Author: Mary Field
At the International School of San Antonio, we have many parents in our community who don’t speak the language that their child is learning in our preschool and elementary program. One of the most frequent questions that we get from these parents is about how to support their child’s language learning at home. Fortunately, there are many ways that parents can support their children without going back to school and learning a new language themselves!
Our language immersion preschool does the heavy lifting
The fundamental key to learning a new language is to spend a long time listening to, and later reading, content in that language that the learner can understand (we call this comprehensible input). This is what we at the International School of San Antonio want parents to understand clearly about the language learning process above all else. Once this is clear, everything else falls into place. From drop-off to pick-up, it is the job of our teachers to make sure that every opportunity to create the language immersion environment is utilized and that the children understand as much from that environment as possible. After children go home for the day, there are several tools and strategies that parents can use to create language-learning opportunities at home.
Language immersion for kids at home
Children in our preschool program spend much of their day listening to music in their target language. Thanks to Youtube, Spotify and other websites, it is very easy to listen to the same music at home. Teachers frequently include the names of new songs that the children are learning in their updates in our app. With copy and paste, it is easy to find them online from home. With the suggestions that algorithms on sites like Youtube provide, families can also explore more songs in the target language and even find new favorites!
Using screen time for good
Many parents are familiar with the tug of war over screen time. Some of our parents at ISSA have found a compromise that gives children what they want (screen time) and parents what they want (learning). The solution is to allow kids some screen time – if they watch videos in the target language. Parents and children can choose from familiar favorites, like Peppa Pig in French or again, explore a bit on their own. There are lots of international shows and videos out there to discover. “Big Head Son and Small Head Dad” is a classic from China that children in our Mandarin preschool program should be able to comprehend. There is a small caveat for American shows designed to introduce a new language in addition to English, such as Dora the Explorer. For the uninitiated, these programs do not offer much more than a few isolated words in the target language, in this case, Spanish. This is the not the rich input that we need for language learning, so they are not much of a help in this regard.
Tools for elementary school students
Older children who are already learning how to read in the target language will benefit from doing as much reading as they can. As they grow, reading will be the primary mechanism through which they build vocabulary. Ordering books in the target language could get expensive very quickly. Luckily, our very own San Antonio Public Library has books available in all of ISSA’s target languages. Parents can filter their search by language on the library website and then request any book be delivered to their preferred location. For $10 per month, Kindle Unlimited also has many titles available in ISSA’s target languages.
Most of these suggestions do rely on technology to provide the comprehensible input that children need in order to continue learning a new language at home. There is one more piece of technology we haven’t mentioned yet. Many parents report that Google Translate is very effective in figuring out what their children are saying in the target language! Just use the microphone button and hold up the phone to see the translation.
Finding a balance that works for your family
While it is important to know that parents who don’t speak their child’s target language do have options to support language learning at home, it isn’t mandatory by any means. At ISSA students spend most of their school day in the language immersion environment, so they do get plenty of input. After two years in our preschool program, most children are proficient in their target language. If parents want to spend their time with their kids at the park or singing along to Frozen (in English), that is fine too.