Starting Your Bilingual Journey

Starting Your Bilingual Journey

Starting Your Bilingual Journey

By Christina Cunningham

 It’s January, when the start of the new year inspires us to create new habits and build routines to brighten our futures. Similarly, the beginning of 2024 can be the perfect opportunity to finally start that bilingual journey you’ve felt hesitant about, or to rekindle old efforts to teach your little ones a second language. If this sounds like you, we have a few useful strategies to get your language-learning goals started off on the right foot.

  • Map out a plan.

Talk with language-learning partners about how often, when and where you’ll incorporate your second language with your kids. Will you try the one-parent, one-language approach, or use a different strategy? Is there anyone in your extended family to help you work toward your language goals? It’s best to get everyone on the same page before starting to incorporate a new language into the home.

  • Build language learning into daily routines.

There are so many opportunities to work language learning into your child’s daily routine. While brushing your teeth, getting dressed, setting the table, traveling in the car, etc., identify some target vocabulary (nouns, verbs and adjectives) that you can teach them. It’s best to think about the phrases that will be most useful in their everyday conversations.

  • Listen to some tunes.

Music is an excellent, developmentally appropriate way for children to learn just about anything, new languages included. Beyond the benefits for their vocabulary alone, listening to songs in a different language also teaches your children about different types of music and cultures. Hunt through Spotify or YouTube to find a playlist or album in your second language (or use one of our playlists from Passionfruit Kids) to help kids learn the fun way. (:

  • Check out bilingual books.

Most parents already spend time reading with their children before naps or bedtime. Add in a bilingual story to your routine to give your kids more exposure to the sounds of their second language. If you’re feeling nervous about your own ability to read in this second language, some other great options are listening to bilingual audiobooks or Vox-enabled books from your local library.

  • Seek out a bilingual community.

Some communities have existing parent-and-me language classes where children go to play and learn a second language. If these classes aren’t available near you, don’t worry. You can also get together with some like-minded families for a language-learning playdate. The best places to connect with other bilingual families are through postings at your local library, community center, Meetup or Facebook mom groups.

  • Consider your summer and holiday plans.

It’s never too early to start looking for summer activities and language learning opportunities. Do you plan to travel to a place where your children will be immersed in their second language? Will you sign them up for a bilingual camp? Will you have your own language-learning summer school at home? Get a head start on planning for your free time now, so when the time comes you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.

  • Visit local attractions.

Each new place you go provides opportunities to grow your child’s vocabulary. For example:

    • Art museum: Talk about the colors, shapes and figures depicted in art.
    • Natural history/science museum: Discuss everything from dinosaurs to geology; talk about time periods, dates and large numbers.
    • Zoo: Learn to label animals and parts of their habitat; talk about the textures of their coverings (fur, feathers, scales, etc.).
    • Nature center: Count the flowers, acorns and animals you notice; discuss the weather that day.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate your progress.

As your year of language learning eventually comes to an end, be sure to celebrate all of the progress you made along the way. Each new word or phrase opens up a new opportunity for children to converse, read and otherwise grow in their ability to communicate in a second language. This, in turn, opens up even more opportunities for their present and future. Own that accomplishment.

We’re wishing you the best of luck in meeting your language learning goals in 2024. Happy New Year!