A child learning a foreign language through reading

Kids learning a foreign language is a unique experience. And you should be proud of yourself for helping your children learn two languages at the same time. Raising your children bilingual takes some serious commitment. 

Learning a Foreign Language

First of all, children who are bilingual have a significant advantage over children who only speak one language. Today’s society has become multilingual, so let’s set our children up for success by learning them a foreign language.

But let’s start at the beginning:

What does being Bilingual mean?

Most children are native in one language. Bilingual children know two languages well enough to be considered native speakers. They can read, write, and understand everything in two languages. You can start learning them a foreign language as soon as they are born.

In fact, I spoke to both of my children in German when they were still in the womb. You can’t start early enough 😉

Why raising your children bilingual?

Researchers explain that bilingual children outperform children who are monolingual.

These kids are better at problem-solving, reasoning, and experience other advantages. This particular study even states that bilingual individuals delayed their dementia diagnosis. How is that for an advantage? 🙂

Majority Language

I distinguish between majority and minority languages when learning a foreign language.

The majority language is the language a child is most exposed to. In our family that is English. My husband and his family speak English to our children. My oldest daughter attends an English-speaking preschool. And some of my kid’s friends are English-speakers.

Minority Language

A minority language is a language a child is exposed to the least when learning a foreign language.

In our scenario it is German. I speak to them in German as well as my family overseas. Both of my kids have German-speaking friends and are active members of our German Mom’s Group. However, they are exposed to the English language the most, especially since we live in an English-speaking country.

So, it is important that I create as many opportunities as possible to expose my children to their minority language.

Learning A Foreign Language Step-By-Step

Here are 8 stress-free steps to learn a foreign language:

1. Read to your children every day.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to read to children on a daily basis.

I know what it’s like to have a child who is too busy to sit down and read a book. My oldest daughter loves to move around all day long. The little one isn’t much better. But we always made it a point to read to them every night. Because it helps so much with their language skills. It will get better over time. I promise! Just be consistent and make it fun for everyone.

However, if your children cannot sit still for too long, get books that are engaging. Like books where you have to open doors, touch different textures, or press a button. We also started with shorter books that require less time reading. The older the kids get the longer their books get.

Who is reading?

Furthermore, my husband reads to them in English and I read to them in German. My family and friends from Germany were kind enough to send books in German. You can also rent some German books here if you are interested.

Also, you can find books in different languages on Amazon or at some of the local libraries. You may need to call around to see if children’s books are offered in your target language.

Connect through feelings

When you read books to your children make sure you talk about the book (the story, pictures, and feelings). Ask as many questions as you like.

My oldest daughter, for instance, connects through feelings. If your children are the same way it’s helpful to point out how the main character feels. Or how he/she can be helped. Doing so helps your child to get involved in the storyline and will keep them engaged longer. It will also help with their problem-solving skills.

2. Listen to music and include it in everyday activities

Listing to music in the minority language is another fun way to expose your children to the target language. Music is an excellent tool for kids who are learning a foreign language.

I have multiple German CD’s with kids music in the car and we listen to it whenever we are driving. My oldest daughter started to sing along which is great to hear. Also, we are playing music in the background while playing in the play area every day. And we sing songs during daily activities, like cleaning-up or hand-washing.

We love using music because it’s very uplifting for us and the kids. Besides, there is nothing wrong with a dance party!! 😉

3. Talk to your child in the minority language and stay consistent.

This step is tough for me because I find myself switching back to English at times. Especially when we are out of the house and surrounded by English speakers.

What helps me is to meet up with my German Mom’s Group. Meeting other German moms and their children helps me to speak my first language and to stay consistent with my kids.

Also, it’s essential for my children to know that I’m not the only one who speaks the language. It keeps them motivated because they want to be able to communicate with their friends.

Surround yourself by other native speakers as much as possible

Therefore, if you are like me and run through the occasional trouble of inconsistency make sure you surround yourself by other native speakers. I created my own mom’s group to make sure I speak enough German throughout the day.

Seeing each other’s kids grow and improve their language skills is very motivating. It also helps to talk about things that go well and issues that arise while teaching our children our first language.

4. Communicate with your family frequently.

I make sure that we talk to my family from overseas on a weekly basis.

My children are excited to talk to their grandparents, aunts/uncles, and their cousins. I love how engaging our “phone calls” are. Sometimes my oldest daughter even draws a picture for our family members other times she sings them songs.

We also have a group chat on Whatsapp where we send each other pictures. This helps us to stay connected!

