Do you remember the movie Dick and Jane with Jim Carey? If you do, you’ll recall how often the parents worked and how their child only ever wanted to speak Spanish. And although we might be baffled by the thought of our child not wanting to speak the same language as us, it made sense. The kid was always with his Spanish-speaking nanny and rarely with his parents. Good or bad, the amount of time he was around his nanny influenced his speaking capabilities and I can relate to this.
Growing up with parents whose native languages were different from my own has translated into a different, but still wonderful experience for me. And unfortunately, one that can be easily taken for granted.
My mother’s first language was German and my father’s was English. Additionally, I grew up on a military base in Germany which allowed me to live in both worlds, hearing both languages — this was exciting. The German language resonated just as well as the English language did with my siblings and me. So, you can imagine that moving back to the United States, where English is the dominant language, was a transition.
My heritage is something that I have vowed to pass down to my children.
No matter how far away my grandparents are, I want my children to recognize and live with lifestyles from way back when. And of course, the main way to do this is by speaking the language. Parents often take too much time to research the best way to teach a child another language (I too am guilty of this).
But here is reality: the best time to teach a child another language is NOW.
If this is something you want to do, there is no reason to wait. It is important for newborns to hear different languages as the fluctuation of languages resonates well with a child that age. The more they become familiar with a language, the easier it will be for them to learn the language. I made this mistake with my son. English will be Orion’s native tongue and German his second, but I wanted him to use them equally.
I used to believe that it would be best to wait until he could speak English before I exposed him to another language. Then I did my research and realized there are more positive effects when a child learns two languages early on. So, I recently started integrating new learning techniques. Of course, trying to learn another language when you are not constantly surrounded by it can be difficult, but that does not mean it’s not achievable.
If you are partial to multiple languages, or not at all and want to be, here are some tips to live by:
- Create a Community Within a Community: I can’t tell you how important this is. No matter where you are in the world there are several people just like you wishing for the same way of life. Every place I have lived, I have found a German community present, no matter how big or small. And although you might not be able to live in a part of the world where you constantly hear the language you are learning, you can surround yourself with these people. With today’s technology there is no reason not to be able to do so.
- Create a Family Agreement: Everyone in your household should be on the same page, speaking (or trying to) speak the language during the same set of hours. Take time to write a contract and set boundaries and goals. Without planning you will surely run into difficulties. And if extended family is an everyday occurrence for you, make sure they are included as well. Research says that at LEAST 30% of a person’s waking time should be committed to speaking the new language if they want to see results.
- Be Consistent: Contradictory to what most people believe, you can’t just turn on a movie in a foreign language and learn that language. Using the TV tactic will help, but it can only be a part of the whole routine. Regardless of how you want to do it, consistency is the key. Make it a part of your life.