Traveling With Kids: Tips to Keep Them Happily Learning Languages on the Go
Are you one of the brave souls joining the estimated 51 million Americans traveling this Thanksgiving week? Here are some language-based resources to keep the kids occupied – and learning - while traveling.
These are some favorite resources that don’t necessarily require parents to speak the target language.
Friends and family in multilingual situations around the world helped us compile this list, which we are working very hard to expand. If you have favorites you’d like to share with us, in any language, we’d be delighted to include them. Please send them our way via TA-DA!’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages. Meanwhile, we’ve tried to primarily highlight general resources and ideas for tracking down the best material for the age and target language you seek. We sure hope this helps inspire - and facilitate - your language learning journey.
Happy Thanksgiving - and safe travels!
Music in the target language
Think lullabies, nursery rhymes, kids’ music and even top 40 lists.
Local libraries can be rich with such material, depending on the target language. We try to pick up local favorites when traveling, or order on the web beforehand. I often look at the ‘top’ lists in a country that speaks our target language(s), and then turn to Amazon or Apple for quick, easy delivery. Most times they have what I seek.
If English is what you’re after, I used several of the CDs from the Circle Time Sing Along collection as an ESL teacher in Europe with great success. The songs are catchy and teach a variety of useful concepts (feelings, actions, weather, and so much more). I found it easy for the kids and me to mime or act out exactly what the songs would say - to their sheer delight (“total physical response” for all you teachers out there).
My son’s absolute favorite in English is 100 Fun Songs for Kids, complete with a kids’ choir and fantastic ambient sounds, it may even make the daily commute something your little one looks forward to (which is the case for our family).
Get your French frenzy on with French Playground, a playful set of songs (complete with an English translation) - or choose from the favorites of French children living in France by ordering directly from FNAC, a popular French destination for all things music and books. They now ship worldwide.
Other French favorites in our household:
Je chante avec mon bebe, by Agnès Chaumié
Comptines pour s'endormir, by Gilles Diederichs
50 Comptines Crèches, by Multi-Artistes 47 Mard 50 Comptines Creche
In Dutch, toddlers go wild for Kaatje (who has a popular TV show for tots).
A Mexican friend from a mothers’ group I attend says her 5-year-old’s absolute favorite is Jose Luis Orozco.
Podcasts in the target language
Again, I ask friends and family - or I look for respected reviewers of such content to pinpoint the best in my target language(s) and age bracket.
For English and Spanish, a trusted resource for quality in my family is NPR, National Public Radio.
Another mother I know suggests Adventures in Odyssey radio drama series as favorites of her middle school boys:
“I would recommend these for kids ages 8 and up. But you know your kids, some kids have longer attention spans and would enjoy the episodes. My boys are 6th and 9th grades and we enjoy listening to these on road trips! I like that the whole family can enjoy the episodes together, instead of the kids doing their own thing. And since there's no screen to watch, we can enjoy the scenery. Some of the radio dramas have a more mature theme, but others are really funny, and kindergartners would enjoy them as well. The episodes with Jay are really funny (he's quite a rascal)!”
Books, books, books!
Even for those who don’t read just yet, expose them from day one to the look and feel of the target language.
Surround them in picture dictionaries. Vocabulary is the building block for any language and the absolute prerequisite to speaking well (and with confidence).
When I read to my son in a language I do speak, I often put my finger just under the words as I go so he can start associating sound with letters and words. But simply cozying up with them and flipping through the pages will instill the attribution of good feelings to book reading.
My 4-year-old son’s absolute favorites in French are T’choupi, Petit Ours Brun, Caillou and Babar. And for Dutch we turn to Gonnie, Nijntje (A.K.A. Miffy) and Kikker - the latter, like many of the books mentioned on this blog post, also being available in an animated TV series.
Language Lizard is an award-winning online shop for bilingual books for children of all ages - with an outstanding selection in more than 50 languages. Wow!
Books with CDs
The local library can be a surprisingly rich resource (and free, at that) for language materials. Many have digital versions as well. But again, the Internet has the motherload and it can be delivered to your front door in a click. I often search on the Amazon of a particular country to see their top sellers - and then look for those items in the American Amazon site for easy delivery. They often carry the same materials, but if not, international delivery is always an option with Amazon worldwide.
Again, I am a library fanatic and find that my local library often has subscriptions to magazines in different languages that one can check out just like any other book. If yours doesn’t or you prefer to order your own, Milan Jeunesse has a fantastic selection of children’s magazines in French (for all ages) that can be delivered worldwide. For English, we’re personally fans of Highlights, National Geographic Kids and Ranger Rick.
