The Importance of Community When Raising Multilingual Kids
Raising children to be bilingual is a rather daunting task. I think anyone who has been on this journey has felt overwhelmed and not up to the task at one point or another. This is why it’s so important to use all of the resources available to us and one of the most important resources is the community.
Second-language learning is not merely a cognitive activity that takes place in the mind, it is actually a way to participate in a community and mediate the activities held in it. It is about relationships between people, the activities in which they engage, and the resources (material and other wise) with which they engage.
A community which speaks the target language and supports your multilingual journey is invaluable. Often times, however, we don’t make use of that community or simply feel like we do not have access to one. Here are a few reminders of what community looks like, how to build it, and how to benefit from it.
If your target language is a heritage language, then simply spending time with your family and asking them (and reminding them…constantly) to speak the target language with your children. If your family lives far away you can plan visits and use video calls. It’s amazing what regularly scheduled video calls can do for your child’s language skills and relationships with family members who are far away.
Friends are another source of support for your multilingual journey. Spend time with people who speak your target language. Whether they be your friends or friends your child makes, never underestimate this rich resource!
Foreign language schools have been popular in many parts of the world and they are becoming increasingly popular in the US as well. Whether it be dual language, immersion, or after school programs, these are extremely effective ways of having children learn and practice the target language. Not only will they have formal education in the target language, but they are a great way to make friends and meet families who share a common goal with you.
Play groups are extremely popular these days! With the advent of social media, they are easier than ever to find and join. Find one in which they use your target language and if you can’t, you can always start one up!
If you are new to raising multilingual children, you may not know that there is a vibrant online community of parents doing the same! There are wonderful online groups in which you can find support, ask questions (and get some answers!), make friends, and even connect with people in your area. Some of my favorite groups are on Facebook and I hope you take the time to check them out! They include: Multilingual Parenting Facebook Group, Raising Bilingual Kids and Little Global Citizens, Raising Bilingual/Multilingual Children, and Club Reto Bilingüe Network(in Spanish).
It may often feel like we are all alone, struggling to reach this goal. However, we shouldn’t feel like we have to do this on our own. Remember the old adage: “it takes a village to raise a child!” Luckily, with all the access to information and technology, we can use it to our advantage.
How about you? Do you think access to a community of target-language speakers is important? What benefits and/or drawbacks do they have? How have you built your own community? We would love to hear from you 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.