~ By Anjelica Malone
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his own language, that goes to his heart.” –Nelson Mandela
As someone who spent their upbringing bopping around the globe, exposure to different languages was a given. Sadly, my parents never encouraged my siblings and I to become fluent in another language. Of course, I gladly learned phrases that allowed me to order at restaurants, shop for a prom dress, and make friends, but I know that gaining a deeper, more fluent grasp of the language would have enriched my time abroad even more.
When I became pregnant with my first daughter, my husband and I were living in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico and we desired to do things a bit differently. We not only loved the gorgeous weather and delectable food; we also fell head over heels in love with the culture and community of people who became like family to us. It’s no wonder it’s nicknamed the Island of Enchantment. We were adamant about helping our daughter become fluent in the language of her birthplace.
It can seem intimidating to introduce your child to a new language, and impossible if you don’t speak that language yourself. But it is possible. As I began to do research on how we could make our dream a reality, I learned that there are entire communities of parents dedicated to helping their tot, youth, or teenager become a global citizen with bi/multilingualism at the core.
I also discovered that, contrary to past misconceptions, bilingualism does not cause language confusion, speech delay, or a cognitive deficit. Quite the opposite, actually! Studies have found that children who speak more than one language display greater mental flexibility, creativity, problem-solving, and reasoning skills. They also score better on reading, math, and language arts tests. Unfortunately, this outdated thinking still persists and may be a reason for the fact that only about 9% of Americans are multilingual, compared to more than half the population of European citizens. As we become a more globalized society, it only makes sense that we encourage our children to embrace another language.
Over the last four years, as our two girls have blossomed into Spanish-speakers, I have honed in on how to incorporate some of the many ways that experts believe parents can facilitate language learning.
The first and most important aspect is to provide opportunities for your child to be immersed in the language. Since we live in a relatively monolingual environment, here are some ways to provide immersive-type experiences, right where you live.
Use Entertainment as Education. Switch your kiddo’s Netflix shows to the language of your choosing—available options include, Spanish, French, German, and Chinese (Simplified and Traditional). We really enjoy educational shows that increase their vocabulary. Shows like The Magic School Bus, Our Planet, and Llama Llama are some of our favorite.
Discover language preschools in your area and try out a free session. A quick Google search turns up many throughout King County, such as Global Garden International Preschool, La Escuelita School in Greenlake and Columbia City, Sponge School in Bellevue, and Zoom Language Center. There are lots more!
Uncover local dual language/immersion public schools for elementary and high schoolers. Here are a few:
- Beacon Hill International School
- Briarcrest Elementary
- Dearborn Park International School
- Denny International Middle School
- John Stanford International Elementary School
- Lincoln High School
- McDonald International Elementary School
- Mercer International Middle School
Learn as you commute. Listening to podcasts such as, Duolingo and Radio Ambulante by NPR, allow you to enjoy engaging stories while also expanding your vocabulary. The Duolingo podcast is unique in that it’s geared toward newer language learners and can be combined with its language-teaching app.
Make it a family affair by attending one of Seattle Center’s free culture and language Festál events. Events typically include performances, ethnic food vendors, and activities for children and adults.
Enjoy story time at a local Seattle or King County public library. Story times are regularly offered in Spanish, Mandarin, and Somali. Traditional children’s songs are also occasionally incorporated into the class. Check here for the latest dates and times.
Link up with an online community of like-minded parents. It can be particularly helpful to bounce ideas off of other parents to see what’s worked and what hasn’t. A virtual community is also wonderful for those who may not live near others who also value bilingualism.
Practice, Practice, Practice. Any chance you get, use your newfound skills at a restaurant, when making friends at the park, or when attending events around town. It may feel intimidating to make mistakes, but remember, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his own language, that goes to his heart.” –Nelson Mandela
- An article on Learning a Second Language is Good Childhood Mind Medicine
- An article on the Benefits of Learning a Second Language
- A website and campaign, Speak Your Language
About the Author
Anjelica Malone is the mother of two island-born girls and the wife to an astoundingly supportive husband. She is also a graduate student studying Midwifery at Bastyr University. Her writing and philosophy on parenting is influenced by her travels and third culture upbringing. Visit her website, AnjelicaMalone.com, to learn more.