Enhancing Your Child's Bilingual Learning at Home

Engaging activities, consistent positive exposure, and immersive experiences are at the core of cultivating a learning-rich environment. Even when in a bilingual school, at-home reinforcement, continuity, and practice will enrich your child's new language learning.

Five Strategies for Bilingual Families

For children who have a parent who speaks the second language, here are five ways to heighten your child's learning at home.

1.     Mentally Stimulating Activities

The "sweet spot" for teaching a new language is creating experiences that are both content-rich and cognitively engaging. When your child is excited and immersed in an activity in which the new language plays a role, they are more likely to absorb vocabulary.

Girl with volcano experiment Flipping flashcards is about effortless repetition, but conducting a hands-on science experiment such as building a volcano and mixing vinegar and baking soda to make lava is exciting, fascinating, and fun! Narrate the steps in the new language as each action is performed and watch your child's vocabulary explode!

2.     Get Physical

Using large gestures, body language, and facial expressions helps boost vocabulary comprehension in the new language. Because 55% of what we communicate is nonverbal, associating words and phrases with meaningful gestures, facial expressions, and physical demonstrations can help your child more easily understand what is being communicated.

3.     Narrate Daily Activities

Another great way to help immerse your child in their learning language is by speaking out loud about what you're doing as you do it. Tell your child all the steps to taking the dog for a morning walk: "It's time to take Spot for his walk. Come, Fido! It's time to go outside! Let's put on your collar and hook your leash to it."

Narrate as you cook a meal, set the table, pay bills, and decide what movie to watch. Talk to your child as they go about their day: getting dressed, eating a meal, brushing their teeth - the opportunities to talk out daily routines and activities are endless. Getting into this habit helps your child associate specific actions and objects in the new language.

4.     Reinforce Through Repetition

Another way to emphasize language learning is by engaging in an activity or guided play in the second language as you highlight keywords and phrases. This process will help your child make associations between objects and actions in the language they are learning.

For example, if you and your child are learning about marine life by making different sea creatures with egg cartons, talk them through the process in the second language. Ask questions, call out objects, and make observations. For example: "What three colors do you want to use?" "This is orange, this is green, and this is blue." "Here are the scissors." "Wow! You gave your octopus eight legs." 

Using gestures also helps make the activity fun and engaging while also helping your child connect objects, colors, and actions with specific vocabulary. Ask your child to practice saying the words or respond to questions in the second language.

Children playing with toysDuring guided play, sit with your child and talk with them in the language being learned as they engage with imagination-based toys. If they are building a tower with colored blocks, guide their actions and label the objects. "That is a blue square." "Can you find an orange block?" "Your tower is one, two, three, four blocks tall." 

5.     Cultivate a Growth-Minded Environment

Children thrive in supportive and encouraging environments. Fostering a growth mindset about your child's language-learning talents allows them to feel safe to explore and engage in social interactions with others. A growth mindset will guide them toward developing their talents, learning from mistakes, and putting in the effort needed to become fluent speakers. To learn more about growth mindset and how to instill it in your home, we recommend reading Carol Dweck's book, Mindset

Five Strategies for Monolingual Families

Monolingual families can also help promote their child's language comprehension with at-home activities. A growth mindset that encourages time and effort toward developing their understanding and fluency holds here as well, but below are five more ways to strengthen your child's second language skills.

1.     Interact with Native Speakers

As much as possible, encourage your child to interact with someone who speaks the second language fluently. Create a 'need' where your child will only speak in the new language when they're with this individual. Set up activities and excursions that allow for an immersive experience. This cognitively engaging interaction helps them perfect their vocabulary and grammar, refine their accent, and pick up on social cues. 

A mother and daughter cooking2.     Learn Together

As your child embarks on learning a second language, this is an ideal opportunity for other family members to do the same. Make it a team effort, creating connections through a mutual learning experience. Encourage your child to be your teacher, a strategy that is sure to empower. Focus on speaking to one another in the second language as often as possible. If you come across a word or phrase you don't know, look it up and learn it together.

As you learn together, choose mentally stimulating and creative activities to help solidify the new language. Examples include:

  • Cooking and baking: Cooking is a great way to learn a new language. Pick a culturally relevant recipe to the language you're learning and prepare it together, identifying the vocabulary for key objects and activities in that language.
  • Art and science projects: These subjects are mentally stimulating, appealing to the senses, and heightening cognitive awareness. Just as with preparing recipes, identify essential vocabulary in the second language to associate the item or task with the words to be learned.
  • Journaling: Keep a language-learning journal where you write down new words and phrases you've acquired. To make it fun, draw a picture or find images from magazines or online that visually identify the word or phrase.

3.     Extracurricular Activities

Any immersive activity helps build a strong language foundation. Seek out extracurricular experiences offered in the new language, such as cooking classes, storytimes, music classes, summer camps, or dance classes. 

For older students, joining competitions and camps promotes interest in the second language, literature, and culture. 

4.    Introduce Other Learning Media

Audiobooks, music, television shows, books, and movies presented in the second language, though not as effective as interactions with native speakers, can prove beneficial. There are a variety of games, apps, and educational software that can augment second language learning. Encourage active engagement by discussing what they learned. Again, having your child teach you reinforces newly acquired skills and instills vital soft skills such as patience, listening, and communication.

Children on vacation in France5.     Travel

The ultimate immersive experience is traveling to a country where the language being learned is native to the population. It sparks excitement and motivation to learn vocabulary and phrases beforehand, and it engages all your senses during your adventure. Culture, architecture, history, art, food, and language are absorbed as you explore. 

As future global citizens, your children will benefit from fluency in multiple languages. By providing a consistent, engaging, and positive environment at home, parents can contribute to their child's confidence and command of a second language.

Silicon Valley International School fosters bilingual leaders with boundless futures. Learn more about our inquiry-based international education for children preschool through 12th grades.