5 tips...

5 tips for expats about how to encourage your child to learn the local language

If you are an expat and move very frequently, you can get tired to learn a new language every two or three years. This is more than understandable. You probably send your children to an international school because this makes the constant moving easier.

However, if you want your child to learn the majority language in order to be able to interact and play with the children in the neighbourhood or go to the local sport-clubs etc., there are many ways you can help your child. If  you already live in the country of the language your child should learn, it has the great opportunity to learn and use the language in its natural context. You don’t need to hire a teacher for this. You just have to provide your child with a social context that motivates and promotes the learning.

Whether your child is a toddler or an adolescent, there are some tips about how you can help your child to like and learn the local language. And you don’t even have to be good at languages yourself.

1) Learn the language yourself

First of all: be positive and passionate yourself. Take this great opportunity to learn the language alongside your child. Practice what you preach and be a good role model for your child. This is the magic key: if your child hears you speaking the new language, it will be more likely to speak it too. And be careful not to make any negative comment about the language or culture: if you dislike the language, your child will not be keen to learn it.

2) Rhymes, songs, audiobooks etc.

The repetition of rhymes in nursery rhymes, poems or songs is a very good way to get to know a new language. The sentences are often short, understandable and easy to learn by heart. It is a very effective way to absorb a foreign language for all children and adolescents (and even adults!). There are many audiobooks for every yeargroup. Choose translations of books or films your children like and already know in another language. Let them listen the stories and songs over and over again… Go to the local libraries. They often organize readings for different yeargroups. This is a great opportunity for your children to meet peers and have first contacts.

3) Dive into the culture

Taste the local food and surround yourselves with music, radio, TV, typical games etc. Go and visit musea, movies, theaters. It’s the easiest way to get a “language and culture shower” for yourself and your children. If you only stick to movies, music etc. from your homecountry or the countries you’ve been before, you’ll never really feel integrated into the country you’re actually living in.

4) The power of peers or the help of a babysitter

If your child is a bit older and knows already the basics in the foreign language, peers are the best way to practise the language. For younger children, parents often tend to hire babysitters in a language their children already know. If you want that your child learns the majority language, find a local babysitter.

5) Encourage your child and be positive

If you encourage your child and are supportive during the learning period, your child will make the best progress. As I already said in a former post about learning a language for expats: Passion is above all the most important factor in learning any language (or anything else in life…).


15 replies »

    • Welcome Andrea, I’m very glad you liked this article too. This period must be very exciting for you. There are several very helpful blogs for expats! If you sign up on expatblog for example, you can also meet other people all around the world. Do you know already which direction you’ll be moving? Please, let’s stay in touch. I’m looking forward to reading more about your journey(s)! 😉

  1. Great tips! We decided to send the girls to a Dutch daycare just for this very reason. Their school will also be in Dutch. I have also done a 2 years Dutch course, and it helped a lot to understand my children. Other than that, we don’t do much for Dutch because for us, Polish and German are our priorities, and we don’t feel it’s our job to teach them Dutch. I know that for many families daycares (or in the case of the Netherlands, also peuterspeezaals) are a great way to get your children to know the language and culture with all their season-related themes (football, Sinterclaas, and the likes). But I know other families I know use DVDs, music and TV to do just what you have stated in point 3 (dive in). Also, taking your child to everyday activities (like shopping, running errands, etc- your child will see you interacting with other Dutch people, etc, and it’s a useful way to learn new vocabulary). Another thing that works for us is what I call the translation game- “I say this, daddy says that and what do Joy and Zohra- the nurses from daycare- say?”- I think it helps children realize the differences between the languages, and they learn the words in all languages all at once- it’s a good mental exercise, I think!

    • Thanks, Olga. I kept this post more general, as people move with children from different yeargroups. We did the same at the beginning: all our children went to dutch daycare and we still have dutch friends from then. We also wanted to sign them up to a dutch school, but then had to change our minds (but maybe I’ll write about this in another post). I’ll write another post about some tips for new expats in the Netherlands soon. Thanks for your input! It’s always appreciated. 😉

  2. I’ve also been an on-again, off-again expat since I was 3 years old. I’d like to think that once we start a family, we’ll also encourage them to immerse themselves into local language and culture. Great post and blog!

    • Welcome to my blog! I’m really glad you like it. I can imagine that you will have to move several times in the future too, right? When we move with children, everything changes. Somehow children help to integrate easier: you have to find a daycare, playgroup etc. and get easier in touch with locals. But when the kids get older and go to school, all this changes again. They will be more focussed on their peers at school. Probably that will be an international school for obvious reasons… But you probably know this already. I wish you all the best and hope we’ll stay in touch 😉

  3. I think it is a great idea to help your kids learn the local languages through audio tracks. When I first moved to the United States, I did not know much English, but through constantly listening to it, I picked up on it quickly. I never knew, however, that you could also get a babysitter that can slowly introduce to them the local language — like a tutor. Thanks again!

    • Thank you very much, Yilliang, for your comment. I’m very glad you liked the post. Yes, everyone can actually introduce a language: if it is a need, it is fun (for the child) and it is consistent, it can be a success.

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