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!