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

by Corey · 8 comments

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!

The plan

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.
  • 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!

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 15, 14 and 12, in German and English.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chitty September 8, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Thanks for this much-needed motivation! I am trying to improve my Tamil and teach my toddler at the same time and was wondering if its a realistic goal for a non-fluent speaker. I really like the analogy to the savings account and depositing something every day.
Today we played a game – walk, run, stop – outside with both of us alternating shouting out the commands in Tamil to each other. New vocabulary and good exercise!
Given that there aren’t very many Tamil-learning resources in the library or Internet, am definitely going to be paying attention here to see how I can adapt activities for our needs. Thanks!


2 Corey September 9, 2010 at 10:36 am

This is fantastic, Chitty! It is really amazing what we CAN do with one hour a day over time (yes, like our finances). What a great game you played today – that is exactly the kind of fun that will keep your kids having fun while learning language at the same time. Each day you add a little more, start adding in new games, let your kids direct what they like to some degree and you directing as well (without it feeling like you are directing it). That is something I am going to add to the article: let the family as a whole get involved in the planning process. This can make all the difference. Of course, we can’t say yes to everything our kids want to do but we can find a compromise together. It is so fun!

Bummer about your library resources, I can imagine. Do some searches online, check out YouTube, contact friends/family in India to find out if they can send you some products. I will post some more links for where to find resources, especially knowing that you are on board and would benefit from those. I have a friend who speaks Tamil and she points me to some great sites to get books/DVDs for fairly reasonable prices in the States (are you in the States?). I’ll pick her brain for those. 🙂

And anything you find, let us know as well! Would love to know. Your comment is very inspiring! I’m going to keep checking out the Forum where I see you started a thread – yippee! In fact, maybe we should start a whole new “group” for that in the Forum – then you can all have more threads all under the same grouping.


3 Tania September 14, 2010 at 2:55 am

Hi, just love this site by the way. I thought I’d share how I try and integrate my 1 hour a day. My first language was Italian but then I lost it when my family moved to England when I was 4 and my parents divorced. I have had to re-learn it like a second language. What I’m saying is I’m not fluent and it doesn’t come naturally to me to speak Italian with my 5 year old son but I really want him to learn and for me to keep speaking some Italian. So this is what I am trying to do. It’s not 100% successful but it’s a plan.
Firstly I looked at language I could use during the normal routine of the day so I kind of had set things I say when we wake up eg Good morning. Slept well? What’s the time? Open the curtains. What’s the weather like? and so on. Other points during the day for language input are meal times, bedtimes, bathtimes, getting dressed, doing housework, going out (put your shoes on), coming in (wash your hands). I have added to my ‘repertoire’ using children’s songs and story books which I also sing/read with my son.
Secondly I am now trying to include language on a weekly basis. So for example I split the week up into one day gardening, one day doing art work, one day cooking and I’m trying to collate together and use all the language around those topics, so for example on Tuesdays we cook in Italian, on Wednesday we garden etc.
Thirdly, I look at what happens through the year and collate and use and repeat language around that. For example we’re into collecting blackberries and picking apples at the moment so I’m trying to use words/phrases like Don’t climb too high! Can you reach that one? These aren’t ripe yet etc. I have to make a list of the vocab/phrases, stick it up somewhere, keep adding to it and make a conscious effort to use it – meanwhile making sure that all the previous stuff is getting used. It’s a slow process and sometimes I get disheartened because I forget, or I don’t feel I have made much process but my two ideas are to continue ‘layering’ the language like this and just to keep going and not give up!


4 Corey September 19, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts in such detail, Tania! It is so easy to think of one hour a day, but HOW exactly are we going to go about it! For many of us, we don’t like to have so much structure (feels too strict) but if we can stick to a plan like yours, then it makes things even easier since then we don’t have to start from scratch each day – we already know and just get going with it! It sounds like you are going to be able to do so much more than one hour a day! But if you do hit a wall of exhaustion or disinterest at some point, you can just tell yourself that “this too will pass” and just try to do an hour of something simple, like watching some kids’ YouTube videos in Italian for 15 minutes each time throughout the day… or reading some books out loud.

I am so excited that so many people are jumping on board for this One Hour a Day Challenge! I didn’t even really think of it as this when I wrote the article. That is what I love about the avenues for connection these days – people can take off in any direction that works for them and there are bound to be others who are interested and motivated to join! Fantastic!

Please make sure to let us know how things are going – either here in the comments section or on the Multilingual Living Forum ( in the One Hour a Day thread (I love keeping an eye on that since it is so inspiring to me!).


5 Tiphanya January 4, 2012 at 9:32 am

Great website !
In 2013 we should move to Japan (from France). We are a French family, and our daughter is 2 months. Next week I will start to study japanese, and I was wondering if I can involve my daughter even if it’s only a little bit everyday.
Your post make me more confident, while the (very few) french websites all say that if we don’t speak a perfect japanese, we shouldn’t try to teach it to our kid.
Now I need to go and read more of yours posts here and there.

PS : I love Tania to have a “japanese cooking day”. A good way to learn some vocabulary and enjoy the culture.


6 Julie September 4, 2013 at 8:40 am

A challenge we face is that my husband’s language is a minority language with few written materials, and definitely no online or purchase-able language learning tools. We don’t live in the language community. I think part of the key is that they see me making an effort learning his language.


7 Betsy June 17, 2014 at 2:44 am

This is excellent! Having studied Arabic for five years, we are now embarking on the adventure of teaching our four-year-old boy. I haven’t found as many articles that deal with sharing a new language with our children (as opposed to one that is the mother tongue of one of the parents) so I appreciate your thoughts on consistency and simplicity very much, as well as the 101 tips on how to proceed.

We’ve begun by using several games like Bingo (having him put a coin on the object I name – with a fruit snack every time he fills the card), TPR (responding to commands like Simon Says), and “Quick and Dirty Dozen” where you learn 8-10 new objects’ names quickly. All these things I can do with my son although I’m not a native speaker. We also have a native speaker coming to our home twice weekly to do “lessons” which involve activities like making popcorn and talking through the process, or playing with play dough and talking about our actions. I try to record some of this conversation for him (and me!) to listen to later.

Thanks again!


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