Here at Kids in Madrid we often discuss the difficulty of keeping up the minority language whilst our youngsters begin to socialize with Spanish children and are having childhood experiences in this beautiful new language that is foreign to one or both of their parents. In our guide to the common methods of bringing children up bilingually we outline the practical steps that parents can take in order to introduce fluency in both languages from day one. Now it is time to focus on tips that encourage children to use their minority language fluently.
Advice from peers
The internet is full of parent bloggers like me who share nuggets of advice as we bring up bicultural and bilingual children. Here are some of the voices for September 2019:
Marie, a French mum bringing up her children in the United States, writes frankly about her mixed feelings now that the summer holidays have ended and her children are back at school. “Summers are golden for practising the minority language (in my case – French) and they come back with more vocabulary and fluency”, she says. Most of us make the most of the summer break to go back “home” and recharge our batteries, providing our children with little option but to speak the minority language in order to communicate with wider family and friends in their parents’ home country. Marie’s sensible advice includes Skyping with family back home; cooking with your children using the minority language; finding other families using the same minority language with whom to socialize and watching YouTube videos & films in the minority language.
Writing in Bilingual Child’s Play, blogger Mom Sue, who is bringing up her children bilingually in French without being a native French speaker herself, suggests keeping a diary of proud moments of the bilingual journey, including noting down when your children recount their school day in the minority language. Re-read those tales to your child and thus reinforce the fun memories of that school day in the minority language, rather than in the language it was first experienced in.
If English is the minority language, you are in luck as Madrid is peppered with English-speaking playgroups. As mentioned in last year’s post, there are many English language social groups in Madrid, from toddlers mornings to outdoors activity organizers, that meet regularly to do fun things in English with their kids. The joy of being able to socialize with other likeminded families makes minority language fluency a less daunting task.
The advantages of an au pair
Inviting a native speaker of the minority language to your home as an au pair can be very rewarding. Although most au pairs come to Spain with the aim of learning Spanish, they have little problem chatting to your children in the minority language in exchange for conversation in the evening with the parents in Spanish. Sammy-Jo, writing in Aupair.com, reminds us that young adults are fun-loving, know how to communicate through play and are in tune with the music tastes of youngsters. Who better to encourage your children to speak the minority language when back in Spain?
Other minority languages for families in Madrid
For families who speak other languages there are cultural centres for almost every foreign language imaginable in Madrid. From Arabic, Chinese, and French, to Dutch, Polish, Czech and Finnish, the list is endless and Madrid’s truly multicultural identity shines out through the availability of meeting places for speakers of non-Spanish, non-English mother tongue languages. Some of these cultural centres have organized language acquisition curriculums that are taught to youngsters from aged 3+ throughout the year at special weekend classes. The only pre-requisite for all these children’s classes at the cultural centres is that one or both parents speaks the minority language as a mother tongue.
Learning a third language for fun
And for those of you who are brave enough to consider embracing a third language at home, why not check out our recommendations here? There is a range of service providers in Madrid who teach French, German and Chinese from scratch to small groups of children.
We are always interested in hearing about your experiences as a multilingual family in Madrid. We look forward to reading your comments on our Facebook page!