Aileen Passariello-McAleer and Christia Madacsi Hoffman wanted their children to learn Spanish at a young age, and they bet that they weren’t the only moms who wanted to create a bilingual environment at home. The Austin moms created the MamaLingua app, which offers real phrases a mom would actually use with her child.
The phrases are things like: Do you have to go to the bathroom? ¿Tienes que ir al baño?, or Do you like this book? ¿Te gusta este libro?
“We’re giving them basic stuff that is relevant,” Passariello-McAleer says. It’s in the context of their everyday life, making it more likely to be memorable rather than learning words and phrases that don’t apply.
The app allows you to set it as English or Spanish as your primary language, and you don’t just read the phrase. It pronounces it for you. There’s also a vocabulary tab of words commonly used. You can select favorites that you personally use often and sort by category or alphabetically.
MamaLingua has a free version as well as a premium version for $7.99 on iTunes and on Google Play. The free version has just a taste of the phrases the premium version has.
New phrases get added to the app, and on MamaLingua’s Facebook page, new offerings are posted regularly. The app is geared for young children birth to age 3, but can extend through early elementary school age.
“It’s straight-forward,” Passariello-McAleer says. “It’s for parents to learn and to teach.” And it’s on a device that parents often have around them — the cellphone.
Passariello-McAleer and Hoffman have backgrounds in language. Passariello’s parents are Venezuelan and she grew up in a bilingual home and speaks only Spanish to her children who are 3 and 6, but her husband speaks English to them. Hoffman studied French in college and lived for a time in her childhood in Hungary.
Passariello-McAleer previously worked at IBM and has a masters of business at University of Texas. Hoffman is a writer and graphic designer, but recently has gotten into acting and can be seen in TV and magazine ad commercials. They connected through their mutual interest in raising bilingual children at a meetup group Passariello-McAleer had started.
Even if Hoffman had studied Spanish instead of French, she says, she wouldn’t have learned the phrases that she would need to speak to her daughter, who is 5.
Other programs, Hoffman says, “It’s one word at a time,” and that’s not how kids pick up language. The early years are when kids are most likely to find it easier to learn a second language, plus their brain in constantly developing the pathways to make language acquisition easier later in their lives. Being bilingual has been show to improve intelligence as well as critical thinking skills.
Passariello-McAleer and Hoffman are working with schools that are either bilingual or have a strong Spanish-speaking population to get them the app. Parents can use it to learn English and their children, who are learning English in school, can use it to help their parents.
They also are working on selling Spanish books for parents to read to their children.