Foreign Language

I wish I were bilingual (or beyond), but I have little past a middling ability to read Spanish. I am fully half-German, a first-generation American on my maternal side, but I can’t make it past “Hello! Do you speak German?” We learned to count to 10 in Russian last year; before that I only knew the word for Tuesday, which had not proved useful in the 27 years of carrying that knowledge with me. The things we retain! I don’t recall having much exposure in my very early years, apart from growing up in Canada where everything is written in both French and English, so I try to do better with my son and hope he will have a broader ability to communicate when he is my age.

Out in the Community:

  • Are there multicultural centers, festivals or events in your town you could go to?
  • Visit an ethnic market or restaurant. Pay attention to conversations around you; try to decipher labels; attempt to interact in the language; ask if they would mind teaching you and your child(ren) a few words or phrases relevant to your transaction.
  • Do you have friends or family or know anyone with bilingual abilities? Would they be willing to give your child a chance to sit down and really interact with someone who can speak another language?
  • Does your library or another public facility have staff that are bilingual? Could they flow between languages while helping you?
  • Check your library for movies or audiobooks to put your listening to the test.

Lesson Building Blocks:

  • Play word games such as Scrabble with foreign words (or at least a bonus for using one). In other games, find ways to incorporate language – like utilizing your number vocabulary in Yahtzee. For more advanced vocabulary and phrasing, try ones like Guess Who? or Scattergories.
  • Start with A and work your way through the alphabet, one day at a time. Learn a word or two each day; take 5 minutes each morning to do a scavenger hunt through the house identifying as many words as possible that start with that letter; create a list of 10 or so words and see how many you can remember to use in a given day.
  • For a far more expansive list of ideas on incorporating language into your everyday lives, check out the Language Immersion Challenge.
  • Create a language poster. Find a quote or translate a favorite; practice using the words for colors, shapes, techniques; listen to music in the language and see what colors and forms it inspires.
  • Try corresponding in a foreign language – text, instant message, email, letters, whatever medium works best. You can do this with a native speaker or just within the family, much as we all passed notes in secret codes as kids. I personally go blank when trying to speak (or listen) in another language, but can function much better with the written word.

Great multilingual show-and-tell to share with the kids to hear some different snippets of language and culture