There is plenty of advice out there about getting kids to speak a second or third (weaker) language. One of my absolute favorite ways to get the kids speaking a minority language is… to ignore them!
What a relief it is to focus on myself (for once!) and let the munchkins experience the addictive process of language learning alive and in action in me.
This is one of my favorite tips because it is the one I forget the most readily.
And yet, it’s so fun.
Creating my own language world around me is maybe like being a bohemian interior designer, just loving. my. life. Think, painting an living room in the most cool shades of teal and blood orange. How about, accenting the walls with sparkly wall hangings from your past and present that invite you right into the story.
In an ideal world, enjoying my multilingual world would look like reading sprees, chatting with friends around the globe in their native tongues, mailing letters in sloppy Chinese and baby Italian, going to a language school to learn a new language. And simply inviting the littles along as observers. It would look like going to the outdoor breakfast stall to try new foods in a faraway land. Or, to learn about calligraphy there. Essentially, my pre-kid life.
In real life with little little kids, time is more limited. So, in the car, we have mama’s music time so I can belt out songs I love in the languages I love. We all need a break from Raffi’s Bananaphone. (“Operator get me Beijing jing jing jing…”) Or, I try to keep up with a basic number of long overdue foreign language emails and FaceTime calls. If I am half awake before falling asleep, I try to read the news or catch up on articles in a different language.
One in a blue moon, I might even get the chance to do some language study myself. When that happens, we talk about it, and everyone gets a reward for good behavior and leaving me alone. Like fresh jiaozi on the house! Seriously though, I am all about bribing the kids these days.
I regularly force myself to leave my comfort zone and to let my kids see me fail miserably. And I try my best to brave and make new friends speaking any language I know at the park. It gets awkward. That’s where the fruit lies, for me and for my tiny humans.
I believe that it’s important for kids to see how much their mother enjoys language learning but also that is can involve courage and self-discipline. And that hard work can be really gratifying.
By modeling language learning myself, I get to see the challenges my kids are facing in strengthening their own languages. Sometimes, even I have to be resourceful to find language partners or reading materials or reasons for output.
Chances are, the kids will beg to climb inside your world and join in the fun. They might ask you what a word in a song means and you might get to look it up together. They may ask you what you are reading. They might ask you to show them how to write a Chinese character. They may bomb your French FaceTime call.
Inevitably, your own natural passion for language will be contagious and grow in them a beautiful thirst for learning and using their weaker language(s).
Interior photo courtesy of Chris A Dorsey Photography