBC, it went away. We regained Cbeebies once we subscribed to the Spanish package on Sling TV. Cbeebies also has an interactive phone app as well!

Semillitas - (Television Network)

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Similar to Cbeebies, Semillitas is a toddler and preschool television network that is currently available on SomosTV. Targeting a 0-5 age group, the network offers a safe Spanish-only broadcast 24-hours a day. The network is fantastic and prior to each episode, offers a parent-friendly brief on what each series aims to instruct your little one (CBeebies does something similar). Think of it as a Spanish version of the popular Sprout. Semillitas was offered to us via our cable provider but since the new year, we no longer have it. I'm still actively seeking ways that I can get it back - I will let you know if I come across one.  

Vme Kids - (Television Network)

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Vme Kids is another 24-hour television network that also caters to the 0-5 age group, and it's quickly became our favorite network. Aside the fact that we absolutely love all of the programming, what I enjoy most is that a good chunk of their shows are presented in 15-minute time slots versus half-hour runs. This is perfect for parents who are conscious about their little one's screen time! Vme Kids is available to us via Sling TV which is also super convenient since we can tune in to any episode of any show with just a smartphone, or tune in and watch their programming in live-mode if we choose to too! Another bonus, of all of the networks we have access to - Vme Kids is the only one that we can catch the Spanish version of Sesame Street, Plaza Sesamo - because, you know, Elmo is just completely needed in life.

I hope that this can ignite your bilingual mission with your toddler. Yes, it takes some legwork but the reality is that we need all the reinforcing that we can possibly have these days. Although we as parents seek to limit screen time and even eliminate it all together, I think that it's important to know that in the event you have to resort to it for one reason or the other, that you should know that it doesn't have to be in English. I've become so adapted to Spanish children's programming that now, language aside, I actually just prefer it more from a message and educative standpoint. I feel that the Spanish toddler and preschool shows that we have access to and even the grade school options are so much more informative and teaching of better lessons than the English shows I've watched; so no shade, but I appreciate it more. 

Do you have access to Spanish programming for your tots? If so, how do you go about it in your home or on the go when screen time is allowed? Share your tips in the comments!