Kindle & Other E-Book Readers
Hello built-in dictionary! Simply hover over a word with your finger and you have immediate access to word clarification.
When I asked multilingual friends & families about apps, hands down the overwhelming response was Duolingo. One friend said, “We love Duolingo! Lots of languages to explore! My son spent time one summer learning Norwegian!”
I have had tremendous success with a small, educational company called Super Duper. They target teachers and speech pathologists in particular, but their apps are superb for language acquisition - starting with vocabulary building to WH questions - all the way up to listening and critical thinking. They have a wide selection in both English and Spanish.
More basic vocabulary can be explored via apps like those by StoryToys (in collaboration with Eric Carle), available in English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Simplified Chinese, and Spanish.
Oceanhouse Media (in collaboration with Dr. Seuss) is a family favorite for English.
Be sure to check the parental controls for the apps you already own. You might be surprised at the number of languages options that are available for the apps you have already purchased.
Online Language Programs
If you’re looking for a something that’s the next best thing to a real-life immersion experience, Rosetta Stone is highly regarded worldwide. As of 2016 they have a program catered specifically to children - and available in 25 languages. The biggest drawback is the price - a whopping $479, but they do allow payment in monthly installments.
Videos & Films
Little Pim is a video series for ages 0-6 available in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, English, Japanese, Arabic, Korean, Russian, Portuguese and Hebrew.
Peppa Pig teaches 21 different languages worldwide.
A Russian speaking family we adore suggested the Kid-E-Cats series for age 5 and under. While a Korean friend says his 10-year-old daughter adores the animated series Pororo the Little Penguin which is available in both Korean and English.
Sesame Street has been a trusted family favorite since the 70s and is available in a variety of languages (but know that the series’ title changes in each language). Called Sesamstraat in Dutch, we have found countless episodes available for free on YouTube.
Games and Activity Kits
The more you can get your kids handling - actually touching, feeling, smelling, breathing and utilizing a target language, the closer you will be to fluent acquisition. Activity Kits like Kiwi Co are a fantastic example. Delivered worldwide to your front door, kids are required to read well designed instruction manuals (with fabulous pictures and illustrations) in order to build or create a desired outcome. Kiwi is American and only available in English for the time being, but more and more of these delivery services are popping up. Keep your eyes peeled for those in countries where your target language is spoken.
Another shout out for Super Duper in this category is appropriate. Available in English and Spanish, nifty little boxed sets of cards allow review in a variety of core essentials: vocabulary, is & are, has & have, regular and irregular plurals, WH questions, pronouns, adjectives, verbs to nouns, comparatives, present progressive verbs, past tense, idioms, changing statements to questions (with do and does), reading comprehension, and even (word comprehension) riddle solving…the list just goes on an on. (And no, I’m not a Rep. They’re just that good!) Over the years they have been my old faithful when teaching age 15 and under in Belgium. I use them now with my 4-year-old son and no matter what the age, the kids just simply really enjoy these mini brain teasers presented with nice illustrations and kid friendly humor.
Bottom line: no matter what the task at hand, seek out instructions and games themselves in the target language.
Some people can be critical about flashcards, but I promise you friends, they work. Read a few at meal, in the car…or double up your stack and play memory with them! You can buy flashcards in stores: Usborne Language Cards, Flash Kids, Berlitz Language…or make your own for free on sites like Quizlet.
As a teacher and mom, my kiddos literally jump for joy when I pull out bingo cards. Like flashcards, Bingo is fantastic for vocabulary, the foundation of all language. The more words they know, the more quickly language will come.
Like flashcards, you can buy them, or make your own for free on the Internet. This of course does take some time, but it won’t be in vain. I keep ours in a file folder, so they are organized and at arm’s reach to be rotated and revisited…a small investment that gives back time and time again.
Another kid favorite - and vocabulary treasure mine, are scavenger hunts.
Available for free or purchase on websites like, Teachers Pay Teachers, scavenger hunts are a great way to bring an otherwise mundane set of words to life for kiddos. Instead of memorizing a list of vocabulary on a page, they’re up and about trying to locate the words in the real world.
If you have a bit of spare time, they’re actually pretty easy to make yourself - and then of course you can target the specific vocabulary you have in mind. Just create your list of words, find matching images, print...and voilà! Yet another language adventure begins!