Archive for Second language exposure

Encouraging language learning


In our family, the dominant language is English. We also speak (some) Spanish with our daughters (6 and 4) and encourage their Spanish-language development as many of their peers, teachers, and caregivers speak Spanish as their primary language and we (my wife better than I) have learned some as we’ve gotten older. My wife also speaks German as a heritage language from her mother’s side, but very infrequently. Do you have advice on whether and how to encourage *both* non-English languages in an English-dominant house?

I’m happy to hear that your children are exposed to Spanish and German! Having friends, teachers, and caregivers who speak Spanish will be a great influence on them and if you and your wife try to learn the language along with them, they will see its value even more and will want to keep it up.

If you can take a trip together to a Spanish-speaking country, of course, that would boost their self-esteem and they would see first-hand the importance of speaking another language. It’s clear from your email that you understand the value of speaking a second language and you are passing on that curiosity and appreciation to your children – which is a huge step.

To give them some consistency, your wife could try to speak German with them at a particular time of day, let’s say reading a couple of stories before bedtime. Books she read as a child, or books that pass on fun cultural traditions or important family values. I hope some of the activities in the last two chapters help you get some ideas on how to share these two languages as a family.


I was wondering if it would help to make it a fun family thing — like “Today is German Day, and let’s speak only in German to each other, ok?” And make it seem like a game. It couldn’t be every day or it wouldn’t work, but maybe it could become scheduled, like every Monday/Wednesday/Friday.

That’s a great way to start! Consistency helps of course, so you could start with once a week and see how you and your family are enjoying it. Then, later on, you could try your schedule of Monday/Wednesday/Friday, if that works for you. Definitely have fun with it but you’ll soon be amazed at how quickly your son picks up words and adds to his vocabulary, it’s pretty amazing! If he needs to use it, he will learn it. So, on that one day a week, you try to make it German-only and he will quickly understand that he needs to speak German to you. Are there any weekly German playgroups in your area? An added bonus to keep you motivated. You can start one pretty easily, by putting up a flyer at your local library and inviting parents with toddlers to practice their German.


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Increasing second language exposure

How can a family build on second language exposure when it’s only provided by a nanny or babysitter? Great question, Yvonne.

First, it’s clear that any amount of language exposure is great for children! It’s good that you’re giving them a chance to hear and speak some Slovak on a regular basis. There are a few things you can do as a family to increase their interest and their exposure to this beautiful language.

First, you and your husband can try to learn it along with your children! It can start with an evening a week learning new vocabulary words together from a great children’s book or listening to a CD of children’s songs. The point is to show your children that you think this language is valuable and worth learning. Don’t ever worry about mispronouncing words in front of them; they’re hearing it correctly from their babysitter and from any CDs you get, which more than compensates.

The other step you can take is to get to know more of your babysitter’s friends and family who also speak Slovak. Have a small group over for coffee to soak up the language! You can even ask for family lessons once or twice a month. You can also celebrate some of their holidays at home as a family, to teach your children more about the culture of the country and its history. You can print cultural info from the Internet, and open their minds to a new perspective.

There are great VHS tapes (we still sometimes use those at our house!) or DVDs available in many libraries that introduce children to different cultures. A great series is “Families of the World”. Also, check out – they have a great catalogue of tapes and books to raise multicultural awareness in children. They have bilingual books in English and Slovak.

And last, I would recommend finding bilingual pen pals (living in Slovakia, and learning English in school for example) for your sons to write letters or emails to and practice some of their vocabulary words, even if the conversations are very basic at the beginning. They’ll get to know how children live in Slovakia and maybe one day they’ll ask you if you can take a family trip together to see their new friends! Hope this helps, have fun!




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