Profile: Annika with Emma, 11 and Sara, 6
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Main language: Finnish
Second language: French
1. What is your favorite activity that helps your daughters learn a 2nd language?
Reading! We're a family of readers. The girls are subscribed to magazines in French, and whenever we go to France we reserve one suitcase for books and fill them with gems we find at second hand book stores (Boulinier in Paris is our absolute favorite!). Humor is one of our best tools, we often look for books and CDs that are funny. As an example, Le Prince de Motordu is a prince who always uses the wrong word, but which sounds like the real one. Our daughters thought it was really funny and made a game out of doing the same. Same thing with music, they loved the funny lyrics of Mademoiselle Prout and kept singing them over and over again. It's a great way to learn vocabulary.
2. What is a helpful tool or technology tool you use?
Skype! I don't know how we could live without it! We skype with the grandparents at least once a week as a family, and they often skype with Emma in the afternoon when she comes back from school before the rest of us. Another tool I recently discovered and am loving already is the Giga Tribe. It's a peer-to-peer private file sharing network and great for sharing movies or music with family living in the minority language country. The grandparents can record kids' tv shows on TV and share them with us this way.
3. What is your #1 challenge? What helps in overcoming this challenge?
It's without a doubt that as the children grow, more and more of their lives happen in Finnish. Their friends speak Finnish, hobbies and activities are in Finnish - and only limited time in the evenings with dad in French. To overcome this we focus on French at home and in the past year or so I've started to speak more and more French at home too. The one thing that helps above anything else, however, is that we travel to France at least twice a year. In the summer the girls spend 7-8 weeks in France with the grandparents. This keeps the French fluent, but by Christmas we can always tell that they need to be immersed in French for a few weeks again.
4. Any tip or advice you have for other parents?
Reinforce the minority language in all possible ways and especially by exposing your children to other speakers of your language. Look for recently-arrived expat families from your minority language country - they are probably happy to meet locals and it will be great language practice for your children. Travel to the minority language country as often as circumstances allow.
5. What drives you to continue?
The satisfaction to see that unlike myself who didn't learn my mother's native language until I was a teenager, our girls have been living in their two languages since they were born. It's great to see how they are completely at ease communicating in both, and have a strong bond with their French family. I truly feel that life is so much more interesting with two languages and cultures!
You can find out more about Annika, her family and tips on bilingualism on her facebook page Be Bilingual.