We want to give our kids the world. With language learning, we can, literally!
What better gift this holiday season than the gift of language and cultural acquisition? Studies show they’ll be more accepting of others - and themselves. And what’s more, it lasts a lifetime.
Let’s spread the love and make gift giving really count.
My child needs three daily languages, two of which are non-native languages for me, the mama. So I’m particularly conscientious of resources that don’t permit me to goof up and teach him errors.
These are some tried and true gifts that kept my family happy and thriving.
Look for anything that talks in the target language…
…And even better, one that requires THEM to talk to get gratification!
I call these "chatterbox boosters” - and who amongst us does not want our children to be deemed this in all of their target languages!? (Well, make that most of the time!)
Some of our family faves are Amazon Echo Dot kids, plush dolls that sing and talk, and Meccano, a super cool, life-size toy robot that operates via voice recognition. ( I see 10 different languages on their website.)
When kids voice a command correctly, Meccano will actually do what the kids say. So for example: “Meccano do a dance”, or “Meccano tell a story, tell a joke, hug me, do kung fu, walk forward”, etc. He comes programmed with pages of kid-friendly (and practical) commands that provide my family with oodles of language learning and unforgettable, family fun. This is of course a fantastic way to encourage kids’ actual production of a language - and an extremely powerful and rewarding tool for them to get to witness the power of their words. And the icing on the cake: this particular robot required assembly, which was a highly savored moment for my entire family, again, creating lots of positive associations with language learning.
The Amazon Echo Dot for kids does not require assembly, but it’s also brought lots of family bonding in the form of giggles, jokes and more (and it’s also available in multiple languages). The programmed robot inside called Alexa tells jokes, can translate (“Alexa, how do you say toy in Dutch?”); reads audiobooks and stories; converts inches to millimeters, miles to kilometers and so much more. Another great way to encourage kiddos to produce the target language.
My lovely French mom Renée (my host mother from when I studied abroad at age 20) gave my son a little doll that sings French classics when he was born. Well, he is 4 now and he still carries that thing around and sings each and every tune - everywhere we go! Now that is a gift that keeps giving!
Audiobooks in the target language
Language is all about words - and what better way to learn words than with books? Since I don’t speak two of my son’s languages natively, I look for audiobooks or books with CDs (or that can talk!). I know this can require some effort for some target languages, but I have decent luck on Amazon books or Language Lizard, a global shipper of bilingual books in more than 50 languages - or the Book Depository which offers 19 million titles and free delivery worldwide.
One of those families who is done with CDs? (Many cars, after all, do not even have them anymore.) How about a subscription to an audiobook service? Audible by Amazon is a reputable choice with various plans for different budgets. (I currently see English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Greek as language options.)
But there are also many audiobook services with multilingual options that are free: LibriVox, Spotify, Audiobooks.com, and others. (For English only I highly recommend Storyline Online, an award winning children’s literacy program that has well known talent reading books to kids.)
If your family is okay with screens, or your child is older and can understand the written word in the target language, consider a Kindle (or other eReader) with a built-in bilingual dictionary. Having a dictionary available with the touch of a word made all the difference for me personally in reading more difficult novels in French, my second language.
If your children are not yet ready to read books in the target language without visual aids, consider The Amazon Fire for kids, a tablet which comes with a free year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited a repository with thousands of children’s content in the form of games, books, audiobooks and more. I’ve read articles about their expansion into foreign languages, with Spanish being the first to see more interesting material. But this is new, and I admit, could use more TLC (in the form of content). But definitely to be explored…
As for topic matter, think picture books, classics, art books, craft books, mystery books - any and all genres in the target language that will appeal to the little one you are targeting.
Cookbooks in the target language
How about a cookbook in the foreign language? I have not met one kid who does not savor cooking with mom, dad or other! (I used to offer cooking classes in English for my language school in Belgium that were always at capacity and highly savored by the kids.) Once again, I turn to Google Translate if needed and search “children’s cookbooks” in the target language. Then I turn to Amazon or other online resource to find the cookbook in the target language. (These are also great to pick up while traveling - I always see tons of children’s cookbooks in Italy, for example.) If your children are old enough, encourage them to look up words they do not know in the dictionary. (Or better yet, ask Alexa via the Amazon Dot for kids!)… Add an apron with the target language written out: “TOP CHEF”/”#1 CUISINIER DU MONDE” - etc. (have one made on Etsy - or get some iron-on letters from Michael’s and make your own!) - and you’ve got a fantastic, language learning gift with countless hours of bonding time to boot in the making!
