Bilingual Children with One Hour of Language a Day – Part One

by Corey · 19 comments


By Corey Heller
Photo credit: John Millard

Have you heard of compound interest?  The worldwide financial crises aside, experts say that compound interest can make us millionaires by the time we retire if we take advantage of it correctly.

It goes without saying that it is completely dependent upon how much money we invest initially, how much we regularly add to the account, and what the overall rate of return is on our investment.

Is everyone going to become a millionaire through compound interest?  No!  But it doesn’t hurt to do what we can!  We add a set amount of money to our account on a regular basis and low-and-behold our little nest egg grows and grows.

Learning a language isn’t really so different when you think about it.

Imagine that our brain is the bank and language is the money.  We start off with some basic words and inspiration (initial investment), then each day we add a little more language to what we have (regular deposits) and that mix of old and new grows even larger and stronger (compound interest) over time through being able to use more complex sentences and communicate with more people which in itself adds to more vocabulary and better pronunciation – on and on. The more you put in, the more it develops and grows and compounds and before we know it, voilà, our language skills have blossomed and our family is speaking another language.

But what about our individual rate of return on our language learning, we may ask? Very good question!  In fact, this is a key element (both in financial investing and language learning)!

As we all know from financial investing, if we put our money into an account that has an interest rate of zero, then we are basically going to remain in a holding pattern.  No loss (if we don’t count inflation) but also no growth!  Not good.

To relate this with language learning: If we just repeat the same words over and over again in the same sentences and in the same contexts for weeks at a time, then our interest rate is going to remain stagnant.  Using the words we have learned in new sentences, with new people, in different settings is key.  Listening to audio programs, watching videos and taking notes, this will keep the ball rolling.

Getting excited about the culture is also key: making recipes from the culture, learning about the countries where the language is spoken, visiting cultural events in your community are all part of the process.

Putting all of this together is how our language will expand each day and each week.  It is how we ensure that our interest rate remains high.

One hour a day can make all the difference

For a number of reasons, parents may not be able to expose their children to a language at least 30 percent of the time.  Some families just aren’t comfortable enough in a language to dedicate themselves completely to raising their children in it.  Others may want to introduce a third or even fourth language. While yet others just aren’t ready to jump into bilingual parenting completely – they want to give it a test run first to get a feel for the waters.

Whatever your situation might be, rather than doing nothing at all, focus on one hour a day of language exposure and you will be amazed!

One hour a day is 60 minutes and 60 minutes over a week is 420 minutes = 7 hours! You can figure out for yourself how much that is in a year (it’s pretty easy in fact and sounds tremendous)!  Just think of it: a year of language use with just one hour a day!

That is more than many of us got in our high school language classes (and if you consider the fact that many of us were usually not paying attention, cheating off our neighbor’s paper, or utterly confused and didn’t care, our kids have quite the advantage)!

So, how do we go about this?  How do we ensure that we have a good return on our investment?  No one can answer those questions completely for us but we can get a little help in the right direction…

Click Here for Part Two of this article, which includes some tips for one hour a day of language learning.

What’s your story?  Do you have a language that you have let fall to the wayside?  Is there a language you would love to pass onto your children but are too afraid to leap in and make it happen?  Tell us your story in the comments below!

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 13, 11 and 9, in German and English.
CLICK HERE to send her an email! You can also follow her on Google+!

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alejandra Mueller September 10, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Thanks so much for this article, it gives my family some hope and some encouragement to pick up on our languages! My husband speaks German and I speak Spanish and we live in Michigan and although we tried to speak both languages since the kids were little along the way it seems English had won the battle, but perhaps If I re start Spanish and German on a 60 min a day they will catch up again! Love your website!

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2 Corey September 10, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Fabulous to hear that you are ready to go for the one hour a day, Alejandra! It really can make such a big difference. It doesn’t seem like it when we just look at it from the perspective of each day. But all together it is a lot! That is why I like the financial example. We invest in our and our children’s financial futures… why not for our and their language futures! The best part with language is that we get to use it every day even while doing the investing – LOL!

Check out the post in the Multilingual Living Forum from Chitty. She is asking if others are out there who are going to give the one hour a day a try and want to give one another support. Go for it and let us know how it goes!

And thank you so much for your kind comments about the website! It is so wonderful to know that others enjoy it as much as we do!

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3 Solnushka September 25, 2010 at 12:48 am

I like the idea that it’s not just the amount you speak, but the quaility. I am a great believer in achievable goals. Our minority language suffers a bit because I am not that confident in it, and I am the main caregiver. But I could perhaps concentrate on short bursts of quality input rather than feeling pressurised to just give more, which results in me using set phrases and such interspersed with lots of English. Might learn ore myself that way too. Off to look at part 2!

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4 Corey November 19, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Thank you for your comment, Solnushka! Yes, focusing on adding just a little bit more each day – not overdoing it! I find that when we keep it fun then we are all motivated to continue doing it. Often what it takes is me just reading a book out loud or having a dialog with myself that gets my kids interested. As soon as my kids feel that I am pressuring them into doing it, they tend to see it as work and tune out. Let me know how it goes!

