How to Integrate a New Language Around the House

It’s a New Year and that time again. Resolution time. Why not make the desire to teach your kids (and/or yourself!) a new language a reality!

It’s my personal belief that planning and structure (as well as lots of F-U-N!) are your key collaborators and best friends when wanting to integrate a new language in a home. Like all good things with meaning we value and appreciate, 2nd+ language does not come easily (unlike what we may often hear!).

It is hard work and requires an unwavering commitment. But the reward is handsome (better brains, thinking, flexibility, problem solving, not to mention communication and understanding to state it succinctly!); and the sooner one embarks, the better the odds acquisition can be complete and match the first, native language. This means innate absorption and feel – and no nonnative accent.

So, let’s get started!

My household has 3 required languages to speak with our closest family and friends. Me, the mama, does not speak 2 of our household languages natively, and one, frankly, quite poorly (same goes for the community in which we live). This means we get creative to weave in native speakers as best we can. And since our little guy is only four, we limit screen time. That means yet more creativity is required. This is the schedule and resources that work for us:

AM: DUTCH

(mommy’s poor, near non-existent language)

Upon rising we grab warm drinks and we’re off to the computer where we ideally have the entire family (mom, native speaking dad and 4-year-old son) sit together and carry out the language learning software program Rosetta Stone. Ideally, we spend 30 minutes or more. It looks something like this:

We work together and strive to make it fun – and funny. (This means our little man actually wants to do this activity daily and associates it with cuddly mommy and daddy sensations.) Dad is actually Flemish and thus speaks Flemish, a dialect of Dutch which has many word and pronunciation differences from Dutch. So, if those creep up in particular, daddy is there saying the variant after the Dutch speaker on the computer. (We’ve explained this, dumbing this concept down to our son so he knows what’s up.) Note that sometimes daddy is not there and really need not be present. My son and I have equally as much fun when daddy can’t make it!

My son loves that he has learned to use the mouse (i.e. big boy!) and takes great pride in clicking the correct image the speaker voices. When writing prompts appear, mommy, the nonnative speaker of Dutch/Flemish gets to work. But the entire family relishes trying to get the computer software to accept our pronunciations when voice recognition prompts pop up. We tickle, cuddle and laugh as we go. This is vital in my opinion … Make it fun! Positive associations are key, vital, really, in my opinion.

Know that Rosetta Stone is not a cheap option, but it is effective. We like that they allow us to work on our pronunciation, reading, writing, grammar and more. As a teacher of languages, I’d say the program is the best substitute of a native speaker. It teaches us most closely how we [naturally] learn a native language, bit by bit, step by step, building from one new concept to the next. You can purchase Rosetta Stone in one fatal swoop or opt for the monthly subscription. They also have a newer version that is supposedly aimed towards children, but we have never tested it.

After the morning pow-wow, daddy goes about trying to only use Dutch with mommy and son as we’re executing the morning routine – then we’re off to school, which my son carries out in ENGLISH. School is of course the perfect way to integrate an additional language into the home.


PM: FRENCH

Since I am also not a native speaker of the second ‘foreign’ language my son needs to communicate with family, we opt for videos, films, YouTube favorites (that friends and family recommend from target country and language); books, magazines, talking books (i.e. sound books), video chats with native speakers, applications, toys and board games that talk in target language, and even music in target language (complete with instruments and dancing!). We often swing by the library after school and look for new materials there as well.  

Now that my son is four we allow some screen time, but I must confess we keep it minimal. But honestly, I think this just helps ensure it’s even more effective in terms of his desire, which I’m sure you parents know, can make a world of difference. Since it’s a novelty, I think he just savors it all the more!

So although short and sweet, I must confess that screens are often chosen for after-school French time because it’s of course easiest and we’re a busy family. We don’t have any issues as far as him being an unwilling participant (which I hear a lot of parents complaining about), but there are two items I think helped my family personally: The first is that we go about all of these activities with him, at his side, cuddling and hugging when possible! The second is we talk about language a lot as a family, and take the time to really explain why it matters to us – or that “grandma says it this way and your cousin Lea this other way and they do not know how you say it with mommy and we really want you to be able to speak with them! Don’t you?” His answer is always yes. And nothing better when a child thinks they are deciding this for themselves!

Best wishes for whatever your New Year resolutions may be, and if they do just happen to entail language learning, please share them with us so that we may share them with others!

Happy New Year!