No matter if you are a long term international, if you move every few years or if you live in one place for a (bit) longer, one of the first concerns when living abroad is “do we have/want/can learn the local language?”.
For internationals who move very frequently, it is totally understandable that they can’t learn all the local languages up to fluency, but they certainly can learn the basics. The same applies to children. Children can be very helpful in learning a local language: they are more direct and don’t care about making mistakes (unless someone points them out, but this is a topic for another post).
If you want your child to learn the majority language in order to be able to interact and play with children at daycare, school, in the neighbourhood or at the local sport-clubs etc., there are many ways you can help your child.
If you already live in the country, full immersion is the best that can happen. But we parents need to give our children the chance to “fully immerse”. Full immersion means to naturally get in contact with locals, make social contacts, attend social events etc. You don’t need to hire a teacher for this. You just have to provide your child with a social context that motivates and promotes the learning.
Whether your child is a toddler or an adolescent, there are some tips about how you can support his or her language learning.
1) Learn the language yourself
There is nothing that can be more inspiring for a child than to see the parent make the effort to learn the local language. Be positive and passionate yourself about the new language.
Take this great opportunity to learn the language alongside your child. Practice what you preach and be a good role model for your child.
This is the magic key: if your child hears you speaking the new language, he/she will be more likely to speak it too. And be careful not to make any negative comment about the language or culture: if you dislike the language, your child will not be keen to learn it.
2) Rhymes, songs, audiobooks etc.
The repetition of rhymes in nursery rhymes, poems or songs is a very good way to get to know a new language. The sentences are short, understandable and easy to learn by heart. It is a very effective way to absorb a foreign language for all children, adolescents and adults!. There are many audiobooks for every year group. Choose translations of books or films your children like and already know in another language. Let them listen the stories and songs over and over again… Go to the local libraries. They often organize readings for different year groups and it is a great opportunity for your children to meet peers and have first contacts.
3) Dive into the culture
Taste the local food and surround yourselves with music, radio, TV, typical games etc. Go and visit museums, movies, theaters. It’s the easiest way to get a “language and culture shower” for yourself and your children. If you only stick to movies, music etc. from your home country or the countries you’ve been before, you’ll never really feel integrated into the country you’re actually living in: one of the topics people talk when meeting are news, TV shows or series, local heroes etc.
4) The power of peers and the help of a babysitter
If your child is a bit older and knows already the basics in the foreign language, peers are the best way to practice the language. For younger children, parents often tend to hire babysitters in a language their children already know. If you want that your child learns the majority language, find a local babysitter.
5) Encourage your child and be positive
If you encourage your child and are supportive during the learning period, your child will make the best progress. – Passion is above all the most important factor in learning any language (or anything else in life…).