Are you raising bilingual children and feel like you’re doing all the right things? You’ve chosen to follow OPOL, MLAH or some combination of the two (for more about that, check out this blog post!), you’re consistent about using the language, you read books, sing songs, and even have games in the target language. But for some reason, you feel like everything just isn’t clicking together for your child? Do you at times wonder if there is anything else you can do?
The obvious answer of course is yes! There’s always more you can do. And a great place to start is placing children in an environment where the target language is widely spoken, preferably by a group of peers!
Travel and Total Immersion
The most effective technique is obviously total immersion. Traveling to a country where the target language is primarily spoken can have a major impact on your child’s willingness to use a target language. Not only is everyone else using the language (positive peer pressure), but they may even find themselves obligated to speak the language in order to communicate at all!
An ideal situation would be to travel to your chosen country and enroll your child in school, preschool, or a summer camp. Even a month abroad can have a great impact on your child. However, this situation is not always feasible. Be it financial considerations, work, or any other reason that may prevent your family from doing this, it does not mean that there aren’t other ways to give your child the exposure that he or she needs.
If you live in an area that has bilingual school offerings, especially if it’s in your target language, be sure to take advantage of it. If you are a homeschooling parent, then take advantage of the opportunity to not just study the target language, but learn other subjects in the target language as well. Receiving a formal education in the target language is a wonderful opportunity to help develop a child’s dual language skills. Learning to read, write, do math, explore science and learn about history in the target language can open a whole new world for children.
This is when the magic of playgroups comes in! Giving your child the opportunity to interact and play with children who speak the target language (or are learning the target language) is an extremely effective way to have your child speaking the target language more and more. They will be able to see that other children speak the same language as them, be exposed to more authentic language, and play with children while using the target language. It’s not only an opportunity for them to learn, but they will have so much fun!
There are several ways to find such a playgroup. The best place to search, of course, is online. Simply doing a google search will bring up any groups that may exist in your area. However, Facebook is a great place to search for such groups as well. Take the time to do a few searches and see if anything for your area comes up. By joining groups for bilingual parents (insert a few links) you can also connect with others who have the same language pairings in your area. If you cannot find a play group, you can always start one! Remember, even getting just two kids together can be effective.
Remember though, it may not be enough to simply throw a few children together and hope they speak the target language. Without your intervention, they may simply use the majority language. Remember to introduce children and always greet each other in the target language. You may want to model language use, sings songs (depending on the age!), read books, and put together activities that will encourage them to use the target language. It may take a little effort and an investment of time, but it’s an extremely effective and free way to help your children along on their bilingual journey!
My experience creating a bilingual environment
I have to admit that I’m lucky and that I don’t have to struggle to find ways to expose my children to our target language. We live in Florida and our target language is Spanish. There are opportunities for exposure everywhere!
I have seen, however, the effect that peer groups have on my children’s use of Spanish. My girls attend a bilingual school and receive some instruction in Spanish throughout their day. More importantly, however, there are many native Spanish speakers at school. This school year, my oldest daughter is in a class where there are several English Language Learners and her use of Spanish has simply flourished. She spends a lot of time playing with the girls and speaks Spanish during their games, translates things for them, and even teaches them how to say things in English. She is a lot more confident and enjoys speaking Spanish a lot more now!
Learning language is a life-long journey. It takes a lot of dedication, time and effort. The journey, however, is extremely rich and rewarding. Being able to communicate with loved ones, friends and even strangers all around the world makes life so much better! If your child is hesitant, don’t worry and definitely don’t give up! Whether it’s through total immersion, play groups, school, books, games, videos, or music, just keep looking for opportunities to expose yourself and your children to the target language.
What about you? Have you had the opportunity to jump in the deep end with your bilingual child? Share your story with us in the comments!
About the Author
Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari, a Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.