Raise Bilingual Kids: MamaLingua’s Top 5 Tips
Are you raising bilingual kids? Thinking about introducing a second language? Follow our top five tips to support your language journey or to get started on the path to success.
While we talk a lot about Spanish here at MamaLingua, you’ll find these tips useful for raising bilingual kids in any language!
1. Create Your Spanish Sanctuary
When you’re helping your kiddo learn a second language, it can be useful to choose a place in your home where you’ll practice together. Create a “Spanish Sanctuary” with a dedicated location and time for practicing Spanish within your home. The space and time allotted can be big or small, depending on the fluency of your household. If you’re just getting started, you could begin with just five minutes a day in the kitchen and build from there!
Designating your Spanish Sanctuary at home is likely to get you learning and retaining information more easily than sitting down with a book or working through language units in an app. It’s also a practice you can gear to your own level and progress, steadily replacing keywords and phrases during your day, or switching locations to learn a new set of vocabulary words. It also turns out a child makes a great practice partner – they don’t care how you sound and love you even when you mess up.
2. Learn By Doing – and Showing
Studies indicate that learning in a familiar environment – and in context – helps us encode information and access it more readily. It’s a great tool for immersing your child in a second language.
With contextual learning, you can use as many props as you need to communicate the meaning of a word and set the stage for learning through the target language, rather than through translation. For example, if you hold up a pair of shoes and say “zapatos,” the meaning is clear – you don’t need to translate the word. When you learn by doing – and showing – you can teach (and learn) in context. Which brings us to our next point...
3. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Our lives as parents with little ones is pretty predictable and repetitive, which makes it perfect for language learning – both for us and for them. When you’re in your Spanish Sanctuary, you’ll use many of the same words and phrases over and over again, repeating them in context.
Research shows it only takes three to five instances of repetition for recall to occur. How great is that?! When a word is presented in context multiple times, it creates a real-life, relatable instance that helps with recall and understanding.
Regardless of your level of fluency, the fact is, your child will learn with repetition – and you’ll also show your passion and dedication for language learning. Even if they’re resistant at first, with consistency, your kids will eventually embrace the idea of learning a new language.
4. Sing and Read
Music offers benefits to kids of every age, creating connections in the brain that support cognitive and physical development, including language skills. Most kids are naturally drawn to dance and sing, so you can use their natural inclinations to your advantage. The repetitive, rhythmic nature of music makes it an ideal tool for language learning. (We all know how easily a favorite song can trigger memory and recall.) As importantly, kids don’t think of it as a lesson. They just think of it as fun.
The same is true for reading. Kids love great picture books, and images help us learn vocabulary effortlessly. Just like we did when learning our first language, we can pick up on meaning through context, without the need for translation. But what about accent, you ask? Your effort is more important than your pronunciation, and your child will see that it’s okay to make mistakes. Over time, they’ll absorb adjustments from other teachers and hone their pronunciation. In fact, those teachers might very well be all around you...
5. Find Your Tribe
Whether your child attends a dual language or immersion program, or you hope to enroll them in the future, look to build your language support system outside of the classroom and home. This can be especially helpful when you encounter resistance or rebellion to learning.
A Spanish speaking caretaker or friend can provide additional exposure and practice. And you can use social media to find groups and communities of parents who share your commitment and language interests. Creating a positive environment that’s both multicultural and multilingual can keep the whole family motivated and practicing.
Be the Example
So much of what we teach our kids is based on the example we set, rather than outright communication. When you integrate these practices, you show your child you think learning a second language is a priority. Of course, kiddos sometimes resist our best intentions – just like they do new vegetables. Our advice? Always remember that you are your child’s best teacher.