Many of you may know I am an international teacher and my husband is a diplomat. This means our family moves every 1-2 years to a new country as well as a new language. I recently wrote our story, How we Taught our Daughter 8 Languages in 6 Years, to explain how our bilingual journey evolved as a family.
Today I want to share with you an article written by my friend Christina over at Raising Biracial Babies. She is raising globally minded kids and with her background in early childhood education, she is committed to helping other families to raise readers. This single mama is an amazing inspiration to me. I truly hope you enjoy hearing more about her journey to become bilingual with her kids below.
Having the desire to teach your child a foreign language, when you yourself aren’t bilingual can be really frustrating. You have done your homework and know the benefits that speaking more than one language gives your child. Or your goal may be to hold onto family culture through language.
Whether you are just starting out or have a language learning plan, I want to give you simple steps that will take the pressure off. These practical tips will guide you in helping your child become bilingual.
Help Your Child Become Bilingual When You Aren’t
I grew up in a family where half of my family is from Germany and speaks German. I grew up with the German traditions, hearing German music, and the German language. Although I understand a lot and speak some, I’m not completely fluent.
I always knew that when I had kids, I wanted them to at least learn one other language besides English. Additionally, I wanted them to be exposed to the German culture and language that was such a big part of my life.
I knew based on my own research that the younger a child begins learning a new language, the more likely and faster they can become fluent. When my own daughter was born, I began to look into how I could expose her to the German language since I wasn’t fluent.
Read Aloud in Your Target Language
This is probably the easiest resource! You can go to the library or use free online children’s books in the language that you are trying to teach your children. Children’s books are less overwhelming when you first begin. You can find all levels of books for simple exposure or authentic language practice. Children’s books can help you begin basic word and picture association with your child.
Use Music: Rhymers Are Readers
When my daughter was a baby, I received a gift of a few German CD’s. I played them in the background as we do our daily routines.
The words in children’s songs are repetitive and rhythmic. Since children learn more efficiently through rhythm and patterns, this strategy helps the child with vocabulary. YouTube is also a great resource for music in your target language.
Another option is using DVDs. My kids can be immersed in German cartoons while I work or do chores. Any single parent knows that keeping children occupied is a necessity. This way, technology was being put to great use.
Take Language Immersion Classes
I put my daughter in a German language class when she was 3 years old. This expense was well worth the investment! This particular class was once a week for an hour and a half. The class simply played games and did crafts with a fluent German speaker.
What I loved about this class was that it was full immersion! The teacher used language cues such as acting it out, pictures, or props to help reduce frustration and increase comprehension as the kids were learning.
I personally love the full immersion model. This instructional method results in children becoming bilingual at a much faster rate. The results for us were immediate. At home, my daughter would switch from English to German in conversation or with certain words to describe objects.
Get Involved in the Community
If you don’t have access to a formal class, that’s ok! Look for local playgroups in your area that speak the language you’re interested in learning. Local libraries tend to have bilingual programs as well. If you cannot find a group to join, consider starting your own!
Get your family involved
The best resource to help a child become bilingual is a fluent speaker. If you have family that speaks the target language fluently, they are your best resource. If you don’t see your family frequently, technology has made it easier for you to still connect. Exposure to language learning with a fluent speaker is always the best way to help your child become bilingual.
Invest in your own language education
Kids will follow YOU; their most important teacher. Invest in a program or use language learning apps and books as a free alternative. My best advice is to start today parents. Regularly practice your chosen language in front of your kids.
Choose the language you have always wanted to learn, or simply dust off those books from High School. Either way, put a high priority on language learning early and often for yourself.. and your kids will follow suit.
Vocabulary Vocabulary Vocabulary
As we work to become bilingual in German together, I use as much vocabulary I can remember every day with my kids. For example, during meals, while we paint or shop, I ask questions and require responses in German. Even if the entire sentence is not correct, we practice over and over.
Right now, airplanes are huge with my kids. This means every time they see one we shout ‘Fleugzeug!’ (airplane). I use the words we both know repeatedly and most importantly, I make it fun to practice.
6 Steps to Raising Bilingual Kids
Teaching your child to become bilingual when you aren’t bilingual is challenging, but not impossible. Remember to:
1. Set your child up for success by exposing them to the different language early on.
2. Use music, DVD’s, and books to begin their language journey.
3. If you have fluent family enlist their help!
4. You can look for local playgroups or learning groups that take place in the language you are looking for or sign up for formal language classes.
5. Don’t forget that investing in your own language education is important too! The more you pick up, the more you’ll use with your kids, which helps enforce the language.
6. Don’t let your fear of not being fluent scare you from trying to teach your child another language. Any exposure they have is a great beginning!
My advice; hold on to your goals and your dreams for your child when negativity hits you on every side. No matter what you do as a parent, someone will tell you are doing it wrong. Stay the course. Nevertheless, the unbelievable payoff of multiple language learning is well worth your efforts.
To support each other on our language learning journeys, I invite you to join our group of multilingual and multicultural families.
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