What can I do to preserve the foreign (or native) language in my kids memory?

Did you learn French in high school? Did you speak your mother tongue as a child? Do you remember anything?

Many parents are really worrying how to preserve the language knowledge in their kids, who seem to go completely oblivious to it as soon as they start school. Still, I know families who succeed despite all the external pressure, so here are a few tips:

  • Speak that language exclusively (if you know it)! If you want your child to preserve to be able to speak Italian, like your mother did, even once they grow up, keep talking to them exclusively in Italian. Or try to do it at least a few days a week. Don’t take any other language answers – kids who have older relatives who speak just their mother tongue, usually have no trouble communicating to those relatives in the language of their choice, switching back and forth between their friends’ language and their relative’s language. As soon as you start “understanding” their other language, they’ll drop any attempts to reply to you in the language of your choice. So stick to the language that you decided to speak to them on that day. I can’t even describe how often I can see parents talking to their kids in their native language, and kids responding in English – in the best case scenario the kids end up understanding the native language of their parents, but they can’t use it themselves. In the worst – they lose it altogether. Very sad sight.
  • If you have access to other language DVDs, songs, books – make them a must in your entertainment selection options. Kids will widen up their vocabulary and they’ll find it more fun to use the language you are trying to preserve!
  • Books, books, books. I think reading is integral part: I haven’t been able to start speaking English fluently until I’ve read a certain amount of English literature. Books, magazines, internet – anything goes! BTW, if you are interested in Russian magazine subscription, check out – I don’t have a first hand experience with them, but it seems quite interesting.
  • Friends! Can you find your kid somebody to talk to in that language? If you don’t have anybody around you, may be finding a friend abroad and letting kids exchange letters? All kids love getting mail and are irresistibly curious about the life in the other countries, or even cities! Your participation to ensure that your child’s friend’s letters dont’ stay unanswered is probably will be required, but in the end it will turn out to be fun for everyone!
  • How about some games? May be you could find some board game in the other language? May be even something the whole family could enjoy together? I’d love to find something too, so please share if you have something to recommend.
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In the end I can’t stress the importance of your participation. If you are trying to preserve your native Russian language and you constantly mixing in English words, your kids will do the same. Isn’t it hard to speak one language exclusively? Still, keep thinking of your kids: if you wouldn’t try really hard, your kids wouldn’t even try very little. Besides, you can’t rely on school or nany to do your job: going to the Russian language nursery doesn’t improve your kids’ chances of speaking that language later in their lives – don’t we all know someone who came here in their teen years and lost the native language almost completely? Besides, are you sure that the people working at that nursery exclusively speak grammatically correct Russian? And, last, if you just rely on your nursery, once your kids go to school – who will preserve their language then? I believe it is parent’s job all along. Your own efforts or at least your interest and support are the major contributing factors, not some language teacher that your child might occasionally see.

These are some of the tricks I try myself. If you’ve come up with a few more things of your own, please share and all of us will benefit!

  1. Hi,
    I’ve discovered the Doman’s method and your website since yesterday and now I’m waiting for the book I’ve imediately ordered ! Sorry for my english, it’s a forein language for me ! I was wondering… we live in a french speeking part of Switzerland but my mother tongue is german. No one else at home knows this language, so I try to talk to my 22month old son in german as much as I can. I would like to start the reading cards in german as well. So now my question, how can I teach french to him too ??? Should I start with just one language or mix it in different groups of 5 words (1 set in german and an other one in frensh) ? To make it even more complicated I would like to teach him a little (as much I know… ;->) english too, but my priority is german and french. Second question (I haven’t red the book jet of course !) on “you tube” you can see children reading the words shown on the cards, but my son isn’t really talking jet. So I just have to assume that after having seen a word 15 times he knows it ?!? Thank you in advance for your help ! I’m looking forward to start ! Dora

  2. What a collection of languages! Your son is really lucky.

    Children pick languages up very quickly and easily. And the younger they are, the easier it is. So earlier, and the more languages you can introduce to your son – the easier it is going to be for him to learn all of them!

    Check out our “Foreign Language” category – it has a collection of articles and suggestions by different people who are teaching their kids foreign languages.

    With my own son I speak Russian all the time. If I could have someone else speak to him in another language – it would’ve been terrific. My friend has a grandmother who is speaking just Italian to her kids, and all of them are fluent in Italian. Some other people I know hire Spanish or Chinese nannies for their children to learn Spanish or Mandarin.

    I don’t have that luxury, so I just picked different days of the week for different languages: on Monday we speak English, read books in English, listen to English CDs. He is also taking gymnastics class with American kids, so he is speaking English to them as well. On Friday we have a Spanish day. And whenever my son is watching TV, we rotate the languages: one day he can pick something in Russian, another – in English, next time – in Spanish. I wish I knew more languages!

