If you’ve begun your bilingual language journey, you might be wondering how to sustain it?
Many parents may find themselves the sole language speaker in a mixed family, possibly living in a community where there are few other native speakers.
So where can you find quality resources to help your children progress?
Here is my list of top 10 resources developed for my own kids who are learning Hindi, but this list applies to any language.
From toddler’s board books to formal workbooks to chapter books for young readers, there has been a surge of bilingual material published for children in recent years. Some books are being printed by mainstream publishers and sold on multinational retail sites like Mantralingua and Amazon.
You’ll find a wealth of other material simply by searching for your language online and on social media. Specialist publishers all over the globe are creating content for children. Search for ‘bilingual books’ on Instagram and you’ll find a rich list of material to buy or download.
While you’re at it, check out these unapologetically bilingual novels for adults!
Some of you may be thinking: “Apps, really? I’m trying to limit my kids’ screen time!”
But according to experts, quality educational apps help children learn. As a parent, I appreciate having the option of educational screen time, although please note that experts generally recommend their use with children above the age of two.
According to experts, the apps that help children learn have the following qualities:
– Active involvement – mentally and physically
– Engagement – they hold your child’s attention
– Meaningfulness – they allow your child to build on existing knowledge and add to it
– Social interaction – engaging with other people
I recommend the Shoonya Kids for Hindi, Spanish, English, Telegu, and Marathi (with Punjabi and Gujarati coming in the future) precisely because it meets the standards above and because of the authenticity of the images and spoken pronunciations. There are also other apps to teach children languages.
Nothing beats the real-time interaction and regular exposure of a formal class setting. The pandemic has made it easier to join virtual classes from anywhere, and there are many options for children. Investing in a weekly class will not only cement the consistency of your child’s learning, it will also take the pressure off of you to be their sole teacher.
Sometimes, you need small language prompts, and flashcards are a simple, effective way to introduce vocabulary. Some come already grouped by theme: colors, foods, verbs, adjectives, or clothing, which is helpful because they can help you plan lessons and activities.
Going to the beach? Can you take a few ocean-related flashcards in the car with you? Getting groceries? Grab the stack of food flashcards.
I like to use flashcards over breakfast. Right now, I’m teaching my kids Hindi verbs and how to use them in a sentence. I find they’re just alert enough and sitting still long enough to take it in!
There are many language flashcards on the market as well as free online printables and apps.
Family, faith and community
Surrounded by family? Living on a street with many like-minded parents teaching their children the same language? Going to the temple, gurudwara, church, synagogue, or mosque? Congratulations! You can team up with others in your community to hold classes, and conversations, play games, and watch movies!
More typically, even if you have family around, they may not practice the same approach to language learning. How many times have I asked my mother, a fluent Hindi speaker, to speak Hindi to my kids only to find them reverting to English within a few minutes?
Grandparents are sometimes no longer in parenting mode, or they’ve spent a lifetime trying to perfect their own knowledge of English and find it hard to suddenly change tack with the next generation.
But you can still harness other adults, grandparents and people within your language and cultural community to help you with immersion. Watch a movie together… play charades in your chosen language… or have a cooking lesson with vocabulary baked in.
Nothing beats language learning when there’s fun, meaningful personal contact involved!
Music and Rhyme
There isn’t a language in the world devoid of rhythm, music and rhyme.
Rhythm is universal to humans, so it’s easy to understand why it can help us learn languages. You’ll find children’s nursery rhymes in almost any language online.
Movies and TV
Thanks to streaming and satellites, no matter where you are in the world, there’s a TV channel or movie featuring your language: from Azerbaijani to Zulu and everything in between.
In my household, where my husband doesn’t speak Hindi, we sometimes have to carve out time to watch Hindi films with subtitles or to watch old ones I love with the kids while he’s away. Movies and TV shows give your kids a chance to hear the language, see the culture and be entertained all at the same time.
Check out this comprehensive blog post about which Indian films can help you learn Hindi!
I know what you’re thinking – Like career coaching?? What’s that got to do with teaching my child a language?
I was surprised too when I first heard about language coaching from Anita Sachariah, mother of two children in a household speaking English, Malayalam, Tamil, Spanish and Hindi.
“Raising a bilingual family outside of your native country is not easy,” she said. “It takes more than classes and study materials. Learning a heritage language is as psychological as it is academic. It requires difficult conversations with kids around self-esteem, identity, anti-racism and xenophobia.”
Anita is the founder of BhashaKids, a Washington, DC-based retailer specializing in children’s resources for South Asian languages.
But she also coaches parents, teachers and cultural schools on how to succeed in passing on language.
“I realized after starting BhashaKids that materials weren’t enough. In an English-dominated space, families & teachers needed something more. I started giving them pep talks, inspiration, and practical strategies. Many of us come from rich cultures and need to incorporate them into our daily lives to feel whole and to fully contribute, but it’s a challenge in a monolingual environment.”
So whether you hire a professional coach, like Anita, or create an informal tribe of cheerleaders for bilingual learning, it will help you with both the challenges as well as celebrating successes.
The power of playing in another language is drawn from humour, active listening and huge amounts of motivation. Who doesn’t want to win?
Other ideas include:
- Lotto/Bingo with pictures
- Word games like Anagram (rearranging letters to make words); Boggle (finding words in a random group of letters)
- 20 Questions
Big trips to the mother country where you get to immerse yourself and your kids in traditional food, language, and culture are of course the most valuable experiences. Children rarely forget the joy, surprise, and wonder of traveling to a completely different country, meeting family, and trying new things.
But if you can’t afford that family trip this year, how about a shorter trip to a cultural event? Or to the big city to watch a film in your language at a movie theater? You might book to see a musical or dance performance, or make a pilgrimage to a place of worship.
There are so many journeys we can make that tie into language learning, all it takes is a little creative thinking!