By Corey Heller
Photo credit: John Millard
As I outline in the first article, Bilingual Children with One Hour of Language a Day – Part One, language learning isn’t really so very different from financial investing: 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.
The question is: how do we ensure that our rate of return on language learning is a high one? How do we make sure that we aren’t just using the same words in the same context day in and day out – just going in circles?
The key is staying motivated, inspired and building on what we have already learned. We need to mix things up enough to stay interested but not too much to get confused and worn out.
Doing this as a family can be tough since there are so many different learning styles and temperaments interacting and intersecting but it is also one of the most fabulous ways to work together to keep our language learning going.
Why? Because when we are feeling discouraged, our spouse can get us excited again. When our kids say they are tired of using language, we can find something fun to get them interested again. Plus, having our own family members along for our language adventure is a very special way to connect and bond. I highly recommend it! Check out our Language Challenge 101 adventure if you don’t believe me.
Here are some tips on how to make our one hour a day of language worth our efforts:
This is especially important for those who are not fluent in the target language. The reason is because when we are not fluent in a given language, speaking it doesn’t come naturally. We have to work at integrating it into our days.
As we all know, adding something new to our already tight schedules means we probably will put it off and forget to even add it to our list. To solve this, we need to agree as a family that we will each spend one hour a day on the language, no matter what. That is that. No exceptions.
Find ways to encourage one another to stick with it each day:
- Hang a list on the wall with each person’s name so that each person can put a check mark each time the hour has been completed each day. Go ahead and tattle on others who haven’t done theirs (in a fun way, of course).
- Use a language program together and agree on a specific time to do it. Encourage one another if there is resistance!
- Have a fun incentive that everyone can participate in but only for those who did their hour a day for that/those week(s). For example, an evening out at a restaurant where you can use the language!
We need to have a plan for how we are going to manage this one hour a day. When will the hour be? What, exactly, will we focus on? Will our whole family have the same plan or will each member of the family follow a different plan?
- Maybe the plan consists of watching one 15 minute segment of a children’s DVD with our child and then using the words and sentences in as many ways as possible for the rest of the hour (plus off and on for the rest of the day if we want!).
- Perhaps we have found a good language-learning program online or from the library and we will do one episode a day with our children (or do it alone and find ways to pass on the language to our children). Whatever the plan is, get it set, make sure it is clear and go for it.
- Don’t worry, we are allowed to change the plan along the way (just not every other day)!
My Language Challenge 101 Resource Tips:
- Start by getting your hands on as many free resources as you can (library, online, YouTube, etc.).
- Once you have some free resources to utilize, take your time researching language programs that cost money. Find out what others are saying about the different language programs.
- Make your decisions based on your and your family members’ learning styles. Consider having each family member take a quiz to get a better idea of their learning styles.
- Do not go out and start purchasing language learning products without doing your research first! Ask people on the Multilingual Living Facebook page or in the Multilingual Living Forum about products before you buy them! You will get some honest opinions and will save yourself a lot of time and money!
Keep it simple!
We shouldn’t try and add in everything to that hour. We have many days, months and even years ahead of us, so let’s start slow and have fun.
- Choose a word, a sentence, a DVD, and language learning program, or a book and use it to get ourselves and our children motivated each day.
- We should not attempt to learn the entire vocabulary of a one-hour audio CD from the library (and we shouldn’t even think of sitting our kids down to learn vocabulary every day).
- We can pick 5 words and see what we can do with those words in an hour that is fun. Or we can spend an hour reading books in the target language out loud to our children and looking up the words via an online translation tool such as Google’s Language Tools.
- We can even try looking through the list of language activities on this website or do a search for language activities to find out what there is out there in cyberspace.
- Make sure it stays fun!
Keep moving along
If we find that we are feeling a lack of motivation and interest, we need to ask ourselves if we are introducing enough new elements to our hour a day of language exposure. Often we start off with gusto but find that we are losing steam as time goes on.
- We can introduce new games and words and activities so that things will stay stimulating for ourselves and our children (even if this means doing a totally different language program or plan for a week).
Or the problem for our lack of motivation could be that we are overdoing things – maybe we are taking things too quickly?
- After a weekend of 10 episodes of Mi Vida Loca I couldn’t stand Spanish. I couldn’t stand one more word of it! It nauseated me! I was so exhausted from it, I spent most of one day on the sofa in what I called “siesta-mode” with a glazed look in my eyes.
- If that happens to you, then you need to do what I did: take a break!
Define YOUR OWN definition of success
At one hour a day of language learning, our child is not going to be speaking any language fluently after a few weeks. Our child may not even want to speak anything all for the first few weeks! This is just fine. Encourage but don’t push.
We must resist the urge to compare ourselves to anyone else. We must have our own definition of what it means to be a successful bilingual and then stick with it day in and day out. We have our own path and goals and aspirations and need to stay true to them. What we are doing is an amazing feat. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Just take it one day at a time.
- If you find yourself faltering, don’t feel embarrassed or concerned. It is perfectly normal! Watch my Language Challenge 101 videos and you’ll see how my confidence waxes and wanes!
- What should you do when this happens? Write a post on the Multilingual Living Facebook page or in the Multilingual Living Forum asking for encouragement! Turn to your fellow Multilingual Living friends for support! Not only do we understand, we are eager to help! We’ll be needing your help down the road!
You are not allowed to give up
No matter what, just stick with it. It is going to take a minimum of 3 months (and more realistically 6 months to a year) to see any real progress. So if we are feeling frustrated after a month, we need to remember that it takes time – a lot of time. Remember the example of financial investing? The key is time and consistency – day in and day out.
This is why it needs to be fun and inspired and enjoyable! You are in it for the long haul. Do what you need to do to make it a part of life, not a short sprint.
Live the language
Finally, it is important that we get away from the thoughts around teaching the language to our child. Yes, technically we are teaching to some degree but don’t approach it that way. We are being the example of a language user for our child. We are feeling the language, living the language for our child (even if we can’t speak it well) and ourselves.
We should allow ourselves to get emotionally attached to and involved with the language day in and day out. We need to encourage this in ourselves. This is what will make our child take an interest and hop on board with us more than anything.
The degree to which we experience the language will directly correlate to our child’s interest and experience of it. These go hand in hand. There is no other way.
And what is the prize for all of this effort?
The best prize of all: the bond that develops between us and our family through the medium of our shared language living. We just might be surprised at the degree to which language learning changes our family’s whole outlook on life. Honestly!
Each day our family will have something to look forward to. Together with our spouse and children we will develop and expand our common language dreams. It is so wonderful to let ourselves fall in love with language for us, our spouse and our children!
If you need some inspiration, follow my family’s Spanish language learning in our Language Challenge 101 posts! We’d love to have you along for the language adventure!
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 on to your children but are too afraid to leap in and make it happen? Tell us your story in the comments below!