“I’m the only native speaker in my family, how can I teach my kids to learn my mother tongue?”
“We are living in a country that our native language is the minority, my kids are not interested in using our native language anymore.”
“How can I keep my kids’ interest in learning my native language?”
“I can only speak English, but my kid is in a Dual-immersion program in school. What can I do to support my kid?”
There are SO MANY questions, concerns, and fears about teaching our children a new language. I understand your feelings. As a second language learner, language lover, former Chinese teacher, and homeschooling mom, I would like to provide you with The 4 Most Effective Ways to Empower Target-Languages at Home.
After marrying a Japanese-American man and having 3 children, questions concerning the education of my children suddenly became reality. Luckily, I was exposed to language acquisition from my degree. But I’m not an expert, and I had no idea how to help my kids be motivated and love learning Cantonese.
For 5 years in Utah, I tried to expose my young children to Cantonese by reading, singing, and talking to them all day long. I found some Cantonese cartoons on YouTube, and I also invited friends who speak Cantonese over for playdates as well. However, because we were living in an English-speaking country, they could only understand, but they wouldn’t often speak it.
Two years ago, we decided to move to Hong Kong for a couple of years while our children are young, so they can really learn Cantonese and live it. However, English has become the minority language here, so we both speak English in our home.
We have been in both situations, and I have learned some important lessons on how to empower my children and help them learn their target language, no matter where our home is located.
First, we all need to remember not to stress about the negative factors and situation that you are currently in. There is no a perfect way to raise bilingual/multilingual children, and there also is not any shortcuts to learning a new language. It all requires hard work and patience.
I believe, whether or not you can speak that target language, you can still try the following methods to empower target languages in the home.
Make Your Home a Learning Environment
Having a learning environment is vital for anyone who wants to acquire new skills and knowledge. It can motivate and encourage learners to step out of their comfort zone without fears or concerns. That’s why I love walking around and admiring elementary school classrooms in the U.S. I love how American teachers put so much effort into decorating their classrooms with colorful wallpapers, motivating posters, cute reward systems, informational labels and charts of different subjects, a theme-oriented front door, and a warm-welcoming reading corner that puts me in a learning mood from the moment I enter the classroom.
Find a corner of your home and transform it into a learning corner. Try themes such as little “China Town” or a “London Bridge”. Making your own decorations, wall labels, and educational posters with your cultural color and style is a great way to start.
<<Want some FREE Chinese/English/Pinyin labels for your own home or classroom? Click HERE to download. >>
Here are some great examples:
If you can’t read and write the target language, it’s ok. I’m sure you can find someone to help you or try your best to draw them out. If you don’t know anything about that language, or related cultural background… it is ok. It is time for you to learn it first. Simply go online, and type that language in the search bar, and see what Google tells you. Then, you can hand-make some decorations or print them off from the websites as well.
When your home becomes a language learning environment, you can live wherever you want on and still learn languages.
Be the Example to Use and Love the Languages at Home
Children are very clever and can sense if we, adults, really like something or not. So there is no pretending to like something, just because you want your kids to like it.
Think about, if you really like to listen to classical music, you will listen to it all the time. Classical music will not only play from your sound system at home, but also from your phone, in your car, and even your office. You will share it with your family and friends and take your family concerts. Don’t you think your children will know that you love classical music? Of course, they will and probably would already be sick of it.
It’s important to understand the reasons why you want you kids to learn another language. Is it because it is your native languages? Or is it a language that they are taught in class? Or is it because of where you live? Whatever the reasons, embrace them, remember them, use them, and love them. Your children will see it and eventually they will understand why you love speaking that language, and hopefully, they will love it too! Love the language is the most powerful thing that you can give to your kids. Never FORCE them!
Loving the language and helping your children love the language is the most powerful teaching skill. If you want them to hate a language the best way is to force them to learn it. Never FORCE them!
Focus on Providing Different Opportunities to Learn the Target Language on a Daily Basis
Practice makes perfect! We all understand this concept. So let’s think of some ways that we can immerse our children in the target language at home. If you don’t speak the language, you can still use these ideas and make it fun.
- Cooking, eating, and making cultural food
- Celebrate cultural festivals and holidays
- Watch travel programs about a country; documentary programs showing how people live in that country
- Stories about your ancestors/ historical people
- Movies and cartoons
- Visiting countries
- Put cute Labels on items that your child is learning (Don’t overload them with too many labels at once!)
Our Cultural Experiences in Hong Kong:
First time trying durian (The King of fruits) First time at a Chinese Flower Market
Chinese New Year in Hong Kong Visiting Tsz Shan Monastery in Hong Kong
Help your Children Embrace the Beauty of being Multilingual
I understand there will be pressure and negative feedback from outside your home. Our kids may think they are the weird ones who speak a weird language. Their lunch boxes smell weird and the food items are not the same as others. They participate in unknown events and festivals and get picked on at school.
Honestly, this is something that our kids will need to deal with. But as parents, we have the power to encourage and support our children with love and understanding, and it is not a one-time thing. Show them the fun and beauty of things that you like about your country or your language. When they are being exposed (especially when they were young), they will feel more comfortable with who they are.
Raising a multilingual family certainly has its challenges. I’m also glad that this challenge empowers me and helps me understand who am I and where I come from. I have learned to respect other cultures and to see the beauty in them. I don’t need my kids to be perfect linguistics, but I do want them to appreciate what their ancestors did for them and appreciate things from different cultures, and the beauty of this world.
You Might Be Interest:
- 14 Ways to Keep Kids Learn Vocabulary in a New Language (Marco Mama)
It provides short & sweet methods with clear examples of the ways to keep kids learn vocabulary.
- Inside a Family’s Year of kindergarten taught in Mandarin (KPCC)
It is a successful true story about how an English-speaking family struggled and supported their children attending Chinese immersion class. If you are in the same case, click on it and see how other families handle the same situation.
- 20 How to Learn Chinese Language Tips | from parents for parents (Sakura Haruka)
Want to hear comments and tips from other parents with children learning Chinese? This post has included some great tips from other parents. I’m sure we can use some of the tips and principles to learn other languages as well.
*If you LIKE this post, you may also like the related pins on my “Chinese: About Teaching & Learning” board at my Pinterest Profile.
What did you do to help your children learn your language?
What are some of the challenges that you met?
Do you have other tips on how to support learning another language at home?