Kids Learning Spanish the Fun Way: By Making Fantastic Latino Dishes!

2 May

This is a half-Spanish- half-English-speaking household. Just as we cook Latin sometimes and American (whatever that is) sometimes, we bounce back and forth between languages. The linguistic term is “code-switching” and Puerto Ricans in particular are the acrobats of the code-switching word – leaping off the English sentence into a whirl of Spanish and flipping backwards to finish in English. Or not. We understand each other, but other people think it’s gibberish. And while some derisively call it “Spanglish”, we know they’re just jealous of our daredevil dual language skills!

An equal opportunity eater!

An equal opportunity eater!

So of course I have done my best to help my son become bilingual.

Miss Susana introduces the recipe and its ingredients

Miss Susana introduces the recipe and its ingredients

This is not easy. These days most of my life is conducted in English – both my writing and my teaching, my social life, his school, the T.V. news. My parents have gradually abandoned speaking to him in Spanish altogether. Some days I forget to switch back to Spanish at home. I am that tired.



So I am lucky to have the support of Spanish All Year, the cultural language school that he attends a couple of hours a week. Which brings me to the reason why I am telling you – who are expecting to read about food and are instead hearing about language acquisition woes – about this.



At Spanish All Year, Leandro is learning his Spanish through cooking!

Ale gets control of the dough!

Ale gets control of the dough!

Susa “Miss Susana” Quintanilla, originally from El Salvador, is the cooking instructor at Spanish All Year, a language development school that is part of the Westbury Language Center on Post Avenue. Designed to develop Spanish language skills through cultural experiences in art, literature, dance, and – of course – cooking, the school has about 180 students from infants to tweens. About 100 of them participate in the cooking classes in the fully operational, friendly kitchen, decorated with pictures of exotic fruits and dishes.

Nora and Sydney roll their own...yuca fritters!

Nora and Sydney roll their own…yuca fritters!

Hoy vamos a hacer una receta de Bolivia (Today we are going to do a recipe from Bolivia),” Quintanilla told a recent group of five-year-olds (and me, since I was visiting) as they gathered on the floor in a circle to begin the class. First students found Bolivia on the floor to ceiling world map in the classroom. Then they reviewed the words and letters associated with the dish – arepas (fried dough). Finally, they gathered around the big table and got hands-on, helping Quintanilla prepare the dough and shaping the round patties themselves.

All hands on deck!

All hands on deck!

Finally, Quintanilla fried the dough and the kids tried (or decided not to try) their creations. Sessions last from ½ hour to 1 hour and are conducted entirely in Spanish. Recipes come from all the Spanish-speaking countries and there is a new recipe every week. Today there are no knives, but they do come out for other dishes. Rest assured, they are plastic.

The finished product - bolitas de yuca

The finished product -arepas de yuca

“These are the kinds of experiences the children will never forget,” says Quintanilla. “It is moving. Some of them have sensitivities and they don’t want to get their hands dirty. You learn to help them with that. They don’t just have a language experience; it is connected with something they like to eat. They say ‘I made this with my own hands.’”

Two thumbs up from Pulgarcita and Pulgarcito....

Two thumbs up from Pulgarcita and Pulgarcito….

School director María Isabel Martínez, from Colombia, asserts that including cooking is essential to the success of the program, which began in 2000. “They have to try everything and do everything, including chopping and touching and tasting,” she says. “It has to be real. Soup, rice, just like one’s grandmother might make. Life can be so artificial, so we strive to give them a real experience.”

The best thing? Well next to the fact that we parents get to try whatever they’ve made at the end of each session and get the recipes…Leandro understands most everything in Spanish and can order bolitas de yuca, chicharrones de pollo y arroz con habichuelas in faultless Spansh whenever we hit a Dominican restaurant!

Spanish All Year

154 Post Avenue

Westbury, NY 11590

516-333-0272 (The website is currently being redesigned…try this link for more info


14 Responses to “Kids Learning Spanish the Fun Way: By Making Fantastic Latino Dishes!”

  1. receta de pan de pueblo December 20, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    No tenia conocimiento tu blog hasta ahora, es sensacional!
    ¿Hace mucho que lo creaste? Lo seguiré más frecuentemente, su diseño muy usable.

    Leerte es inspirador, dan ganas de ponerse a escribir un blog.

    Hola! Podría usar una imagen de este blog para Puedo coger tus imágenes para mi
    mi web? No encuentro fotografías adecuadas para mis artículos y las
    tuyas son estupendas. gracias!
    Este blog se usa el mismo diseño que tenía en el
    mío! ¿Podrías contarme cómo se llama? Lo desinstalé y no soy capaz de recuperarlo…
    Muchas gracias.
    Muchas gracias por compartir post como este.
    Me gusta tu blog. Me guardo la Feed para no perderme nada en
    el futuro.
    Muy curiosa la información. los próximos
    Adoro este site. Post así son los que son más sinceros.

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy December 21, 2013 at 12:41 am #

      gracias por todos los comentarios….claro que ouedas usa imágenes,,,siempre y cuando los conectes y credítes debidamente….

  2. kathryningrid May 14, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Perfect approach indeed. Nearly all of my tiny vocabulary in various non-English languages derives from poring over food magazines and cookbooks and menus! 😀

  3. Ana May 4, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Congratulations. Excellent article. Felicidades.

  4. Mad Dog May 3, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    It works for me – living in Spain had a huge impact on my cooking and improved my language skills 😉

  5. Adam J. Holland May 3, 2013 at 7:31 am #

    This is great!

  6. Ashley May 3, 2013 at 6:35 am #

    Bolitas de yuca – me parece increible!

  7. Lorraine May 2, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    What a great way to teach children !

  8. Kara May 2, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    Love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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