Raising bilingual children is always a challenge. No matter, what strategy you will choose, you can be sure that more than once you’ll get tired with all those rules you need to stick to. Rules are important, though. They matter to us as parents, because when introducing a language to a child we need a plan to follow, and they matter even more to our children because they love our predictability.
With English as my second language, still far from perfect after all those years (and even less perfect over six years ago, when I started to introduce it to my little child), I knew how important it would be to set the rules, make sure that they fit into my daily schedule of a busy parent, and follow them. I began to learn English back in Poland, when I was 15, and having acquired English as my Second Language I had no other choice than to embrace my beautiful Polish accent and all those grammar and stylistics errors, which I’m still making.
I also knew that no matter how good my English might have been (it wasn’t great, though), still I would need to have an additional support to make sure that my son is being exposed to each language for a sufficient amount of time. When you’re introducing a language as a non-fluent speaker, some of your actions will be the same as when you are boosting your minority language. One of the principles is that your child will need to see, hear, and experience the reasons why he or she is learning and it’s the parent’s role to create this genuine need to speak the language. The little learner needs to be interested, he needs to enjoy it, and he needs to see it’s fun.
A plan to follow
I began to properly follow my plan and introduce English, our community language when my son was six months old but from birth he could hear me speaking English with others and singing to him songs in all the languages I can speak (Polish, English, some German, and some Russian). I also played for him all sorts of nursery rhymes, both in Polish and English. According to neurolinguistics studies, during the first 12 months of life children’s brains can pick up any sound in the world, therefore exposing a child to different languages can help learn languages later in life.
In my plan, the most significant part was to set up the time frame for both our minority and the majority languages and decide when it would be the most convenient and the easiest to expose my son to Polish, and when to English. Prof. Grosjean, a well-known specialist in bilingualism and biculturalism, among various methods to introduce a language favours a strategy, which he calls “home – outside the home”. When using this technique, one of the parents has to communicate with the child in his second language so that everyone is using just one language at home. I adapted it to our situation of a family with the same minority language and I decided that as a person who spends with our child 24/7 it must be me who would become that parent. As amazing as children are, my son wasn’t at all confused or upset. After an initial surprise and giving me a deep look in the eyes, he just got used to his mum speaking at times in Polish, and at other times in English.
Additional support for the language
However, I knew that me communicating in English wouldn’t be enough. A child needs to be actively exposed to a language and he needs to see that there are more ways than one to use the language. I didn’t have enough time or opportunities to socialise with English native speakers, therefore I had to get creative in finding other options.
Next to books in our target language, videos with stories and songs proved to be one of the best and the most reliable sources of an English language introduction. I’m proud not to have a TV at home and I’m not a fan of sitting a child in front of a screen and letting him watch anything. This is why, I find it especially important to ensure that the quality of what my son is watching, is top and unquestionable.
Recently, I’ve found a website www.learningwithyaya.com, with lovely materials for the little ones to learn English and Spanish. When looking at the videos and listening to the songs, I smiled remembering the time when my little son was only beginning to learn English. Created by a speech therapist, who is specialised in developing language skills in young learners, they seem to be a great support for a parent.
What to look for in videos for children
My criteria for the videos for my little boy were quite simple and I just wanted them to be:
- Colourful and child-friendly
- Preferably, with a personal touch that is understood literally: with a real person who can talk to my child from the screen
- With music and songs.
- With an emphasis on the music and songs that are child-friendly: with nice, gentle tunes and pictures that are moving fast enough to keep my son interested and at the same time are slow enough to complete the gentleness coming from the music
- With nice and clearly speaking voice of lector
- Educational but fun
- Teaching some practical words and expressions
- Easy to follow
They are actually quite basic expectations of a typical parent who wants to make sure that their baby (no matter how old the “baby” is) is being entertained and educated in the best possible way. Nevertheless, it would always take me ages to find videos, which matched my expectations and I wish Yaya’s videos were here six years ago when I needed them!
Most specialists suggest that children shouldn’t watch TV before the age of two. On her website, Yaya says that her educational videos and books are “appropriate for children 2 years and up”. When my little son was very, very little (i.e. before 2 years of age), I wouldn’t allow him to watch videos for longer than about 15 minutes a day and he definitely didn’t watch them every day. Nevertheless, occasionally he was allowed to watch stories and songs and for us, they proved to be an amazing (!) support of his English language introduction.
A few days ago, I asked my 6.5-year-old whether he would like to learn Spanish from Yaya’s videos. And he loved them! As a little person who is quite mature for his age, he watched the videos with interest and amusement and reminded me the words he still had remembered back from his phase of “Dora the Explorer”, which just shows that Yaya’s videos are good (read: fun) even for older children.
When introducing a language to a child, it’s worth to take every little opportunity to practice the language. This is why, flashcards, colouring books, or listening to songs in the car might be a great chance for the little learner to practice his other language. It would be even better if you could join him in. Learning together proves to be much more effective than your child learning on his own.
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For all BornBilingual readers, we have prepared a special GIVEAWAY and each of three lucky winners will get a chance to download for their little language learners of English or Spanish a bundle worth $20.
In your bundle, you will receive:
- 5 Educational Videos
- 5 Animated Songs
- 5 MP3 Songs
- 5 Colouring Books in PDF format
All materials are teaching about Actions, Categories, Colours, Opposites, and Sounds!
To enter, simply like BornBilingual’s page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and SHARE our Facebook GIVEAWAY post or GIVEAWAY tweet with a one-word comment: Spanish OR English to tell us, which version of these fantastic bundles you would prefer.
- Entrants receive an EXTRA ENTRY for tagging a friend!
- Giveaway open to entrants all over the world and over 18 years old. Winner will be chosen at random on 3rd February 2017.
- Winners have 2 days to contact BornBilingual at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Giveaway is now closed.
The winners are:
- Alicia from Madrid,
- Beca from Alicante,
- Sara from London
Congratulations!!! Thank you to everyone who entered!