Raising bilingual children wherever you live

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When you cannot, or choose not to, move abroad

As I watched a recent episode of ‘A Place in the Sun’, ‘Home and Away’ or ‘Winter Sun’ I was thinking about the expat lifestyle and the richness of living abroad, making new discoveries and immersing oneself in the new language of a new country and new life.

I had done this once before and thoroughly recommend it. Now as a mother and wife married to a monolingual Brit who wants to stay put in the UK (for the time being – another blog) I am not able to move freely to a new country but I am not going to let that defeat me in my quest for my kids’ bilingualism, so what should I do?

Living in London I am lucky to live alongside most if not all the various different cultures in the world.

Alternative language immersion

Here are my top five tips to enjoying alternative language immersion in London or any city:

Bilingual children at a Spanish theatre workshop
My kids enjoying a bilingual Spanish theatre workshop – all those Cantajuego DVDs came in handy!

1) Find a playgroup in the target language

Not only will you hopefully make new native mummy friends, your child will see how normal it is for you to talk the minority language with others and be inclined to do the same. It may be necessary to learn the language and joining will be good motivation to start.

2) Enrol your child in the language Saturday school class

If this is possible; this is particularly difficult where parents have shared care arrangements. It may be possible to come to an arrangement with the group or the other parent to ensure consistency.

3) Find any language music language learning class by trained and qualified teachers

They will know how to encourage communication in the language of choice, you may also meet other families with the same goals which leads to friendships, play dates in the target language or general support for your aims.

4) Set up play dates with other native speakers

Linked to points 1, 2 and 3; once you start to make friends you will find kindred spirits, meet other families similar to yours and see who your children gravitate to.

5) Read to your child and speak to him in the target language

If you are in the majority country ie. the UK, speak to your child in Spanish, and the other way around if you are in Spain. Whatever you decide, whether you ‘use the time and place’ or ‘one parent one language’ method, do what is comfortable and appropriate for your family.

If you are not yet fluent in the language, pick out dual language books or stories that are well known in English I.e. ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’, ‘We Are Going on a Bear Hunt’, or ‘Goldilocks’, you will be surprised how much of the language you will pick up as well.

You could also shop in the language; here in London we have a Latin quarter, we have native restaurants, so use the world around to find reasons to speak that language!

By Audrey Antoine-Hart

Audrey is a mother raising bilingual kids, qualified language teacher and founder of Bilingüebabies, a programme of learning Spanish through music, dance, games, and crafts. See www.bilinguebabies.com for more information, learning tips and locations of classes.

Further reading

10 tips to help your kids learn a new language from TV

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  1. Very good points! Giving your child bilingual exposure is SO important. And as you say, you don’t necessarily have to go abroad for it. It helps a lot, of course, if at least one parent is from another country and can fluently speak that language with the child, though I’m always appalled how many parents choose NOT to do that. Maybe they’re afraid their child will fall behind on the other language if they do that, which of course is ridiculous. Quite the opposite. Our four children are all bilingual (German/American) and have always excelled in their school English classes. Another language helps and doesn’t hurt.

    Some years back I wrote a similar piece about immersion programs and why bilingual education is so important, if you care to check it out: http://www.kcparent.com/June-2009/Raising-Bilingual-Children//

    1. I think it’s actually vital if at least one parent can speak fluently in a different language – otherwise the child will not be truly bilingual, just learning another language. There’s quite a difference.
      And thank you for linking your post. Much appreciated.

  2. Hi Audrey! I really enjoyed this post and it encourages me a lot. I’d agree that London is pretty unique in how multicultural it is, when you look hard enough! Good on you for not giving up. I have been looking forward to doing #4 myself and wrote a blog post about ideas for little little ones here if you are interested: but I don’t know any others who teach their kids our minority language in our city. We’re definitely still big fans of #1, #2 and #5 (don’t have access to #3) as well as native speaking skype dates and going out of our way to play CDs in the car and speak with the few native speakers we know!

    1. All good points 🙂 It must be a lot easier in a big, multicultural city such as London that it would be in a small town or village.

      1. This free website called A Green Mouse was set up to help kids learn French and Spanish wherever they are: – It is packed full of free listening practice for children – and no ads on any of the resources by the way.

      2. Hi there! Thank you so much for sharing your excellent website. It looks extremely useful.

      3. Thank you! I have lots of new resources planned, but would love to receive more feedback. I had a trilingual start in life and trained as a teacher (BA Hons + PGCE), but my most important experiences have been raising my 3 children, the first two in a bilingual environment in several different countries abroad which the youngest missed out on.

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