I’m not a native English speaker. My parents are from the Dominican Republic and raised me in a Spanish-speaking household. I didn’t learn English until I was about eight years old. Though it was difficult getting accustomed to a new language while trying to maintain fluency in Spanish, I’m happy with my parents’ choice. I’ve benefited personally and professionally from being bilingual and I’d love for my kids to reap the same benefits.
I’m not anti-TV. My kids are well-acquainted with Miss Dora the Explorer. They’ve picked up some Spanish from the show which I’ve incorporated into informal lessons at home. They know their numbers and colors in Spanish. The kids are also aware that I speak a different language to their Grandma and Spanish Grandpa, as my son calls him. I often wonder whether it’s enough. The benefits of bilingualism are well documented and I don’t want my kids to miss out. I’ve found a few creative ways to introduce foreign languages to kids.
Fun educational resources
Don’t underestimate the power of foreign language DVDs, flash cards and books. My kids have books and flash cards in Spanish and watch their favorite shows in Spanish too. They enjoy the challenge of solving language puzzles. My son loves flash card quizzes.
I keep things interesting by asking him for the Spanish and English word for the object on the flash card. You’d be surprised by how interested your child becomes in learning a foreign language after a bit of superficial exposure like leaving books and flash cards lying around. Don’t force anything and keep the mood light. Let your child guide you and gauge their interest.
Maintain your traditions
Listen to music in your native tongue. Better yet, listen to music in a completely new language so you and your children can learn together. Introduce your children to traditional meals and refer to them by their proper names.
I speak Spanish to my mother every morning. My kids know I am talking to Grandma and know I am speaking Spanish. As they grow they’ll recognize the importance of this tradition. I use my daily phone call as practice for my conversational skills but also so my kids don’t forget the sound of the language. The key is to make your chosen language familiar to your kids. Children are naturally curious and they will take interest in what you’re saying. My 3 year old is constantly trying to figure out whether I’m talking about him to Grandma.
Of course three months fully immersed in a different culture is a wonderful way to introduce your children to a new language but it isn’t practical for most of us. Take your kids to different neighborhoods. Try new meals. See different things. It’s too easy to insulate ourselves in our own communities. Instill a sense of adventure into your kids. Share your enthusiasm for new things.
I’ve taken my kids to Dominican hair salons, restaurants and parties. All exposure matters. The more familiar your kids become with different cultures, the more open they will be to new experiences. Use these experiences as springboards for teaching at home. Whether your kids prefer flash cards, educational TV or books, their experience will be richer after having experienced different cultures first hand.
Are you raising bilingual children? What resources or teaching methods do you use?
Veronica Armstrong is a photographer, blogger, and freelance writer whose stories spring from the cinderblock walls of her married graduate student apartment. You can find her on Google+ or see more of her writing and photography on her blog.