Summer holidays = time to relax and spend quality time with your family, but not “only” that – they are an excellent opportunity to give your bilingual children’s language skills a significant boost.
Having discussed holidays with other multilingual families, one thing stands out loud and clear – this is the time of the year when children can progress in leaps and bounds in their second (third and so on) language. Don’t miss the opportunities that this free time of the year can offer!
Visits back home
This is the obvious one – nothing is more effective for language learning than being immersed in the language. Hearing the language not only from the usual one or two people, but being exposed to it by everyone around you, on TV and radio, in the shops, at the sports ground, during events, everywhere, makes a huge difference to the amount of new words and phrases you can learn. If you have been living away from the country for a while, your children will probably come back with a few new words they have learnt from other kids – which may not be familiar to you. You better keep up with the new in-words or get told that your language is old-fashioned! Remember that the more you let your children spend time on their own with their relatives and friends (without you jumping in to translate), the more they learn.
Relatives visiting you
You may not always be able to travel abroad during holidays, but having someone else who speaks the family’s minority language to visit you is of course also a really good way of getting more variety in the language exposure for your children. Being able to spend time with their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles is great bonding time for everyone. Bigger children can show them around and when they do, they will have to use a more extensive vocabulary than during your everyday family life.
Au pair or nanny
If you do not have the chance to travel, nor to have visitors – perhaps you can not take a holiday due to work, then au pairs or nannies who speak the minority language could be the solution for you. Look for certified nannies or au pairs via reputable companies – that said, I have heard several families who have had excellent results by inviting a young girl or boy from a friend’s family to come and stay during the holiday and play with the children.
Holiday camps and courses
Another option for improving language skills is for your children to participate in a holiday camp in the minority language – again, spending time with other children with different interests and life experiences will greatly expand their language skills. There are of course also pure language courses that might be an alternative for your older children – this could for example be a good way to improve writing skills for older children. You probably have to “sell” this one with some very interesting additional activities, though!
Arranging play groups in your area
You could also look for other families with the same languages and try to arrange play groups where the children can listen to stories, learn rhymes and songs and get to know other kids who speak their language. If there are no obvious organisations to turn to – contact your embassy for further information, they usually have details of where to find other nationals.
TV, DVDs and on-line programmes for those rainy days
While I am not recommending that you place your kids in front of the TV or computer everyday on their holiday, there are a lot of good quality resources available which can keep your small and even a bit older kids entertained during those not so sunny days.