by Paul Martin
A great thing about multilingual families is that the children have the invaluable opportunity to learn any of the languages that the parents speak. However, this comes with a tradeoff: if mom and dad speak different languages, one parent might struggle to understand the communication between the other parent and the child. This can inhibit family bonding time, and can be frustrating for everyone involved.
But don’t worry! There are plenty of easy-to-implement tips and tricks that can help you sneak in some extra practice in your spouse’s language. Even for parents who are pressed for time, this list will help you improve your language skills each day -- and more importantly, will make it easier for the whole family to communicate.
1. Make labels around the house
A great way to internalize names for useful, everyday objects is to make labels for various items around your house. For example, if you’re trying to learn French, ask your spouse to put labels with the French names on your appliances around the kitchen. This way, you’ll be constantly exposed to basic words in your target language, and you’ll memorize them without even realizing it.
2. Read comic books in the target language
Comic books are an especially great language-learning tool for two reasons. First, they’re fun, engaging, and quick -- they make for a perfect read when you have a few spare minutes at home, or on the subway on the way to work. Second, they are highly visual, so even if you don’t know some of the words, the pictures can help you figure out what they mean.
3. Watch movies and TV series with subtitles -- and pay attention
DVDs for most recent movies and series come with subtitles in several languages. If you’re just starting to learn a language, try watching your favorite series with subtitles in the target language. But be careful! It’s easy to get wrapped up in the action, and ignore the subtitles. Make sure that you’re really engaging with the subtitles to see how common words and phrases are pronounced in your target language. Pause frequently to make sure you understand what you’re reading, and when there’s something you don’t understand, make a note to ask your spouse for clarification.
If you don’t have subtitles for a particular movie or series, try searching for them online: there are several free websites that have subtitles available to download in many different languages. And once you’re comfortable enough to watch movies in the target language, check out some film suggestions for language learners , specifically selected to help you learn a plethora of new slang and colloquialisms.
4. Listen -- and sing along -- to music in the foreign language
Music is a great way to understand both the cultural and linguistic features of a given language. And with the internet, it’s available everywhere -- for almost any language, there are plenty of great resources with song suggestions from past to present. Songs are excellent for language learners, as you can follow along with the lyrics to learn new words and grammatical constructions -- all while enjoying some catchy tunes.
Load up your iPod with target-language songs to squeeze in some practice when you’re on the go -- and don’t forget to sing along! This way, you’ll be practicing both your listening and your speaking skills.
5. Release your inner child
Reading books can be challenging for language learners, as they’re often filled with complex language and advanced grammar. There’s an exception, however -- children’s books! Reading children’s books is a fantastic way to learn the basics of a foreign language, while at the same time revisiting some of your favorite reads from your childhood. Once you’re familiar with a book, show off your newfound knowledge -- and get in some speaking practice -- by reading it aloud to the whole family.
6. Find a pen pal
If you don’t have enough time to meet regularly with a language teacher and your spouse is not willing to take a role as such either, consider finding a pen pal on the internet with whom you can practice writing in the target language. Websites like Conversation Exchange allow you to create a free profile with speakers of any language, and communicate via email or Skype. It’s a great way to talk with native speakers, as well as practice your writing.
7. Set a regular time to speak the language at home
Once you feel comfortable enough to hold a conversation, set a fixed time each week to speak the language with your family. For example, if you’re trying to learn Chinese, you could make a household tradition of speaking only in Chinese at dinnertime on Friday. Or if you’d rather test the waters first, try spending a few minutes each day before bedtime speaking in the target language with just your spouse.
8. Track your progress
Learning a language is a slow process, and it’s easy to feel discouraged or get bogged down by details. Every few months, take an online level test to see how your language skills have progressed. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ve improved! And in addition, you’ll be able to see which areas you still struggle with, so you can focus your efforts on what needs the most work.
When learning a foreign language, practice makes perfect. But even if you don’t have hours to devote to studying a language, these tips and tricks will help you engage with your spouse’s language in your everyday life. With a little bit of effort each day, you’ll be well on your way to communicating more openly and freely with your family -- in whichever language you please.
Language Trainers, which provides individually-tailored language training on a one-on-one or small group basis worldwide. Language Trainers offers several free educational resources, such as audio-recorded listening tests. Don’t hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Language Trainers' Facebook page for more information.
Note: The photos are provided by the author. The cover photo is a cut from the original one taken by Lucia Sanchez and is licensed under CC by 2.0.
You might also like:
Get Your Hero to clean your home - Sweepstake.
Q&A: Question from a bilingual parent-to-be about language choice.
Multilingual Family Interview: When your home languages are different from community language.
7 principles to keep in mind while teaching your child to read.
Are you a multilingual family and looking for a playdate in your language? Click here to find it now!