Episode 40 – Q&A – Tips to help your child transition to the community language

Episode 40

On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I expand on a question I provided on a Google Hangout on International Mother Language Day.  I give the listener some tips on how to help his children transition to the community language.  We also discuss ideas on how to increase exposure without having the exposure come from the parents.

Episode #40- Transcript

Hello and welcome another Question and Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast.

I just had a very eventful weekend full of Bilingual Avenue.  Last Sunday, we announced the winner for the drawing of the book, Bringing Up A Bilingual Child.  We recorded the process on video and although we did not announce the person’s first or last name, we did announce the location.  The winner was Italy!  We now have listeners in over 82 countries and hundreds and cities around the world so we thought this would be a great way to celebrate.

If you want to check out the YouTube video, I will link to it in the show notes page for this episode and you can find those at bilingualavenue.com/episode40.  You can see my daughter as my little helper who helped to draw the name.

And then also this last weekend I participated on a Google Hangout On Air with Rita Rosenback who you heard from on episode 29.  We did this to celebrate International Mother Language Day.  We answered questions on how to prepare your multilingual child for school as well as some of the language obstacles that may come up as your children get older.

For today’s episode, I am going to further address one of the questions we received on the live broadcast of the Hangout.  And if you actually want to see the entire Hangout, which I thought was very useful, I am going to go ahead and link to it on the show notes for todays’ episode so you can check out the entire set of information we provided on air. Again, you can find that at bilingualavenue.com/episode40

Ok here’s the question and it came from a viewer named MG:  He said: “We live in the US.  Both parents and our nanny speak our native language Russian to the children.  How do we introduce and teach the kids English so they have an easier time when they start school?”

So what I’d like to do today is share the answer with you that I gave on the Hangout and then expand a bit further to give anyone in a similar situation some options and scenarios to think through.

So to start off, one option is of course to switch the current language policy at home.  Based on the background the viewer shared, I can see that they are currently using the Minority Language at Home policy.  Many parents in this situation have opted to have one parent speak the community language so that the children can learn both the heritage language and the community language sequentially.  So again that strategy is called One Parent, One Language.

Well this strategy also referred to as OPOL is certainly a good strategy, however, the risk that you are running into here when you decide to apply this strategy is that you are going to significantly decrease the level of exposure your child is going to receive in the heritage language.  This may not seem like a very big deal when the children are still young and spending a lot of time at home, however, as they get older and start getting more exposure to the community language and start going to school in the exposure to the community language, that can start to sort of take over and then you are working really hard as a family to keep a balance between the two languages.

Some parents decide that once the child or children enter school, they can revert back to only speaking the heritage language with them but many are met with mixed success here.  Very often the children have become so used to speaking the community language with that one parent that it may be very difficult to make the change back to the original language.

So what I’d like to do for this episode then is share how you can still add expose for your child in the community language without having that exposure come from you!

The first thing you can do is as your child starts getting ready to start school, you can introduce a few words in the community language so that they are able to communicate their needs once they start school.  Simple social words like hi and bye, common polite words and phrases like please and thank you can be very handy.  You can also teach your child words like bathroom, water, think of the basic needs that they have throughout the day.  One suggestion that I give parents is to take a look at your child’s routine for a few days before they enter school and jot down some of the basic needs that they tend to have throughout the day and teach your child how to convey these needs in the community language.  This way they can feel confident to use them when the time comes.

Now once you introduce these words, I would say to leave at just that, an introduction of a few key words or phrases.  You will want to go back to your usual routine and focus on your heritage language when communicating with your children so make sure you are really just doing a few introduction words here and there.

Another way that you can infuse the community language without having the exposure come from you, is to enroll your child in an extracurricular activity.  Team sports for example are a great strategy.  I am fan of team sports for young children to begin with because I think there are some very valuable lessons that can be learned there about working together, sharing, socializing, etc.  What is great about these environments is that it isn’t ALL about language.  Your children have an opportunity to play, interact, have some physical exercise and hear the community language from the coach and other team players.  I personally think those environments can take some off the pressure of your child so they don’t feel like they have to be actively talking the whole time.  They can still participate in the activity even if they are not yet proficient in the language.

Another great way is to participate in story time at your local library.  Most children have a natural affinity towards story telling.  Libraries can really be your friend.  Many of them offer story times by age groups so that you may be able to find something there that appeals to your child. The one downfall is that many local libraries do offer story time during the week so if you are working this may be difficult.  However, you can also look into actual bookstores as they do tend to do a lot of their programming during the weekend.

One other idea is to leverage your children’s friends and peers.  Look within your friends and acquaintances and identify a few children who do not speak your heritage language but do in fact speak the community language.  Organize a play date with them and have them either come over to your house or join you at a park, a museum, or just a local meeting point.  You’ll get to see firsthand how resourceful children can be even if they don’t speak the same language.  You may have to interact and help bridge the gap a bit at first and they may not kick it off right away the first time you get together but after a few meetings, you will likely see can your children are able to interact and likely learning a few new words and phrases in the community language.

The last idea I will share with you is leveraging media to expose your child to more language.  YouTube, TV, digital apps and music can all be great ways to increase the exposure you are looking for.  I always caution to use YouTube and TV specifically in moderation but they can in fact if used intentionally help to achieve what you are looking for in this case.

So to sum up, if you would like to continue the minority language at home policy, you can find exposure to the community language in other ways.  My suggestions include teaching your child a few basic words to communicate their basic needs, have your child participate in an activity like a team sport where they can hear the language from their peers and other adults.  Again this doesn’t have to be an actual sport if sports are not your thing but something along the lines of a team activity.   Attend story time at the local library or books store, organize a play date with children who speak the community language and last leverage media to add exposure!

Well I hope you have enjoyed todays’ episode and found it helpful! You can find a transcript of everything I shared today at bilingualavenue.com/episode40

I want to give a shout out to my brother Joe Hennig who translated one of the Aesop Fables into Spanish, the Tortoise and the Hare.

To anyone else who is listening and is interested in helping with this collective effort, we would so appreciate having you translate one of the fables.  They are all brief, no more than three minutes long.  We’ll have the recording posted on our website and give you a shout out in a future episode.  If you want to hear the podcast where I talk about the initiative you can check that out at bilingualavenue.com/episode30

Also, if you have a question that you would like answered on the show please send it my way.  You can do so by email of by heading over to bilingualavenue.com/contact and leave a written note or an audio message.

One last reminder, don’t forget to join the Bilingual Avenue newsletter.  If you haven’t yet, it goes out monthly with more ideas and strategies to help you on your language journey.

May you have fun travels on your language journey. Hope to see you again on the avenue.

Resources mentioned on the podcast

YouTube video of the book drawing

Google Hangout On Air 


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