Books in the target language
Audiobooks are a fantastic option when the language is a non-native one for caregivers, but nothing can replace a beautiful book experience. I personally feel there is nothing better than surrounding our kids in books to expose them to the look and feel of a language - and the love of books. You can never go wrong with books! If they’re not able to read them now, be patient and the day will come!
Magazine subscriptions in the target language
Magazines…yet another way to surround those kiddos with the look and feel of a target language - with ample opportunities for word acquisition and reading. More and more will ship abroad, but if you’re open to tablet usage, just download and savor! But there’s no denying, opening the mailbox and having something addressed to little-ol’-me is always a treat - and a great way to associate cozy feelings with the language learning adventure.
Board games in the target language
Look for the bestsellers in the target culture and language (with Google Translate’s help if needed). I aim for things that have words in the target language - or require speaking.
Every country has some rendition of the global favorite, Hedbanz where kids have to ask questions to guess what word is hidden on their headband. I prepare cards - cheat sheets if you will - with friendly reminders on how to formulate typical questions to get the most common responses needed. For example, “Does it fly? Does it swim? Does it live outside or inside?” This is great way to get the kids doing the speaking! (On Amazon, I searched 'board games in French' or 'board games in Spanish' and lots of other options appeared as well. But again, I’m often surprised by the different options that pop up when I use google translate to search for items in a different language…)
Music in the target language
Music will always hit the spot. In addition to CDs, explore downloads and subscriptions to music streaming services with international music options. Think traditional, children’s nursery rhymes, or the classics, but also top-40 lists and bestsellers in the target culture. Expose the kiddos to a variety of genres with lots of dialogue to accustom little ears to the rhythm of the language!
In addition to songs, how about a traditional musical instrument from the target culture? An erhu (pictured above) is a two stringed fiddle famous in China. Or how about a guitarron, an absolute must for any Mexican mariachi band! These are sure ways to delight and spark interest in a target language and culture.
Once again, I look at what the kids are watching in the target culture and language to pinpoint what I need (enter Google Translate when needed to hunt down those top lists in the target country/culture). If you want to test before buying, it’s often possible on YouTube.
If a language learning program is what you seek, try Little Pim, also available for testing out on YouTube or even your local library. I just wish the series had more DVDs in the set!
If money is no option, Rosetta Stone is a well respected language learning program with a new line dedicated to kids. But my son and I enjoy doing the adult Dutch rendition together. It’s all about those positive associations!
It’s always fun to have posters with themes that are appealing to the kids - in the target language. Etsy is a great resource to find just about everything under the rainbow. I just ordered a race car poster there for my 4-year old in French for around $20.
Our Bilingual Family is another shop owner (from a bilingual family) who makes beautiful posters in a plethora of languages - French, German, Italian, Swedish…you name it!
My other go-to for a lot of international variety is Amazon. Sometimes I need to use google translate or a general google search to find exactly what it is that I’m looking for. But once I have some detail in particular, I can almost always find what I need there.
A item of clothing with words in target language
Oui, Je t’aime! Nothing like sporting a t-shirt, a pair of socks or other item of clothing in the target language! Etsy is another great resource in this domain, but again, I’ve also picked up iron-on letters at Michael’s and made some goodies myself. I also leave room in my suitcase for these little fun extras when we travel if you’re so lucky this holiday season.
Jewelry, hair or other accessories like hats and more in the target language
Boys and girls alike can savor a beautiful pendant or charm on a necklace or bracelet; but hair barrettes and hats are also fun items to sport, showcasing the language you devote so much time and energy to. Oui, oui! Ja ja! Si si!
Arrange a Penpal or an exchange with another family
Why not go for the gold and really bring the language to life for the family? Kids need a reason to actually use the language - and there is no better way than having someone with whom they want to communicate. Ask friends and family if they know someone who lives abroad and would be interested in an exchange. You might be surprised at the difference it can make in not only your journey (and the motivation of your child!) - but also that of another human being residing in a far away land. We’ve had several exchange students at this point who now call us mom, dad and brother - and who have changed our hearts and opened our minds in ways never imagined.
Happy Holidays from all of us here at TA-DA! to you and yours!
What are some tried and true goodies you think would make great gift givers for language learners… that spawn chatterboxes?