    So you can start speaking to your son in another language whenever you please. As for reading, I wouldn’t introduce all of them at once. It is a good idea to start with one program/language, and when you are comfortable with it – add another. Once you’ll be ready to introduce another language, it is a good idea to use a different color for the cards: red for English, blue for German…

    The fact that your child doesn’t talk yet wouldn’t prevent him from learning to read. Moreover, it is a good idea not to test the child, and wait until he is ready to show you what he learned! You can get more details in “To Read” section of our site.

    Please share your progress!

  3. Thank you for your quick answer !

    I’m looking forward to reading Doman’s book… I have a lot of questions still, but I know I’ll start very soon even if I make some “technical” teaching errors.

    I have some more questions…

    Taking words like “ball, banana, bed, lamp, stairs, …” is allright because I’m sure that my son knows what I’m talking about, but how do you teach “fire place, pine tree, crocodile, …” ? Do you “only” teach him how to read the word ? For me it seams very important to explain to him what this or that is by showing a picture per ex. but I won’t be able to do it at the same time showing the flash cards as it has to go so quickely… Help !

    Ohhhh well… 🙂

    Thanks also for the idea with the cards in the different colors for the different languages ! Why red actually ? Is there any color I can’t pick or doesn’t it matter ?

    Do you also think I should use the same words in different languages “apple, pomme, Apfel” of different ones ? It will be amazing to see (without testing) how Theo will pick up the different pronunciation (ohhh my english, is that right ??? I can’t help it…) of the words in french, german and english… We’ll see !

    Don’t think I’m stressed allready… I just find your website fun and very helpfull !

    Thanks again !

  4. Wow, your excitement is fantastic!

    Don’t worry: the book will explain everything in detail. I’ll just answer your questions briefly here.

    First of all, there is no way you could make any “teaching errors” – if you and your baby are enjoying it, he’ll be learning, and you simply cannot do it “wrong”. Be sensitive to what your baby needs and weather it follows Doman system (or any other), or not – it still will be right for your child. Everyone is different, so different things work for different kids.

    Now, the color: red attracts the most attention so large red letters are the easiest for kid to pick up and learn. The smaller the child, the bigger the letters.

    Words that you select: initially you start with words that your son is already familiar with: apple, banana, mommy, etc. The book has suggestions for initial sets of words listed by category: people around the baby, his possessions, foods, etc. You can find find these words in PowerPoint presentations that I did for my son: How to teach your child to Read in English – Single words

    I’ve used pictures in my presentations. English wasn’t a native language for my son, so many words were not familiar. I was using pictures, so that my son learns both the language and reading.

    Originally I haven’t used pictures for teaching my son to read in Russian. But since many of the words were still new to him, I was sticking them up to objects (refrigerator, window, wall, etc.), or I was just running around with my son in my arms, pointing at those things. It was a lot more fun, though far from orthodox method that the book teaches. Eventually I started adding pictures for the words in Russian as well – my son started walking and was more interested in independent world (or room) explorations instead of the cards. Pictures helped me to win his interest back. But it is a lot more time consuming preparing materials with pictures, so if your baby enjoys the words cards without pictures, it is better to forgo them.

    Good luck!

  5. Oh, thanks! And once your baby is walking (or crawling, or at least pointing), I guess the variation of this game could be handing the baby a card and letting him/her place it on the right object. Like “this card says SOFA, so let’s put it on the sofa… and where should we put this card?” That could be fun too.

  6. Hello. First of all, I’d like to thank you to many people sharing on this site coz I ‘hv picked up lot of useful information.
    I’d like to ask how can I should start to teach my baby (14 months) foreign language. I’m Thai and my husband is French. We live in France. Actually, I speak exclusively Thai to my baby (since he born) and my husband speak French. Right now he ‘s really bilangue, but we’d like to introduce English and Chinise. Both of us not speak Chinise, so we’d find a baby sitter for that, but we can afford only 4-6hours/week. Is it enough for him to speak Chinise in the future? As my mom come to live with us for 1-2 years and she can speak only Thai to baby, so I’d start to speak with him in English but my husband isn’t agree coz he afraid ours baby’ll confuse it and don’t get good accent! Another problem for this is my English. I think my English is ok for daily life but I can’t use it to teach baby specific things or knowledges. Then I think is it good if I speak both language to him, but nobody agree with me. They think it will make baby confuse and he’ll mix it up after. I forget to tell that I speak Thai at home with him, but when we are with other people(outside) I need to speak French with him. Can somebody suggestions how I need to do? Another question, I’d teach him to read in Thai and English with Doman’s method too. How should I begin? In fact, for Thai, it’s quite hard to find book here and I don’t expect he’d get hight level of Thai reading. What I want it’s just he can read some Thai (in general), but I expect that he would read, write and understand English and French perfectly. For French, I think he’ll do easily, but for English I’m not really sure. Can anybody tell me what I suppose to start and how should I do?