From carting them around to school, practice, recitals and beyond, to feeding them three square meals each day, making sure they’re doing their homework, and trying to fit our own personal needs in there somewhere, our children often become our excuse not to take on new hobbies or projects, like learning a foreign language.
For the parents among us, have you ever considered learning a language with your kids? It might seem like an odd idea at first, since studying a foreign language is often a very personal endeavor, but there are several benefits to learning to speak another language with your children. It will allow you to spend quality time with them and will help you develop and polish your language skills at the same time. Not to mention your children will receive all the same benefits! It’s really a win-win situation.
Naturally, there are a number of factors that must be taken into account before you begin. If you feel you are more suited to learning a language on your own, then by all means stick to your current method. However, learning a language with your children does not have to replace your current method, but can simply supplement it. Another factor to consider is your children’s age. Speaking from personal experience, I have a two-year-old son named Zack. His mother is Russian and speaks her native language to him on a daily basis. I speak both French and English and communicate with him in both of these languages. Some people have told us that speaking to Zack in several languages at the same time might have a detrimental effect on his developing brain. I’m no expert on the matter, but I believe the opposite. Zack’s brain is a little sponge and he is able to respond to all three languages. To me, the benefits are clear even at his age. For example, on occasion Zack will ask me something in Russian and I ask him to repeat his question in English or French. Sometimes if he poses a question in English, I’ll respond in French and vice versa. This might be confusing to an adult but children are able to adapt remarkably to different situations and Zack is able to respond accordingly.
If you are in a similar situation and have small children, use language learning as an opportunity to bond with them. I have several French and English books that I read to Zack every day right before he goes to bed. I can see his mind forming the linguistic connections as I read and point to the images. Reading simple books in a foreign language will give your children an opportunity to learn and will reinforce what you may already have learned. You can engage in other learning activities besides reading books. Flash cards serve as a wonderful complement to book learning. Zack and I run through a set of flash cards displaying images with words. Foreign language word association exercises have helped Zack associate words with objects in both English and French. Playing board games or putting together puzzles can be educational and fun. Zack and I enjoy putting together puzzles representing maps of the United States and France. Zack recognizes images on the puzzles from the flashcards (baguette, cheese, the Eiffel Tower, etc.) and we learn about the different regions or states by saying their name and pointing to their location.
As your children get older and their foreign language skills progress, so will yours. I guarantee that your children will pick up the language much quicker than you and, over time, you might find yourselves speaking in this language with greater ease.
If your children are in their teens, you can still participate with them in language-learning activities. Take them to see foreign language films or join a cultural organization in your area where you and your children can practice your newly acquired language skills. For example, I used to be a part of the Alliance Française, an organization that promotes French language and culture in my area. Being a part of this group gave me an opportunity to brush up on my French and I made some good friends in the process. Find a similar organization and bring your kids along. You’ll be glad you did.
Language learning does not have to be a solitary venture. By including your children, you might learn more quickly and have fun in the process. In fact, they will likely look back on the quality time they spent with you and might parlay their language skills into a future career. Language learning should be fun and there’s nothing more fun than doing it with your children.
What have your experiences been learning a foreign language with your kids? Share with us in the comments section below.