Hola Amigo: Fostering a Love of Spanish Language Learning

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! At Baby Ventures™, we’re BIG believers in teaching little ones new languages early on to help their brains develop and their worldviews expand. Earlier this month, we were thrilled to collaborate with two fellow women who run a small business dedicated to teaching children Spanish. Meet Conchita and Allison—founders of Hola Amigo, a unique subscription box program they diligently craft with culturally immersive, educational, and FUN Spanish language books and activities for children of all ages! Read on to learn about these two incredible women, their company vision, and the many benefits of teaching our kiddos la lengua española:

Lisa: Hola, Conchita y Allison! Please tell us a little bit about yourselves, including how you two met!

Conchita: I was born and raised in California. Everyone in my family stayed in our little town, so when I decided to be the first to attend college at UC Irvine, in a different part of California, it was a big deal! I met my husband at UCI but it wasn’t until many years later that we reconnected. I never thought I would leave California, but at the time he was in the military, and as military families know, you don’t stay in one place for too long. After his service in the military, we decided to make Virginia home for us and our two girls. Virginia was a big contrast to California when it came to Spanish. I found it difficult to find activities and resources that would support me in raising bilingual kids. In my search for resources, I found Chiquitin Chiquitan, a local Spanish immersion preschool. It wasn’t long after I found Allison’s preschool that she posted an ad for an assistant. I responded immediately! I have been working alongside her ever since.

Allison: Originally from Oregon, my husband and I relocated to Virginia after his Marine Corps service. We have 4 children ranging from 6 months old to age 9. My passion for bilingual education stems from my personal journey to bilingualism, the experiences that journey has brought me, and my previous work within Dual Language programs in public elementary schools. Conchita and I met through my Spanish immersion preschool where I was lucky enough to hire her as a teacher. I feel so grateful to have met and work with such an incredibly talented woman, and also for the friendship that we have created along the way.

Golzar: The science behind childhood bilingualism is clear: Learning a new language early on helps children’s cognitive development, as well as cultivates their ability to empathize with others. What role has bilingualism played in your lives, and now, in the lives of your children?

Conchita: Being bilingual is an integral part of my life. Spanish has allowed me to create deep connections with my culture. Professionally, it has opened doors and allowed me to reach and help people. I worked as a child victim advocate in New York and it was in this job that I realized how truly grateful I was to know a language that gave me the opportunity to be the bridge for families in need and the court system. Spanish has allowed my children to develop relationships with their grandparents. In addition, my husband and I love to travel. We always take our girls with us so that they can experience the beauty of other parts of the world. Of all the countries we have visited, we have the fondest memories of Peru. The sights were unbelievable, but it was our chats with children in a plaza and conversations with taxi drivers, that really gave us the deepest connection we have had on any trip we have taken. It was on this trip that I truly realized how fortunate we were to be able to communicate with people in so many countries because of our languages.

Allison: My path to bilingualism began as a young adult. I grew up in an English speaking home, and started studying Spanish in the traditional high school setting. When I started my undergraduate degree, I was given the opportunity to teach in a small school in Ocotlán, Mexico. I jumped at the chance as the combination of teaching and traveling felt like a dream. Through my experience in Mexico, and later work in a children’s home in Cochabamba, Bolivia, a whole new world and area of my heart was opened to bilingual education and different cultures. After completing my Masters in Teaching along with endorsements in Early Childhood Education, ESOL, and Spanish, I eagerly began teaching in public Dual Language programs. When our first child was born, there was no question that we wanted him to grow up bilingually. We made the choice for me to speak only Spanish to our kids, as we greatly desired to have a bilingual home. Shortly after moving across the country, I began seeking opportunities for our son to immerse himself in Spanish outside of our home. Quickly recognizing our area’s need for language immersion opportunities for kids, I opened a Spanish Immersion preschool in 2014. Raising bilingual kids and helping other families find ways to make it possible to do the same brings me great joy. It is a privilege and a gift to work with families every day!

Lisa: What was the impetus behind creating Hola Amigo? How do you see Hola Amigo shaping a future generation of Spanish-speaking children in the US?

Allison: Hola Amigo began as a response to families requesting materials and resources they could use at home to continue (or start!) learning in Spanish at home. Everyone has different motivations to raise bilingual kids – whether you are looking to expose your children to a new language, maintain your current home language, connect to your culture, be able to speak with relatives, or offer your children the MANY benefits of bilingualism. Whatever your motive, it is our greatest hope that, through Hola Amigo, families will be empowered to raise bilingual kids, celebrate and connect to their culture while having FUN along the way!

Golzar: Hola Amigo offers a wide, curated selection of bilingual Spanish books and activities for a both toddlers and school-age children. What is your educational approach to the books and activities you choose for your boxes? How does Hola Amigo research and cater to the linguistic development and advancement of each of the age groups you serve?

