Language & travel: seizing the opportunities

I just finished reading Maria Babin’s thoughtful post on multilingualism and travel. When thinking about traveling with children for the sake of language acquisition, or to see family, or just to allow children to experience the goodness of discovering a world outside their own – I am painfully aware that our family is in this very short grace period of inexpensive travel. This is Ayo’s 4th trip to France in less than one year. But when Ayo reaches two years of age, he no longer goes for “free” (we currently pay 10% of an adult’s international airfare for the munchkin). It will take much more of a financial sacrifice or at least more miles for the hubs to accrue to put our growing family on an airplane. At the same time, travel will be more and more beneficial for them as they get older – such a catch 22! In the meantime, though, Maria’s reflections remind me of the importance of traveling as much as we can when we can, and making the absolute most out of our trips when we are there.

Sometimes, you don’t have to travel across the world to give your child a linguistic boost. Taking him out of his normal routine by visiting the zoo, a children’s museum or a nursing home can also provide us as parents with a new subject matter to talk about. It gets us away from dishes to intentionally talk to our kid. Arguably, such outings could be more constructive for Ayo than traveling across the world to see his English-speaking grandparents in France. Of course, our main travel purpose is to foster relationship between papi & mamie and Ayo. My point is, though, that if we don’t make the effort to expose our kids to the richness of the environment around us during our travels, the 100% free language-learning opportunities are forever wasted.

This is why, during this current trip to France, we have tried hard to have at least one simple activity planned outside the house each day: meeting one French-speaking friend, walking around the neighborhood to chat with neighbors along the way, or even running errands like fetching bread, posting letters or going to the hardware store. Inevitably, the cashier, the neighbor, our dear friends, the baker will interact with Ayo. Sometimes, he will even get a free croissant in exchange for his cuteness! In addition to the interaction, it is a healthy linguistic refresher for mama and even more so, a huge boost in motivation to continue the long and at times tedious multilingual parenting journey. When mama sees that Ayo clearly understands or responds to what is being said to him, it reminds us all that OPOL (one parent one language) was absolutely the right decision for our family.  There is no translating needed for Ayo. French is an integral part of our daily life on the other side of the world too. It’s natural, he gets what is being said and yet new vocabulary and new accents are offered to him on a daily basis.

One definite perk to my parents living in the countryside and spending time here in France during the summer is that neighbors are outside and constantly interacting. There are no gates in this little hamlet overlooking the mountains. Gilbert is out mowing the lawn and happy to show Ayo his flourishing garden. Lucie is watering her plants and will come by to pinch his cheeks. Jean-Baptiste is out checking that the workers did their job and loves to explain all the work put into building his new home. We don’t force the interactions, but we try to include Ayo in them as much as possible. Without this exposure, my folks might as well be visiting us in the US..


This post was written for this month’s Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival, organized by

This month’s carnival is hosted by All Done Monkey. Head over there in a few days to read fascinating blog posts written by a wide range of multilingual parents on the theme of ‘Language & Travel’!


8 thoughts on “Language & travel: seizing the opportunities

  1. I love the fact that while the white haired lady is speaking in French, your mom is answering in English and everyone seems to understand what is being said! Plus, your mom brings a different accent than your husband’s when speaking in English. 😉

  2. I didn’t grow up with the concept of savings because all our money always went into tickets for the next trip to see family — as an adult I see now what a tremendous sacrifice this was/is for my parents (and for my grandparents, who flew every year without fail to spend 4 weeks with us in Indonesia). It’s mindboggling to most of my monocultural friends that I can afford to take at least one international trip each year, but the truth is that I can only afford it through uber-thrifty living and the generosity of family. I suppose that’s a remnant of my Asian upbringing…those who have more are responsible to provide for those in the family with less.

    But oy vey, the cost of international travel might just be a family planning factor for us in the future… 😉

    1. I love it, Val! Thanks for sharing this about your family!
      We’ve been fortunate to have had lots of miles accrued so that I haven’t actually had to pay for international airfare in the past five years or so! We’re so incredibly privileged. The hubs almost always ties the trip into a business trip, like now, which drastically reduces cost.

      Ohhhh, don’t not think about kiddos because of the travel. It’ll just be time to get creative like your folks did so well!

  3. Such a great point that travel itself won’t magically grant our kids improvement in their language skills. We still have to make the effort to expose them to the target language through meaningful interactions, which is something that can happen even when you can’t travel! And so true that travel with young children is a Catch-22 – just when it becomes most useful it becomes so much more expensive!

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