The Brainy Company makes a variety of products for introducing children to Spanish. Last week they sent me the Bilingual Baby DVD, the Brainy Baby Spanish/English:Simple Words and Phrases Book and the Brainy Baby Spanish/English:Simple Words and Phrases Flashcards. These items are available individually or as the Brainy Baby Spanish & English Bundle Collection.
Bilingual Baby DVD
The Bilingual Baby DVD is a wonderful collection of images to support a voice-over narration of basic Spanish words and phrases. There is no story, but this DVD is surprisingly engaging and entertaining. The live-action video of people and animals has wonderful colors and the pacing is just right. It holds a child’s attention and yet it is never too busy or overwhelming.
The DVD is intended for children ages 1-5 and introduces basic words and phrases. For example, the video teaches niño, niña, manzana, cama, libro, comer, dormir and leer. Children hear individual words pronounced and then combined into sentences. The video shows fun images of exactly what they are hearing. The DVD also introduces the numbers one through ten, the question ¿Cuántos hay? (How many are there?), colors and the question ¿De qué color es? (What color is..?). The structure of the video provides for lots of repetition of language with a great variety of images.
The native-speaker narration on this DVD is excellent. One woman does all of the voice-over and she has a warm, expressive voice. The inflection is just what you would use talking to children.
The video shows the Spanish text on the screen, but I do not think children get anything out of seeing the words. I understand that parents may want to know how the words are spelled, but children in this age group who are being introduced to Spanish as a second language are not learning to read in Spanish. They are learning by watching and listening.
At the beginning, the DVD explains that the English words are only on the screen for a moment in order not to distract the kids. The Spanish text could also be distracting for some children at first, but they will quickly ignore it. The pictures are too engaging for them to pay much attention to text in any language.
The DVD is about 40 minutes long. Children certainly do not have to sit through the entire DVD at one time. There is lots of repetition and recycling of language, so you can stop and start at any point. This is a video that children will continue to learn from as they watch it again and again.
Brainy Baby Spanish & English Simple Words and Phrases Book
This is a sturdy board book intended for children ages 1-5. The book is big, a great size for kids, and it has really wonderful photographs. The pictures illustrate common Spanish words and phrases including greetings, body parts, colors and numbers. The vocabulary in the book corresponds to a large extent to the vocabulary in the Bilingual Baby DVD.
To make the most of this book, move the language beyond the pages. With the parts of the body this is easy. After you point to the pictures in the book and say the words, point to your own eyes and nose, or your child’s, and say the Spanish words. With the numbers, count fingers and toes in Spanish. The verbs in the book are in the infinitive (comer – to eat, dormir – to sleep). An easy way to move beyond the book is to say Vamos a comer (Let’s eat) or Vamos a dormir (Let’s sleep) and then act out the action together.
This is a short book with relatively few Spanish words, so I was disappointed to find several misprints in the Spanish. For example, after introducing the words perro (dog) and gato (cat), the book asks “Do you have a dog or a cat?” The Spanish in the book is ¿Tiene un perro o un gato? The verb should be tienes. Tiene can mean “do you have,” but it is not the verb form used with children in most of the Spanish-speaking world. Later in the book the less formal form is used in the phrase te quiero, so tiene without the s is probably a misprint. If you get this book, read the question ¿Tienes un perro o un gato? Also, the word for the number ten, diez, is misspelled. The book spells it with an “s” instead of a “z.”
This is a book that you will read aloud to your child, so the errors will not affect its usefulness. It is just disappointing that more care is not taken in proofreading Spanish language materials for children.
Brainy Baby Spanish & English Simple Words and Phrases Flashcards
I do not use flashcards with children of any age who are learning Spanish. but I think these cards can be useful as activity cards. As activity cards, they serve as a reference or a label as you play with your child using Spanish words.
These cards are big and sturdy, meant to be handled by little fingers. You can use them to do lots of different activities with your child. Here are a few simple ideas:
1. Match objects to the cards. Play with three or four words at a time. Assemble objects shown in the cards and match them up. Say the words on the cards as you put the card with the object.
2. Move around the house placing the cards next to objects. La puerta, el reloj, los zapatos, un huevo (the door, the clock, the shoes, an egg) – label objects where they are and then collect the cards again. Say the Spanish words as you play.
3. Put three or four color cards out on the floor. Collect things of that color around the card. Repeat the Spanish color word as you collect and point to the objects.
4. Put three or four number cards out. Bring objects to make the picture on the card (2 cookies, 3 blocks) or the same number of different objects.
5. Take the cards in the car. Choose one color to look for. When you find three things, choose another card.
6. The color cards are hand prints. Make your own hand prints in the different colors. Say the color words as you make the pictures.
Again, I was disappointed to find several misprints and vocabulary errors.
- The number diez is misspelled, as it is in the book. It is spelled with an s on the card.
- The number dos is also misspelled. The card shows the pronunciation guide (dohs) as the Spanish spelling.
- The words for basketball and baseball on the cards are not the words for the balls. The cards show a basketball and a baseball. They are labeled with the words baloncesto and béisbol. These words can only be used to refer to the sports. On the other side of the card there is a related word, anaranjado (orange) for basketball and círculo (circle) for baseball. Given these descriptive words, and the fact that all the cards refer to objects, it is unlikely that the cards were intended to refer to the sports and not the balls in the picture. The most common words are balón and pelota.
As with the book, these cards can be useful in spite of the errors. It is just too bad that the same attention to detail that went into the Bilingual Baby DVD was not given to the book and flashcards.
Talking to The Brainy Company
I always send companies a draft of a review before I publish it. When I sent The Brainy Company the draft of this post, I wrote a very nice email (really!) saying that I hoped the representative would forward the review to someone who could see that the errors were corrected if they ever updated the products. I pointed out that the review was positive and said that I thought they would want to know about the mistakes. This situation comes up fairly often, and companies usually appreciate the feedback and free proofread. Last week someone offered me a job.
The representative at The Brainy Company told me that they had consulted with several professionals when they made the products, that there are differences in dialect and usage and that they were never going to make 100% of people happy.
Needless to say, I do not agree. I think that you can make 100% of people happy by spelling diez with a z, and dos without an h.
Getting beyond the misprints, obviously there are differences in dialect and usage, but as professionals we have an obligation to teach a standard, useful vocabulary. I believe that companies selling educational products to teach children Spanish have the same obligation. I am the first to recognize that although I have never heard or seen baloncesto used to refer to the ball, and cannot find it used that way anywhere, someone somewhere may say it. Does it follow that the word be used on cards for children beginning to learn Spanish as a second language? I am not usually one to turn to the Real Academia Española for backup, but if they do not think baloncesto refers to the ball, I would vote for a more standard word choice.
Do you have thoughts on the quality of Spanish language products for kids? How can parents who do not speak much Spanish make good choices when buying language products for their kids? Would you buy a children’s book in English with misprints? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Disclosure: The company sent me a copy of this product to be able to write the article. All of the ideas and opinions are my own.