Allison: We spend a lot of time carefully selecting and curating each box! We always start with the book, and then build the box from there. We strive for our book selections to be engaging, bilingual, represent a diverse group of characters so all children can see themselves in what they read, and fun and inviting! Our activities are planned based off of developmentally appropriate skills for each age group. For our Toddler Busy Box, we focus more on foundational learning skills. Our Descubre Early Learner box follows a cyclical curriculum approach, allowing kids to explore a big idea in Spanish while simultaneously practicing and mastering early academic skills. The Explora Elementary Box entails a greater emphasis on cultural connections to Spanish-speaking countries, which enables children to learn and explore through hands-on activities. For every box, our goal is to give the language a purpose, deliver it in a meaningful context, while keeping it fun and play-based!

Golzar: As a bilingual parent, I know firsthand that learning a new language doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Rather, sustained cultural enrichment is critical to advancing children’s bilingual skills. How does Hola Amigo ensure children’s exposure to the rich linguistic, geographical, and cultural diversity of the Spanish-speaking world?

Conchita: From the first box we sent out, our goal was not only to expose children to the Spanish language but also to create connections with Latin cultures. We do so through the books and activities included in each box. Language is the gateway to culture, whether in the vocabulary used at the market or the important community buildings in a small town or large city. One of our goals was to create a product that would give children pride in being bilingual. Our Explora box, for elementary students, gives us the opportunity to focus on one country each month. We get to shine a spotlight on the amazing people, history, and natural and human-made wonders. After every box, my list of places to see grows! I know that my pride in being Latina grows with each country I get to rediscover through Hola Amigo. My wish is that with each box we send out, my sense of pride and wonder is also sent with it.

Lisa: How does Hola Amigo cater to children of both native and non-native Spanish speakers? What is your advice to parents who want to teach their children Spanish but are apprehensive because they are not native speakers?

Allison: We want to empower all families to raise bilingual kids! All of our boxes include bilingual instructions to provide additional support for non-native Spanish speakers. Additionally, we include QR codes built into all of our products. These codes offer instant audio and pronunciation support for families to enjoy the book read aloud, listen to vocabulary words or instructions, and have more of an immersion experience!

As with any goal, my best advice to all parents is to just START. Whether the efforts seem small in the beginning, consistency over time will bring results! Maybe they begin by choosing a few commonly used items in their house and begin to only use the Spanish word for them, or they commit to reading or listening to one book a day in Spanish. Regardless of what they choose, just find an attainable starting place and commit. When you find yourself a little off track, start again! Lastly, always keep it fun and positive for your kids. Celebrate every little victory along the way!

Lisa: We are so excited to have our bilingual counting board book, ¡Números, Baby! included in your Toddler Box for September 2020! How does ¡Números, Baby! resonate with the components you strive to include in your toddler boxes? Relatedly, how challenging is it to source quality Spanish books, and what can the children’s book industry – from authors to publishers and distribution companies – do to ensure greater content and access when it comes to Spanish books?

Conchita: We came across ¡Números, Baby! and instantly knew we wanted it to be a part of one of our Hola Amigo boxes! It is exactly what we look for in a book: it’s rich in cultural diversity and it provides information in a beautifully illustrated format. When we create a new box, we begin with the book. Books are a great way to teach and reinforce concepts. A lot of children like to read books over and over again so we keep this in mind when choosing a book. We want parents and children alike to reach for the books we send in our boxes. We were thrilled to have found your book and jumped for joy when we found it came from a fellow small, woman-owned, business!

When it comes to sourcing quality Spanish books, we have hit many walls. But that hasn’t slowed us down! We continue to reach out to publishers to ask for more books to become available in Spanish, or to show our support for unique bilingual books. One of the ways we find great books is through social media. It’s fantastic to see work from authors and publishers from around the world.

Golzar: Held from September 15th to October 15th of each year, Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the innumerable contributions la communidad Latina has made in shaping our national tapestry, and the expansion of the Spanish language nationwide is no exception. How does Hola Amigo celebrate this month, and what Spanish language activities do you suggest for families who want to do the same?

Conchita: Hispanic Heritage Month is something I have always celebrated with my children and now I get to expand our celebrations to include our Hola Amigo family. This year we shared a calendar with flags of Spanish speaking countries. Our hope is that families can use this as a resource to spend a few moments together learning something new about each country. When it comes to this month, it’s all about pride. I always ask myself what I can do to pass on the pride in my language and my culture to my girls. They know how I feel about my heritage, so I take this opportunity to help them connect in new ways, whether it’s making Venezuelan arepas together for the first time or dancing to tango in our living room. I want them to know that each country is more than a name, a flag, or a fact. It is art, people, and our history.

Muchísimas gracias por compartir su historia con nosotros, Conchita y Allison! We are honored to collaborate with Hola Amigo to help foster a love Spanish while introducing little ones to the rich diversity of Spanish-speaking countries around the world! This month and every month, we celebrate la lengua española!

Visit Hola Amigo TODAY to sign up for your monthly subscription box – teaching your niños Spanish has never been easier or more FUN!

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