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5 Sarah @ Baby Bilingual September 26, 2010 at 1:25 am

“If we just repeat the same words over and over again in the same sentences and in the same contexts for weeks at a time, then our interest rate is going to remain stagnant.”

This is especially important for those of us speaking a non-native language with our children! I have worried about my skills in my second language (French) stagnating because I have spent 2.5 years talking to a baby, then a toddler, primarily about things only of interest to a child.

Thanks for the gentle reminder that working towards improving my own French will also help my son!

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6 Corey November 19, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Isn’t that a great reminder: that what we do for ourselves will also benefit our kids? It is a big realization that came about during the Language Challenge 101 process. I could totally see that the more *I* was motivated and improved my Spanish, the more the kids were excited and could increase their language. After having lived in the US for 15 years and only visiting Germany for a month at a time every other year, I realize how much my German is suffering. I really need to get it going again! I’m working on a new challenge (for myself and others if they want to join in). Stay tuned! I’m sure you will enjoy it!

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7 Jovana October 10, 2010 at 3:12 am

I’m a big believer in second language learning. I also love cooking dishes from France and introducing them to French culture. It’s VERY important. Thanks for the fantastic article.

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8 ruliana dewi May 22, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Thanks the article gives me inspirations

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9 hanaa April 17, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Hi, my kids speak my native language (English). Hubby refuses to speak his native language (Arabic) to them (still not clear why), they were exposed and the older 2 learned to communicate in my second language (Italian) when it was in the environment, but now that we are in hubby’s home environment they have lost a lot of Italian and I am not sure if it’s wise to push for the continuation and establishment (for the 2 younger ones) of it while trying to get them used to hearing and understanding Arabic (which they only hear from hubby’s family, since they go to English schools). Any advice?

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10 Vbestic May 6, 2013 at 5:56 am

I think this method is only suitable for children. Because they don’t really get it as “learning”.

For example I was never “Learning” English. It was part of my life since I was born. And I can speak it very good now without spending time on actual learning.

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11 Hayley September 12, 2013 at 6:27 pm

I like your theory behind this. I truly wish that I was taught a second language as a child – it would make my life easier (and more fun!). I see the benefits when other parents do this with their children.

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12 Emy October 30, 2013 at 8:51 am

I know I am (really, really) late to the party, but I just wanted to say “YES! YES! YES!” I wish I had found this article earlier. It basically provides the justification for my blog — only you said it much better than I could have. From my experience, babies and young children may learn language very easily, but they give it back just as fast. The key, I think, is persistence. Especially now that my kids are in school learning and speaking English ALL DAY, even just a little bit, every day, helps keep Chinese in their brains too. Thanks for the article! I’ll be linking to it from my blog!

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13 Langoo January 18, 2014 at 1:08 pm

What a great idea! The best thing about this proposition is that it can also be used by adult people who are learning a foreign language. If any learner can consistently put in one hour of work regularly, they will certainly achieve fluency in any language they set their mind to.

Whether we are applying this to young kids or adults, the key to success remains consistency. If the pattern starts breaking down such as skipping one week and so on, then the results won’t be assured.

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14 Langoo January 18, 2014 at 1:08 pm

What a great idea! The best thing about this proposition is that it can also be used by adult people who are learning a foreign language. If any learner can consistently put in one hour of work regularly, they will certainly achieve fluency in any language they set their mind to.

Whether we are applying this to young kids or adults, the key to success remains consistency. If the pattern starts breaking down such as skipping one week and so on, then the results won’t be assured.

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15 Len March 12, 2014 at 7:49 pm

I really think that the 30% exposure idea is a myth. It has been my experience (no scientific data) that 5-10 hours per week is more than enough to achieve verbal proficiency before the school years if you start very young, VERY young.

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16 Seonaid April 2, 2014 at 10:46 am

This is really interesting to hear. Laura Ann Petitto, who’s a language researcher, talks about this here (http://www.ovguide.com/ellen-bialystok-9202a8c04000641f8000000000945ecb – click on the ‘language and learning’ video). For her, the most important thing is systematic exposure of a high quality, rather than a certain number of hours per week. Have you tried this yourself, Len?

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17 Len April 2, 2014 at 12:23 pm

I will have to check it out. I am familiar with some of Dr. Petitto’s work. Really ground-breaking stuff. Given that the average American parent spends only 15 minutes per day talking to their children, I don’t think the bar is too terribly high here! Thanks so much for the reference!

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18 Language Stars December 8, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Thanks for sharing Corey. There are lots of demands out there on parents these days. Fitting in an hour a day can be tough, but I absolutely agree that it’s worth it. Compared to other children’s programming, language just opens up so many doors. Even for monolingual parents, there are so many great people sharing out there. We share a lot on our blog and Pinterest accounts too.

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