Bilingual Babies - I don't speak a second language

Did your New Year's resolution include learning another language?  We don't make resolutions in our household, but I do strive every day to be the best parent I can be.  There are many things that are important to us and raising globally aware children is one of them.  I want my kids to know and be compassionate about other cultures, traditions, people and places.  We have decided to attempt raising our children to be bilingual and biliterate, meaning we want our kids to be able to speak, read, and write another language.  Based on our family heritage, we have chosen Russian (Don't worry if you speak another language - this post may still apply to you) 

The main problem is that I do not speak Russian.  English is my native language and I probably didn't know anything about Russian language or culture until I met my husband.  It is amazing how big the world is and how little we teach our children about it.  I did take a beginning Russian course in college (11 years ago) where I learned the alphabet and basic vocabulary.  We have had the opportunity to travel to Russia several times, where I taught English classes during summer camp and to upper elementary school students.  And, I have extremely supportive in-laws who support my adventures in trying to teach our children Russian. 

So, what do I do? 

Use Music
CD's are great for helping me learn a new song.  We try to listen to Russian music anytime we are in the car.  It gets boring for me to hear the same songs over and over again, but repetition is great for children.  As long as they are having fun singing along, we will keep listening and singing along! More about music here!

Use "toys with batteries."
I would love to say that I myself have become fluent, but that is not the case.  My vocabulary is getting bigger but my grammar is terrible!  Because of this, I rely on technology to help! This little game can be played in different modes and has helped us learn the letter names, letter sounds, and words that begin with that letter. We don't have many books or toys with batteries in our household, so these activities are fun and exciting!
Make do with what you've got and make the rest!
If you are teaching your kids Spanish or French, finding tools to "teach" is a little easier than finding Russian.  Trust me, I have to REALLY work at finding ANYTHING!  So, I make do with what I have and make the rest!  Using my Weekly Reader magazines - these are the kindergarten ones. I buy the simple magazines for my house like a classroom teacher would and they end up about $20 for the whole year.  If you order 1 it is more expensive than 2.  If you order 2 sets, then you get their "big" magazines too which are like posters.  (We send our extra set to my daughters kindergarten teacher.) I have my Hubie translate the words and teach it to me.  I then tape it to my fridge and read it to the kids, have them point out things, and match letters they see.  There are 4 magazines per month, so I can change up the posters when the kids have mastered the vocabulary and my 5 year old can read it in English and Russian independently.  If you don't have a set of ABC magnets in the language you are teaching the kids - go ahead and make them!

Cook!
Nothing beats spending time with your kids in the kitchen preparing a new dish that represents another culture!  We as parents are busy.  Cooking with kids combines SO many of the things we value as a family, healthy eating, time with family, math, early literacy, AND raising globally aware children.  This Sunday, we made Blini for brunch.  My kids helped mix and strain the batter (I do the flipping and cooking).  They set the table and we all had a yummy Russian Brunch! Here is a recipe very similar to the one I use, in case you want to have a Blini brunch at your house too!

What can you do this week to support learning a second language?
  • Learn a song in another language!
  • Make a set of ABC magnets or word poster for your fridge.
  • Try a new recipe from a different country.

9 comments:

  1. Music is one of the best language-learning tools, in my opinion - and I have a Masters degree in second-language acquisition so I have some idea what I'm talking about =)

    Love your other suggestions as well!

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  2. WOW - what an amazing gift! My Masters degree is Reading Education k-12 and I have always been envious (in a good way) of parents who are fluent in other languages. If you have any advice on how and when to teach a 2nd language I welcome any suggestions you have. I read tons of research articles and try to base what I do on these, my educational experiences and ESOL trainings =)

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  3. I am amazed at what you've done without speaking the language yourself. Considering how poorly we've done so far giving our own native languages (Russian and German) to our daughter, I gave up and found a tutor. We'll see how it goes, the first lesson is tomorrow. I hope I will be able to take it from there and teach my daughter myself.

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  4. My son (5) requested Spanish, so I'm slowly collecting resources. It makes the most sense for our region. We have no specific ties to another language, but my husband and I are familiar with it through high school/college classes, so we are going to make an effort.

    My husband is familiar enough with ASL to begin teaching them the basics, so we're going to work on that too.

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  5. Great ideas! It's so important to have a context for language, so that kids are not just learning individual words. Music is a wonderful way to learn languages. I taught my kids Spanish as they were growing up - your kids will thank you for the gift of Russian. Stick with it!

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  6. This is fantastic! I am so happy to hear that there are families out there like yours who understand the importance of language and multilingualism. Keep going, the benefits (which I'm sure you're already seeing) will far outweigh the struggle.

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  7. What great ideas!!
    One reason we chose to raise our kids in Japan rather than Canada is that it is so much easier to get English learning materials here than it would be to get Japanese materials in Canada.

    Good luck with your language learning too! I minored in Russian in uni and the poetry was so moving. I have forgotten so much but would love to one day get back to it.

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  8. Great ideas particularly the one about cooking, combining one of my fav things with language learning!I admire you for teaching your kids a foreign language that you don´t speak, particularly Russian! It must be difficult!

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  9. Having the kids use the magnetic letters with the pages on the fridge--what a cool idea, especially since you're working with a different alphabet!

    I too have fallen in love with "toys with batteries" in my second language (of course, as you pointed out, it isn't too hard to find them in French here in the US, particularly if one is willing to pay international shipping (not me, often, though) or shop on eBay and eBay Canada (me, all the time)! We use LeapPad and the Tag reader materials in French (LeapPad also has very cool interactive maps that look like board games; the ones we have are in English but they still help teach about other countries and cultures).

    What about YouTube--have you had any success in finding video clips in Russian to use with the kiddos? Maybe someone has posted live or animated versions of the songs you listen to in the car, videos of their children speaking or singing in Russian, educational videos for English speakers, etc.

    PS: The link to the "more about music" in your post is broken.

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