My parents are my backbone. Still are. They’re the only group
that will support you if you score zero or if you score 40 – Kobe Bryant
After my post about how important it is to learn multiple languages, I got a lot of messages from parents asking for tips on how to make the whole process EASIER for their family… Especially if parents move their families to a new home abroad and are learning the new language at the same time as their children…
How do you support your kids in their learning when you, yourself, do not speak the new language?!
I think back to when my parents moved us to the South of France and not one of us spoke a word of French! We used to sit down every night and tackle our homework together as a family. It was definitely an incredible bonding experience during a challenging time.
I remember that us kids understood very quickly that our parents were struggling just as much as we were. We didn’t have unrealistic expectations for them. We didn’t expect them to know everything and be able to fully support us. Instead, we quickly understood that it was a learning experience for the family as a whole. It was fun. We sat with our parents in French lessons months before the big move. Once we arrived and started school, we were encouraged to add our new vocabularies to brightly-coloured posters around the house and share our lessons from the day with each other at the dinner table.
As a child, it was actually very exciting to be on the same level as my parents. We could struggle as equals. And then, what is always inevitable due to being immersed in school, I eventually overtook my parents with my language skills and ended up becoming their teacher; making those important phone calls to the gas company or writing that important letter when they weren’t confident enough to do so.
I’m sure that the process would have been a lot quicker and easier if I’d had a parent that was fluent in French… Nonetheless, I found the whole experience truly enrichening and can thank that part of my past for my close relationship with my parents today. We overcame the challenge and grew together.
That’s my personal experience as an expat child! I hope it can give any worried parents some perspective and soothe some of your worries. Your self-perceived ‘inadequacy’ to support your child(ren) will actually create a whole new opportunity to bond and learn together. If you shift your perspective in this way, you’ll have the best time as a family as you become bilingual together.
On this subject, I decided to quiz an expat mum on her experience teaching her children a language that she did not speak…
Flor says: “One of the main challenges of moving to Germany five years ago was to support our children in their language learning journey because we, the parents, didn’t know a single word of the German language. Frustration paid us a visit and despair made me rethink the reasons why we decided to move abroad so abruptly…”
Was it possible for her kids to acquire a language that they didn’t speak? How could she be their backbone when she felt so inadequate as a parent? But Flor knew it had to work. She just needed guidance, a plan, and tons of willpower.
Flor decided to equip herself with the right tools to promote language acquisition at home, even though she was also learning German herself. She says “I accepted that I couldn’t help my children as much as I wanted, but I knew that I was able to provide emotional and material aid if I had the right attitude and persistence.”
1. Lay the foundation for your children to learn and feel supported
It is important to highlight the reasons behind your decision to move abroad, ask for their opinion throughout the journey and promote motivation in many different ways. We cannot force our kiddos to acquire another language, so things need to be handled with tons of love, communication and assertive – But also with fun resources!
2. Teach by e
Learning the language yourself is a great way to work together with your children and develop stronger communication skills at home. Additionally, it is a fool-proof way to improve your resume, exercise your brain and gain confidence while travelling. It sounds like a win-win situation to me.
3. Invest time and resources in printed material, videos and music.
You don’t need to spend a fortune! Check your local library, second-hand bookstores, web-pages, and Pinterest to look for tools that your children could use at home to work on the communication skills they need to be fluent. Keep in mind that it is necessary to develop four different aspects of communication: oral, listening, writing, and reading. Prepare yourself with the right materials.
4. Contact people who speak the target language
This is a great way to get your children to practice their new skills with native speakers, and it can be done on a regular basis to keep the benefits of real-life situations ongoing. Our children are ultimately learning the new language to communicate, and it is through speaking that they will achieve higher fluency levels. No idea who to talk to about it? I am pretty sure you have relatives, friends or colleagues that speak the target language and would be glad to help you out! Hiring a tutor is also a great thing to do. Nannies and au pairs are very common in the expat community as well.
5. Go on, Don’t be Shy, Speak Out!
Being self-conscious of our own failures is very common while learning a language. We feel like awkward toddlers baby-talking a language we are far away from mastering. Remember: Your children are listening to you – and they don’t really care about your mistakes! Helping them by reading a text or simply singing a song to them in the target language is good enough. By speaking, we facilitate the learning process and give emotional aid to our little ones. They will thank you for it in the future.
6. Be Creative
The idea is to provide our children with as much exposure to the language as possible. I highly recommend visiting bilingual family websites and multicultural blogs to get ideas, motivation and support. This is a journey better done with the help of those who already have a little bit more experience than us. I personally like Instagram for quick tips and Pinterest for crafty ideas. Don’t forget YouTube for songs and sing-alongs in the target language.
7. Put your apron on
One thing that I have learnt from all these years of teaching Spanish to children and adults is that we need to keep things fun. So what better way to learn vocabulary in the target language than by cooking a traditional recipe? Imagine spending time with your children making a delicious dish, learning about the culture and practising new terminology in an interesting way. You don’t need to know the language for this to work – Simply write down the vocabulary, look for it online so you can listen to the correct pronunciation and voilá!!! You can then benefit from a special family dinner to enjoy the end results of your cooking and learning process (even inviting friends & family to show off your new language skills!)
8. Get your kids a pen-pal
Writing and reading are two of the language dexterities that your children will need to develop. Having someone to exchange emails or even snail mail using the target language is a wonderful tool to support the learning journey. Just remember to check well before contacting other people to pen pal. Our children’s safety always comes first.
So what are you waiting for? There are many ways to promote language learning at home, you just have to dare to leave your comfort zone and make the process effective, entertaining, and stress-free.
Parental support is the best thing that your children can receive from you. I’m pretty sure they won’t be scrutinizing your pronunciation or accent, they will be delighted to have you on board! Just remember this will be one of the greatest investments in the future of their careers and it is totally worth it to try! Make it fun!
Thank you to my wonderful post contributor!
Flor García is a Venezuelan writer, speaker and multicultural language trainer, raising three global-minded children in Germany.
In 2002, she started her journey as an expat and since then Flor has lived in three different continents, travelled around the world with her husband and kiddos, and learnt three languages. Currently, she teaches Spanish and English, aids immigrants families through