What Languages Are The Neighbors Speaking?
The Modern Language Association provides a great tool on its website that lets you search what languages families are speaking in your neighborhood. When you access the website at http://www.mla.org/map_data, you can enter your state and your county, and it will show you the percentage of people, over the age of 55, who speak a different language other than English at home. For example, in the county we live in, there are 3,482 people who speak French at home.
With this information, parents can promote language clubs for kids in their communities. All it takes to start is a few flyers at the library, grocery store, and local churches. The meetings can take place weekly or biweekly, at a park, a community center, or at someone’s home. Like regular playdates, language clubs can be organized in any number of ways, but the only rule is that only the native language can be spoken! Language clubs allow children to forge meaningful friendships with other native speakers, which is important.
Meet Community Leaders
When you meet successful bilingual citizens in your community, invite them to speak at your children’s school about the benefits of speaking two languages and to discuss their personal experience of growing up bilingual. It’s important for children to see their languages valued and to hear the merits of bilingualism from someone else beside their parents!
World Languages Day
The Center for Language Education and Research, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, offers a free guidebook titled “Celebrating the World’s Languages: A guide to creating a World Languages Day event.” This publication provides a step-by-step guide to plan an exciting event for high school students to highlight the importance of cultural awareness and language skills. Teachers and community groups can download the publication here.
If you live near a historical hotel, you will surely find many languages and cultures represented by its staff. With some pre-planning, these historical hotels often offer tours to give visitors a sense of what life was like in the past when famous artists, writers, and politicians stayed as guests. You can check the Historic Hotels of America for more information. At some locations you might even get a ghost tour with stories of the hotel’s haunted history.
The National Guard
Contact the Public Affairs Office at your local Air National Guard to see if you can tour their facilities. There might even be an Air Refueling Wing, which offers tours of a KC-135, their emergency equipment, and a fire station. Ask if they have a staff member who speaks your native language. If they don’t, you can always serve as translator! When we did a tour of our local 157th Air Refueling Wing, I made a list of French vocabulary words that we now get to practice every time the girls take out the photo album we made of that memorable day. I picked up a few words myself, since I had never seen an avion-ravitailleur (tanker) up close before!
The National Museum of Language
The National Museum of Language opened in College Park, Maryland, in May 2008 to promote “a better understanding of language and its role in history, contemporary affairs, and the future.” They offer a wealth of information and resources, from podcasts to papers to online presentations at http://languagemuseum.org/. For children in particular, they offer free online activities in Gaelic, Polish, and Spanish, as well as computer games to practice German, Italian, Spanish, French, and English. Children can even sign up to join the organization Young Linguists of America, sponsored by the museum.
Sister Cities International is a non-profit organization that brings together U.S. and international cities to increase global awareness, improve business developments, and exchange ideas in different fields including technology and the arts. You can find a directory on their website at http://www.sister-cities.org/2015Directory to see if your city has an international “sister city.” Many communities organize cultural events and exchanges, giving families a chance to practice their language skills with other natives, as well as spreading cultural awareness in the community. The Sister Cities website allows you to search your city and offers links to cultural programs in your area and contact information for your local “sister cities” chapter.
For example, Asheville, North Carolina, has six sister cities: – San Cristobal de las Casas, and Valladolid in Mexico, Vladikavkaz in Russia, Karpenisi in Greece, and Saumur in France. Asheville has welcomed international musicians, journalists, jewelers, culinary students, basketball players, among other guests.
Although not all languages will be represented at these cultural events, it’s also possible for a community to request a sister city in a particular country or to search through the existing list of international cities looking to make a connection with U.S. sister cities.
International Research on Bilingualism
There is a great deal of international research on bilingualism available, if you would like to read about the subject in your native language. If you have concerns or questions about raising a deaf child with a second language, for example, I would recommend François Grosjean’s research, which is now available in 31 languages at http://www.francoisgrosjean.ch/the_right_en.html
When students start to show an interest in international news, check out http://www.bbc.com, which now offers its news program in 34 languages, complete with audio.
Free Online Language Courses
The British Broadcasting Corporation offers free 12-week online courses for beginners in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese, and Greek at http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/. You can use the site to supplement your children’s exposure to the language. They even get a certificate at the end when they finish the course! The site also provides a “quick- fix” section with 12 “essential holiday phrases” in 36 languages. There are language tests, dictionaries, and learning games available as well. Children are invited to share their thoughts or personal anecdotes about their language experience in a section called “Your Say.” For most children it’s a great feeling of pride and accomplishment when they see their words on a high-traffic website such as the BBC’s. You can always find out more information by searching the keywords “free online language classes.” to find other options. For example, you can access free German Courses on Deutsche Welle’s website.