Summer holidays have already started for some, but are about to kick off for most of the northern hemisphere and with it comes the chance for children to have even more exposure than usual to their home language. Many bilingual families love summer holidays for this very reason.
Here are 10 fun and engaging ways to nurture the home language during the summer season:
1. Read, read, and read some more!
At the top of nearly every list on how to maintain learning over summer holidays, you’ll find one simple suggestion: READ! It’s no secret that children who are exposed to reading early and often have a greater vocabulary and higher academic success. Continue to read to your child daily, adding in books in the target language whenever possible. Visit your local library for group story-times and to regularly check out new books or audiobooks. You will be surprised to find that many libraries, I can at least vouch for in the US, UK and Germany carry kids’ books in a variety languages.
2. Plan activities with another family that has the same target language.
Depending on where you are in the world, this can be easier said than done. However, if you have friends that have kids in a similar age (or better a tiny bit older) that speak the same home language, nothing beats the help of other youngsters your kids look up to. If you don’t have friends with the same language nearby schedule “target language” video calls with family members abroad that are usually difficult to reach during the school year.
3. Sing together!
Music is a fantastic way to practice language skills. Whether you’re in the car, cooking dinner, cleaning the house, or brushing your teeth, turn on some music in the target language. Children pick up on song lyrics very quickly, especially if the song is one they already know well. My three-year-old daughter goes crazy for any form of “Let It Go”. Now that she’s listened to it about a million times in her first language, the second-language version is super fun and engaging for her. Bonus: she picks up on new vocabulary from the song very quickly!
4. Try out a bilingual version of a favourite film.
All the major animated films are available in several languages. Watch your child’s favourite movie together in the target language. For young readers, it can be fun to include the captions as well, so they can read along as they watch.
5. Plan a wide variety of day trips or outings.
Each trip to a different place offers the chance to be exposed to a whole new set of vocabulary. Plan visits to the beach, the zoo, a local museum, or an amusement park. Exploring new places together builds important connections for children. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll be talking about that one time they saw elephants in the zoo for weeks on end!
6. Play games and complete puzzles in the target language.
Have a regular game or puzzle night with the family. Board games, card games, and other group games like charades will get kids talking every time. Depending on the age and personalities of your children, you could also add in a small prize for a little extrinsic motivation. For an impromptu game, “20 questions” is always fun, with the added perk that it requires no preparation or materials. Stuck in line at the grocery store? Start a game of 20 questions!
7. Take a walk in nature and play “I Spy.”
The “I Spy” game is a fantastic way to get kids talking. Take turns leading the game. For example: I spy with my little eye…something orange! To get to the answer, your child has to use and understand lots of descriptive vocabulary, ask creative questions, and be observant of their environment. It’s a win all around! (Auf Deutsch: “Ich sehe etwas was Du nicht siehst” en español: „veo, veo una cosita de color XXX“)
8. Going on a road trip?
Turn car time into a language-rich environment by creating a visual “BINGO” type game. Each time your kids notice something as you drive, they tell you about it, then they get to mark a space on their BINGO card. Some ideas for game spaces: a horse, a barn, a river, the ocean, a purple car, a train, a police car, etc. Tailor it to match what you expect to see on your trip and prepare a visual card in advance or if you own the card game Zingo, simply use one of their cards. Another favourite of ours, is listening to audio books in the target language, while on a road trip. The only problem is that if you arrive at your destination before the book has finished, the kids will most probably not want to get out of the car.
9. Try out new foods together.
Make an effort to try new restaurants together. Each time you visit a new type of restaurant, take time to look at the menu together, identifying both familiar and unfamiliar dishes. Carry on conversations about how the food tastes, how it compares to your normal at-home fare, what you like and dislike. At the start of summer, you may even want to create a bucket list of new foods or restaurants you’d like to try out.
10. Get cooking!
Following a simple recipe together can be an excellent way to get your child talking. Cooking together actually involves a lot of language usage: from reading the ingredients to following instructions to congratulating each other on the yummy end result, the kitchen is the place to be. Search Pinterest for simple, kid-friendly recipes to make together. Or even better prepare their favourite food together. Added bonus a little math in the target language while measuring the ingredients.
With a little forethought and creativity, you can nurture your home language environment in a fun, natural, and engaging way this summer. Have fun and cherish these moments together! Ready for the summer?…
Leigh Ann Zerr is a freelance writer and blogger with over 10 years experience teaching French and English. She resides in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband, daughter, and dogs, and travels every chance she gets.
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