The summer holidays are drawing to a close in Europe, and we have already returned from our stay in Spain at my daughters’ grandparents’ house.
It is a tiny village of 2 000 inhabitants at most. I love this quiet little place in the middle of the countryside. It feels so authentic, far from tourist-packed, money-making, seaside resorts. The girls get to be fully immersed in their other culture, which inspired me this post of ideas to immerse your bilingual child in their other culture.
- Enrol the kids to local activities – Children learn best from one another, and this is most true of language acquisition. Getting your child enrolled at a local day camp or other activities is a great way to get them to meet peers. After last year’s great hit with the swimming classes, this summer we renewed the experience for our eldest, who had a fab time. She has become a right little mermaid and has become acquainted with a large number of kids who recognised her on the street and called her out. For our youngest, we enrolled at a local playgroup, different to the one we had sent her to last year. Here again, a huge hit; she asked to go to the playgroup even when it was not the day for it. Since last year when she was 2, she has matured enough and come to enjoy playgroups. Cherry on the cake: our daughters were enrolled at these activities together with their cousins, hence fostering shared memories, family-bonding and more playfulness.
- Get the kids involved in local social life – Once again, interaction with peers is at the core of this idea. Arranging playdates with children their age met at local activities or from your relatives, friends or their social circle. Older cousins can also take care of them too, taking them out and about. An opportunity for them to bond as a family and for the younger ones to feel all grown up going out.
- Set up rituals – Setting up enjoyable rituals that they associate with local life. For instance, going to the movies is always a treat for kids and it is an opportunity to see the movie they fancy in the minority language (ml). It can also be an occasion for organising a family or friends outing by inviting cousins or local friends. In a different style of rituals, we usually take our daughters to the same local hairdresser. This friendly lady has taken a liking to them and happily greets them every time, chatting away with them during the whole process, asking them about their life in France, introducing them to other waiting customers. The girls enjoy this ritual visit and definitely take it more like a pleasurable visit than a chore.
- Let the kids play on the local square – That is something you find a lot in Spain and I guess in many other latin countries. Whilst the parents are having dinner at a local restaurant’s terrace, the kids play in the street within sight. This often creates opportunities for the kids to get to know other kids in the same situation and to play together.
- Stay with family – An obvious one is to stay with family or at least have your kids stay with relatives. This is a fantastic way for your child to experience family life in their minority language. They will have to adjust to their host family’s habits, and there will be no way for them to default to the Majority Language. When staying with their ml grandparents, they will also get a feel of where their ml parent comes from… what better way for them to understand their ml parent and their own dual culture? It is also a wonderful chance for them to bond with their ml family, way beyond what Skype calls can offer.
- Send the kids out alone – If this can be an option for you, send your child out ahead of you to the minority language country, or let them stay behind. For instance, this year our eldest flew to her grandparents 3 weeks ahead of us, where we joined her for another 3 weeks. She benefited from a month and a half in the minority language, living the life in Spanish, with absolutely no French around. What better immersion than this? Next Christmas, we are planning to do the same and get her little sister started with staying behind. This option can also be a very good one in cases of language resistance. If your child refuses to use the ml with you at home, being immersed in their ml family’s life might be a good way to nudge them out of their resistance and comfort zone (resistance can sometimes be due to the child disliking being uncomfortable in their ml use).
- Ask your child to run an errand – A nice way to make your child feel like a grown up and dominating the minority language is to entrust them with a small errand. For instance, purchasing bread at the bakery or buying a treat in a kiosc.
- Do not cut out media completely – Though there is definitely better to do than watch cartoons on a beautiful summer’s day, do not completely rule out television and other media sources. A bicultural child needs to have the local cultural references, and some of these are conveyed through media. So do allow a short cartoon time and put the radio/music in the background a little. Given over the holidays parents often allow a later bedtime, this could also be an occasion to arrange a family movie night…Whatever they pick up will be an additional little grain of sand to your bilingual and bicultural construction.
- Take your kids to the local library regularly to pick new books during your stay – This idea crossed my mind during our summer holidays though I did not get round to arranging it. It can be an interesting idea to lay hands on fresh reading material to read to our little bilingual monkeys but also for little bookworms. This, however, will also depend on enrolment conditions at the local library as they might require you to be a local resident. However, the solution might lay in one of your relatives who might already be a member or who does not mind enrolling themselves to lend you their library access. 🙂
- Purchase a summer activity book locally – It is important for your child to have the same social references as their peers. Getting them familiar with activity books widely used in your minority language country is a good way and they’ll pick up the ml vocabulary of what they might have been learning at their Majority Language school
What do you do to immerse your child in your ml culture and language when travelling back to the ml country? Please share your tips in the Comment section.