"Learning a new language opens doors you wouldn’t expect"

The 5 questions: How do you inspire your children to learn a 2nd language?

Profile: Sofia with her son Atu (Santiago, 7)
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Native language of Sofia and her son: Spanish
Languages learned: English & Japanese

1. What is your favorite activity that helps your son learn a 2nd language?

One of my favorite activities is drawing cards on paper, that I glue onto cardboard (from cereal boxes). Cards have specific vocabulary (kitchen items, rooms, means of transport, clothes, animals, etc.). My son Atu colors them and we begin talking about the card, naming it, etc. Once we finished coloring, we play memory games or just pick a card from the deck. If Atu says it right, he can take the card and by the end of the game, the one with more cards wins.

Atu and his father practice Aikido (Japanese martial art) and they are both learning Japanese: from etiquette terms when entering the tatami at the beginning of practice, saying thank you, to Aikido moves. This inspired us to learn about Japanese culture, food, places and mangas. Watching Ghibli Studio’s films is a good option too because they speak in a very clear Japanese (even I can catch some words in their dialogues!).

The good thing about Japanese is that I don’t know much at all about it. My son teaches me words and phrases, which make him internalize that language even more. Letting him be my teacher makes him feel good while learning.

2. What is a helpful tool or technology you use?

Having and iPod, tablet or computer, is helpful to show him videos or play online games (crossword puzzles, hidden object games…), storytelling sites, etc.

I also have some Winnie the Pooh tapes I got at a yard sale (yes, cassette tapes… vintage technology indeed!) with poems and short stories in perfect English. Listening to those rhymes is delightful, it is music to our ears!

We also love to sing and dance, so we watch videos of his favorite songs on youtube, I show him songs I learned as a child and we sing along.

Now that he’s reading, I´m taking out some of my childhood books (the series of 2 chimps named Bangers and Mash), classic stories like Rumpelstiltskin, Dr. Seuss or we go to bookstore close to our home and we search for Winnie the Witch stories, Beatrix Potter and her beautiful characters, Bugs Bunny & friends comics, etc. 

3. What is your #1 challenge? What helps in overcoming this challenge?

My number 1 challenge is creating entertaining games. Another one is gently making him accept we need to have some English-speaking moments at home, regularly, as his school teacher recommends us to do. He enjoys playing, rather than having something that “has to be done”.

4. Any tip or advice you have for other parents?

My only tip would be just to flow with our children. If one day they are not in the mood, don’t force them to speak the 2nd language. Sometimes, just watching videos or singing is enough. Besides, if they begin learning early in life, their listening skills are much better than ours! Because they are young, we need to approach them with interesting games, books with colorful images, things that attract their attention. Atu is beginning to be fond of zombies, werewolves, mystery tales, etc., so Michael Jackson’s Thriller video is a must!

5. What drives you to continue?

What drives me to continue is my own personal experience. I went to a bilingual school where we learned English and a bit of French. As a teen I used to buy comic magazines in those languages and I really enjoyed reading them in summer (when I had more time to read whatever I wanted, not only school textbooks!).

Today, thanks to my English I can work as an illustrator for people all around the world. It is a beautiful experience to meet people from different cultures and to communicate with them. I’ve met people from Australia, India, Sweden, UK, US, Canada, Japan, everywhere. Besides working together, we learn about each others culture, festivities, the places where we live… very enriching!

I want my son to have many opportunities and to be what he wants to be. Learning a new language opens doors you wouldn’t expect.