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Apr 092015
 

Question

I love your blog and helpful tips! I wanted to consult you on an issue if I may. I hope you have some time to help me out with professional advice.

I have two kids, ages 4 and 7. We are both originally from Israel and speak Hebrew as mother tongue as well as English. We live in Germany for 4 years now. When we came here, it was our priority to integrate the kids as much as possible and we all focused on learning German. We do still speak mainly Hebrew at home and with extended family on mutual visits etc.

We have recently decided that it important for us to teach the kids English. Right now, they speak only a few words. What is the best way to integrate a new language into the family at these ages? (Without a cat at hand 😉 )

Thanks so much for reading !

Best regard
Tali

Answer

Dear Tali,

Thank you for your kind feedback, I am delighted that you like our site!

I notice that you have already read the post about Pricken, the Swedish-speaking kitten – the story about how I introduced Swedish as a third language to our eldest daughter :) . I do fully understand that this is not an approach that can work for everyone! That said, with your 4-year-old, you could replace the kitten with a hand puppet that only speaks English – try to find an authentic “English-looking” puppet if possible, and give the puppet a very English backstory relating it to something your child is interested in. This may not work for the 7-year-old, but he/she could get involved in creating the story around the puppet.

The main thing is to first get your children interested in English – I would avoid a formal approach along the lines of “you will now learn to speak English” and instead introduce the language through song, play and games. Once, you have awakened their interest, establish a routine around the language – choose for example a day of the week, an activity or a place dedicated to English. (Maria has a great post about creating a language corner in your home.)

With a routine in place, it is easier to maintain the momentum of using the language in the family. Let’s say you choose Sunday as the day when everyone speaks English. You could then have a schedule of:

1. Singing a song in English together – choose a tune that your children are already familiar with and find the English words for it.
2. Reading a simple story in English – pick a book with lots of pictures so the story is easy to follow, even if your children might not know all the words.
3. Watching an English cartoon together – afterwards ask your children questions about the cartoon. Start with simple questions, which they can answer with Yes or No, and once they learn a few words, move on to asking questions with one-word answers (e.g. What colour was the house?)
4. Doing some on-line activities in English – check out for example the site of the British Council, and pick the ones your kids like the most.

If you haven’t already, please also read my posts “Bilingual children: (re)introducing a family language” and 5 practical tips for (re)introducing a minority language.

I hope my response has given you some ideas on how to bring back in English to your bilingual children – please do tell us how you are getting on and if you have any follow-up questions.

All the best!
Rita



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