Today I am delighted to introduce you to our new Family Language Coach, Amanda Hsiung-Blodgett, a.k.a, Miss Panda Chinese. Amanda is a successful language instructor with over 15 years’ teaching experience in Taiwan, the U.S., Morocco, Canada, and Ecuador. She now lives in the U.S. with her husband and two bilingual children.
Enjoy Amanda’s excellent tips on supporting your child to be come bilingual:
“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”
– Robert Collier, author
- Valería walked up to me at a party and shouted, “One more time!” Then we hopped and hopped and she laughed so hard. She got distracted by the food being put on the table, went to her mother and started speaking Spanish. Valeria is two and a half years old. Her mother is a native Spanish speaker and her father is a native English speaker who also speaks Spanish. Both parents only speak Spanish to Valeria.
- Alex heard his mommy singing the “Pick it Up – Shōu qǐlái – 收起來“ song in Mandarin Chinese, an equivalent of the “Clean Up” song in English. He stood up from the play area and started putting things away. Alex is almost 4 years old. Alex’s mom is a native English speaker who is learning Chinese with Alex together in a program. His dad is a third-generation Chinese American who dropped out after 10 years of Chinese weekend school and does not speak very much Chinese.
- My daughter Meimei stood in her crib bouncing up and down and cheerfully said “bonjour!” to me when she saw me walking into her room one morning. At the time, she was only speaking Mandarin Chinese at home to me and Dad even though Dad only spoke English to her. She started going to a local English-French bilingual preschool for a few hours a week in Montreal, Canada and this was what happened after just two months of going there. Meimei had just turned two years old at the time.
All the stories above are indicators of a great start in successfully helping a child to acquire another language. A key question, however, is “How do I keep it going?” As your child grows their language environment will change and we will face some challenges along the way. What do you do when your child does not respond in the target language? What do you do when you want to increase your child’s target language vocabulary? What do you do when you want to have extended family support for raising a multilingual child?
Here are my top 8 tips for you to boost your family’s multilingual journey. Fireworks, please! We have to make it fun, right?
1. Give constant input in target language
“We acquire language when we understand messages, when we understand what people tell us and when we understand what we read.”
– Stephen Krashen, linguist
We know that the early years in the child’s life comprise the most intensive period for acquiring speech language skills. We talk to our tiny little babies during their waking hours. We ask them questions when they are on the changing table. We play music for them. We chat with them when we are feeding them… We are thrilled when we see our baby react to our voice. We are excited to see the baby coo and makes happy sounds when she is talked to… We are providing an environment that is rich with sounds and language input. Then when we hear their first word it melts our heart. It usually takes about a year or more for a baby to produce his first word.
We will go through a similar process when we are introducing a new language to our child at an early age. We need to talk to them, read to them, look at books with them, sing with them, wiggle with them, play with them, and interact consistently with them in the target language.
Input is what you “feed” the ears and eyes of your child with aural, visual, and written language resources.
Note to native speaking parents
- Have a home library with books in the target language.
- Listen to online radio in the target language.
- Create a target language playgroup.
- Bring the target language to your child’s classroom with a culture program.
- Implement OPOL – One Parent One Language method if suitable.
Note to non-native speaking parents
- Learn the target language together with your child.
- Speak the target language with your child whenever possible.
- Have a home library with books, audio, visual materials in the target language.
- Use online resources to increase target language input. For example, children’s songs, stories, and books in the target language.
- Share the target language and culture to your child’s classroom by reading a culture story book in your native language.
- Contact the International Student Office in a local university to sponsor a native-speaker student of your target language and bring the language live at home on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.
2. Be patient
“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.”
– Joyce Meyer, author
Learning a language takes time. It does not happen overnight. Every child is unique. Every child has his own learning style. Some talk sooner, and some need more time. Some are outgoing, while others are shy. It is okay if they are hesitant to speak the target language. Keep talking to them.
I had a little boy who came to my immersion program for three sessions and did not say a word. We had fun in each class and he participated in all activities, but he was just not speaking. One day, this little boy saw me on the playground, he walked over and sang a Chinese song we did in class for me to say “hi!” His mother was surprised to see that. She had such a big smile on her face and the boy had a beaming proud smile on his. During the whole time his mother spoke Chinese key phrases/sentences to him whenever it was possible. They listened to an audio program in the target language together every day.
Don’t have your child perform in front of people upon request (“Let me hear you speak Chinese!”). For a hesitant child, it can add an unpleasant feeling to the target language learning experience.
3. Be playful
“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.”
– Mr. Rogers
Children are like sponges but they also need to be provided with a language rich environment. The more interactive and fun language input they receive the more opportunities they have to “play” with the new language. Parents need to play an active role in this. A child will not learn the whole language by herself if she is just left alone playing apps on a device, watching cartoons, listening to audio programs, or playing with talking toys in the target language. Language is life. Language is communication. Perhaps most importantly, language is interaction.
