Becoming bilingual holds many important benefits for kids, from increasing their focus and creativity to enhancing their cultural sensitivity. If your children are enrolled in language classes — either at school or through an after-school program — that’s a great start. But, learning a second language requires more than just time in the classroom. In fact, no time in the classroom might be even better!
Don’t worry. We’re not going to tell you that you have to spend all of your time at home drilling your kids on vocabulary words. That’s not our style. While there are ways to make vocabulary drills interesting, they just aren’t that effective when it comes to acquiring real fluency.
So what works instead? Incorporating language practice into your everyday lives — especially as it relates to those activities you already enjoy doing together as family. Kids (and adults, for that matter) are more motivated to practice their second language if they can connect it to something fun. And, the more real-life practice your kids get with their target language, the faster they will become fluent.
With that in mind, here are a few examples of ways you can help your kids learn a second language while all of you are having fun. Just pick the ones that match up best with your kids’ interests.
Serve Up Language Practice in the Kitchen
Cooking together is one of the best ways to help your kids practice their second language. One reason is that there’s lots of repetition as you work through the recipes. For example, if you are making Spanish rice together, you need to measure the rice, cook the rice, add the other ingredients to the rice, simmer the rice, and fluff the rice.
Another reason we love combining cooking with language learning is that you can customize lessons based on your kids’ experience levels with their target language. For example, if your kids are new to learning Spanish, you could focus at first just on practicing the Spanish word for rice: arroz. As they gain more fluency, you can advance to using Spanish for the different steps of the recipe.
The kitchen is also the perfect place to connect language and cultural learning. No matter what language your kids are studying, you can find some kid-friendly recipes from countries that speak it.
Tip: if there is a YouTube video in Spanish with someone making the recipe, use that to make the food together!
Set Your Language Learning to Music
Whether they’re toddlers singing along with “Encanto” or teens who live for K-Pop, chances are your kids love music. That means you have lots of opportunities to provide language practice in this way.
As experienced Spanish language coaches for kids, we can tell you that younger children absolutely love singing songs in their target language. While they’re focused on the fun of making music, they’re also experiencing a lot of language learning. A quick Google search should offer songs from different languages to sing together at bedtime, in the car, or any time the musical impulse strikes.
As kids get older, look for music sung in their target language in the genres they like. Create a playlist together that you can listen to on the way to school or during mealtimes. Again, learning will happen through the power of repetition.
Binge Watch to Learn a Language
We get it. Sometimes everyone is too tired for cooking, singing or, well, anything beyond settling in with a favorite show or movie on Netflix. On those nights, when you all just want to share some TV time, you can still sneak in a bit of language learning. Netflix makes it easy to customize your experience based on your kids’ age, proficiency in their target language, and even their energy level at the moment.
For young children, find a kids’ show that’s presented in their target language or watch their English-language favorites dubbed into their target language. We suggest no subtitles, as kids don’t even read yet. Even if they can read, we recommend just letting them soak up the words while getting some listening practice. Remember, they listened for years before reading in their first language!
Whatever combination of “subbing and dubbing” you use, try to add some interactivity to your viewing. Pause the show or movie to repeat phrases together. Better yet, use an action for certain phrases or words. If you hear someone talk about being hungry, rub your belly! If someone says, STOP, hold your hand up like a stop sign. This is how we learn our first language, so it’s really great to use it for our second language as well.
We hope our list sparks more ideas on how to turn your family’s favorite activities into language-learning opportunities. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect, just consistent. All of those little moments of language practice over time will add up to fluency.
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