Different forms of communications

There are so many excellent and convenient ways of communication. I already mentioned Whatsapp. I also like Skype and FaceTime.

Use them! They are free and work very well. At least, most of the time. 😉 I don’t have a landline anymore (too many robocalls), so I love these options.

Make sure your family stays consistent as well

Make sure your family stays consistent using the minority language while speaking to your children. I noticed those family members who speak English, quickly switch to English when talking to my children. I have to remind them to speak to them in German (even when they answer in English). They need to stay consistent even when my kids don’t know a specific word in German. That’s how they learn.

5. Family visits

Have your family visit as often as possible and let them speak to your children in their minority language. Again, they need to stay consistent. I’m sorry if I sound like a broken record, but it is so important.

When my parents and sister (with her family) visited us this year my oldest understood everything they said. She even began to reply in German. Yay! She was only 2-years-old at this point. The baby understood everything as well. And that at only 1-year-old. This is a huge accomplishment, but it doesn’t end there.

Learning a foreign language is a lifelong process. However, it will get easier over time.

6. Spend your vacation with minority speakers.

My family and I are planning a family vacation for next year. We are meeting in another country to change things up a bit. But we are planning on speaking German the whole time. This will be so beneficial for my children and even for my husband.

You don’t learn a language more easily than by having fun! Wouldn’t you agree? 😉 You still can be adventurous by meeting up in a foreign country like us.

Creating a bond between the next generation

Also, with this vacation, we are setting an excellent foundation for the cousins and their relationship.

Vacationing together will help their bond and hopefully create a long lasting friendship. That will encourage my kids to keep up their language skills.

7. TV time in the minority language.

Moreover, my children are allowed to watch TV. Well, the baby doesn’t watch TV yet, but my oldest daughter likes to watch TV. Of course, we are limiting TV time according to APA to one hour a day.

I also make it a point to know what my oldest daughter is watching and that she understands what she is watching. I ask questions about the show and answer any questions she may have.

Different options

Netflix

To me, it is crucial that all the shows she watches are in the minority language. Find out here how to find shows and movies in other languages on Netflix:

Video: How to change the language setting on Netflix

YouTube

YouTube is another option we are using to stream TV in German. We type into the search “German Kids Shows.” I think YouTube is a good option for kids. But I always make sure that I’m in the room when she watches YouTube. Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t always show age appropriate ads.

I don’t want my daughter to be exposed to anything that is not age appropriate.

Vocabulary

Ultimately, I noticed a considerable change in vocabulary since my daughter watches TV in German. It’s fantastic and honestly, it makes me feel better about letting her watch TV in the first place.

Also, talking to her about what is happening in these TV shows helped her language skills a lot.

8. Bilingual activities for extra exposure

I created a lot of bilingual activities for my children that I’m sharing with you here. Especially my oldest enjoys them and get’s very excited when I tell her that I have a “project” planned for her.

Talk to your children

It’s crucial to talk to your children while doing these activities. They learn so much through having a conversation about what they are learning. Don’t be shy to ask lots of questions while doing these activities.

Additional Research

Also, if your child is struggling with a particular topic do further research. For instance, when we did the dinosaur footprints activity we talked about vulcanos and my daughter couldn’t grasp the concept of a volcano. So, I showed her a video on YouTube about volcanos. It helped her to understand it so much better. You can even rent a book at the local library if you can’t find a good video.

How you can stay on track while your kids learning a foreign language

Set goals

What do you want to accomplish? 

You and your significant other need to be on the same page. Decide who speaks the minority vs. majority language to your children. And make sure you talk about including activities like reading books or doing bilingual activities. Talk about goals and how to reach them together. Only you know what is best for your children and their progress.

Additional help?

Maybe you even want to send them to a language-specific preschool, daycare, nanny. That is always another excellent option for learning a foreign language. Not always the cheapest, but worth it, if you have the money available. Ask around in your community for these options. Other moms may have good advice for you.

Talk about progress.

How are your kids doing learning a foreign language? 

Talk about your children and how they are doing. Don’t forget to talk about any frustrations within the family, regarding your kids learning a foreign language, to get them out of the way. My husband helped me brainstorming obstacles in the past. He’s been so helpful and supportive.

Together you can ensure that your kids will grow up bilingual. Therefore, if you all are on the same page your children will become native speakers in two languages.

Don’t let anyone talk you out of your plan

You can do this!

-Bilingual Activities For Toddlers and Preschoolers-

I would love to hear how your language journey is going! 🙂

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