Woo! What an interesting two weeks! I attempted to write this post and have it published earlier but was distracted by and engrossed in the US presidential elections. Like many people, I was nervously waiting for the results.
For the last couple years, I have feared for the world that I am raising my children in, with leaders and other individuals who believed they could say what they wanted without any consequences. Although we are in Japan, children here are familiar with leaders overseas and their actions. I literally heard my 6-year-old son talking in Japanese with his friend about you-know-who (the leader of the current US administration). While the conversation wasn’t anything alarming, my point is that we are living in a global society. We can control our children’s media exposure and the amount of information they get, but we can’t control or avoid the news itself. Our children will certainly hear it somewhere else if they don’t at home.
Then, the results came in. And what a result it was! There is still a glimmer of hope in people, and sometimes, your character does matter. So that is over! On to the task at hand!
For many of us in intercultural families with young children who go to nursery or formal schooling in the dominant language, we must find ways to expose them as much to their minority language. For the most part they will follow our lead when they are younger and accept what we are trying to do. So, let’s talk about some simple and effective ways to interact in your family’s minority language with young children.
1. Read Books
This can be a fun and effective way to expose children to the family’s minority language. Reading aloud daily may help your child learn new vocabulary, spark imagination, and boost comprehension skills, as well as help your child to settle down for bedtime.
In Japan, you can get access to books, especially in different languages, through websites such as Amazon Japan or overseas alternatives like Book Depository, AbeBooks, or Better World Books, just to name a few; however, international delivery may take longer than ordering locally. If you live in large city like I do, such as Osaka, the city library carries a range of children books in many languages and you can borrow up to 15 books for 2 weeks . Large bookstores like Kinokuniya and Junkudo have books in English and some other minority languages. Right now, we are using the Magic Treehouse Series with my son at home, which he finds fascinating and intriguing. We just also started the ‘Who Would win?’ series: this is a book about animals whereby the author poses questions about who the champion would be if they got into a fight. It is both informative and exciting.
2. Listen to Songs
Listening to music helps to provide input in the minority language, it is also an effective way to elevate mood, increase happiness, and stimulate various senses in children, not to mention it is also a good way to expose a child to your culture.
My son often likes listening to Bob Marley, because the lyrics are clear, and the beats and rhythm are easy to move to.
3. Watch Videos on YouTube
With parental guidance and control, watching YouTube is a free and fun medium for language input. Plenty of channels with kid-friendly content are available literally at your fingertips.
Some of these kid-friendly channels sometimes teach alphabets, phonics, or nursery rhymes, while others show kids opening toys and doing reviews on the item. To be quite honest, I find it odd for my child to be watching someone opening and playing with toys when he could be doing the same, but who am I to judge when I myself watch people putting on makeup and doing clothing hauls on YouTube? I make the most of it by interacting with my son about what it is going on. It also gives him the chance to hear natural English in a way that is of interest to him.
4. Watch Movies
Watching movies can help to expand vocabulary. Children are very good at listening, and they grasp everything so fast. As they grow up, their vocabulary grows with them. Movies can help in that sense because they show situations that kids have probably never experienced, so they’re more likely to hear new words and learn their meanings.
5. Use a Puppet
Young children—especially those under three years of age—are fascinated by appealing shapes, figures, and characters. A puppet can be a creative way to interact with your child in the minority language.
Puppets can be used with just the fingers or whole hands. They are available online, or if you’re good with your hands, you can DIY them.
Using puppets can encourage the child to use the minority language through play. Puppets have been known to support and help children who are on the shy side of speaking.
6. Play Games
There are many games that you can enjoy with your child. These games can be outdoors, such as hopscotch or dodgeball (or as we call in Jamaica, “sightings”). You’ll need at least three people for this game, though. Or, they can be indoors, like cards or board games. Not only are these games fun, but they can also be educational. They can help with interaction in the minority language.
One card game that we love is Go Fish. This game is about collecting sets by asking other players for the cards you need. It is a good communication and negotiation exercise. Another that we play quite often is Guess Who? It’s an enjoyable activity that teaches children how to describe people and introduces them to different types of people.
7. Do Practice Workbooks
If your goal is to make your child biliterate, then workbooks can be a good way to develop their reading skills. One workbook series that I use is Explode the Code. I started using these books when my son turned three, and they are the only books that have been well-received (and believe me, I tried a lot of different ones). It’s great for decoding and spelling practice. My son finds it quite simple, and he can complete them without my help. We also use the Bob Books series, which has cute pictures, short sentences, and few pages. I can say for sure that Explode the Code and Bob Books were the materials that helped him my six-year-old learn to read in the minority language.
8. Create Stories
This is one of my favorites things to do, especially before bed. If you have a preschooler, creating stories is a nice bonding activity and an easy but effective way to interact in the family’s minority language. Children are imaginative and will surprise you with some of their ideas.
9. Do Spelling Quizzes
My son loves this fun activity, especially when it’s timed. While educational experts believe that these quizzes only test the student’s short-term memory and do not assist in gaining spelling mastery, my child often requests this activity. If he’s asking to do something that is in the minority language, then you’d better believe that we are going to do it!
10. Try Captive Reading
I saw this idea on Adam Beck’s Bilingual Monkey blog. This is where you place simple, engaging reading activities around your home for your child to read. You can place them in locations where they will attract the child’s attention, such as the bath area. In our bathroom, we hung waterproof charts on the shower wall. When my son takes a bath or shower, he often tries to read the charts.
You can write words or short sentences on mirrors, small message boards, cards on the bathroom door, or any interesting place in your home. This simple exercise exposes your child to the minority language and encourages independent reading.
So, there you have it: some simple things that we can do with young children to expose them to their minority language. Please do share your activities. I would love to hear about them.