Are you having a good time learning and speaking the target language with your child? Playing is the best way to learn. Hands-on projects are for all ages.
If you are learning about fruit then play a fruit hunting game. Slice up different fruit and place each one in a brown bag. Poke small holes in each bag and have the kids sniff to find out the fruit in each bag. Have visual tools posted on the wall or place them on the table with pictures, words, characters, jars with a piece of fruit in each, fruit stamps, fruit peels… (What?! Fruit peels? Yes!) We will also make some juice and taste a piece of each fruit. This messy fun uses the five senses to really make the learning stick. While we are learning the name of the fruit, we are experiencing its taste and smell, the texture of its peels, the color of the fruit inside and out, and its weight, shape, and size. And there is more. We will have a fruit race. We will roll each fruit and see which one rolls the fastest. We will also read stories about fruit. Woo-hoo, what an exciting learning theme! Do you think your child will come back for more target language “playing” tomorrow?
Playing is learning.
4. Be active
“The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky ”
– Margaret McMillan, historian
Have you seen kids get bored on a playground? Have you seen children who are not interested in going on a field trip to the zoo, the aquarium, the beach, the pet store, chocolate factory, science fair for the family, or the ice cream shop? The chances are they might be the first ones running out the door when they hear you say where you are taking them.
These are wonderful opportunities to associate target language learning with joyful and positive experiences. I always prepare a field trip target language note beforehand. The note will include 1-3 sentences and 3-5 words in the target language. I will introduce or use the sentences and words during our activity.
Be active, head out, and learn. Invite extended family members to join you and let them see what you are doing if they are close by. If they know what you are doing and they see how you do it they might be able to support you and encourage the kids!
Go outside and explore with the language! Invite family members to join you.
5. Give surprises
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
“What’s in the box?” ”Can you shake it?” “I want to shake it.” “Me, too” “One more time!” This happens every time when I take out my treasure box. Kids are excited. They want to know what is inside. It is a natural and engaging way to spark a target language session. This is a way to lead your child to respond to you in the target language.
Another surprise game is to leave ‘mystery’ cards in the house. This is a game to expose a kid to the written form of the target language. You can read the card to him or read the card together when a card is found. You child can put all the mystery cards together to see what the surprise message is.
When you give surprises, you might be surprised by your child’s enthusiasm.
6. Experience the culture
“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”
-Rita Mae Brown, writer
Language and culture go hand in hand. If you are teaching your heritage language to your child the culture learning starts right at home from you, your parents, and your siblings. The best way to start is to share your stories and culture experience with your child. If you are a family with non-heritage speakers, you can access cultural activities through ethnic communities, weekend schools, cultural centers, cultural events, books, and online resources.
Food, music, songs, crafts, art, clothing, schooling, religion, festivities, tradition, and values are all a part of a culture. While we are learning the language we also want to introduce the culture to the child. Children learn to respect a culture through understanding it first.
To experience a culture not only helps children understand the differences between cultures, but also to see the similarities in them.
7. Bond with your child on this adventure
“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”
-James P. Comer, professor of Child Psychiatry
I have enjoyed bedtime stories with my kids since they were little. It is a time when we are relaxed, and it is a sweet time to snuggle. With my kids are in their tween years, now I tell them a short story and they tell me about their day. This is a special time when they have my individual, undivided attention. It is a time I learn about their latest interest, their friends, and what creation they are working on in Minecraft. Your strong relationship with your child can help conquer the challenging times on the road.
Don’t forget that this bilingual journey with your child has an expiration date! The day your child leaves for college and is on his/her own you will move to the sideline and see how s/he carries on the bilingual expedition on his/her own.
Treasure your multilingual learning opportunities now. Time flies.
8. Keep it strong
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
-William Butler Yeats
Congratulations! You have started the multilingual adventure with your child. Learning a language connects people and cultures around the world. You are lighting the fire of learning not only about a language but about the global community. Have a world map placed on the wall and have a globe handy.
When you work on an art and craft project with your child you can expand language and cultural knowledge at the same time. For example, if you are doing a paper cutting project you can show your child from your location all the way to China, India, or Mexico where they also have papercutting art. Check out different papercutting patterns from each country and compare by using the target language in the level that your child can comprehend. Every little step counts. Every language input adds up.
Keep adding fuel to the learning fire and your child’s desire to learn will keep going strong!
Cheers to you on your multilingual journey! Be playful, smile, and go for one day at a time!
Let’s always keep learning fun!
a.k.a. “Miss Panda”
Thank you so much, Amanda, for this inspiring post!