So you've read how being bilingual has a multitude of advantages and how there is a critical window of opportunity for humans to learn a second language — when very young. Well then, you think, I'll raise my kids bilingual! Great! Only, there's one problem — you only know one language yourself. What are your options?
You could enroll them in private immersion schools, pay for language lessons, or hire an au pair. While all of these have potential value, many of these programs are cost prohibitive to families on a budget. So, what to do? Below are some ways you can support language learning cost effectively.
Various language-related apps exist. While not targeted directly at children, Duolingo (20+ languages, free) "gamifies" the language learning element, making learning fun. Other sites, like Gus on the Go ($3.99, 30 languages), are directed more towards young ones. If a parent prefers not to introduce children to this screen time, these apps would still be beneficial for him/her to use and pass along the learning.
Adjust the media you already use
Netflix offers many children's programs in other languages, from Spanish to Mandarin. Older kids with personal electronic devices can opt to get updates from news sources in the language of choice. These brief pop-ups can act as mini-lessons and expand vocabulary, not to mention give you an insight into the headlines of international news.
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Music, reading, and play
Play-based language learning is instrumental to success. Today access to these types of materials is actually quite easy. Foreign language songs on YouTube can be fun to learn and easy to teach. eBay is often useful for used children's books or, better yet, a nearby used bookstore or library may even have a foreign language kids' section. Creating flashcards of items around the house (refrigerator, chair, window) is another cheap, interactive game.
Connect with other language learners
Another great internet source is meet-up groups. Not only is it a chance to practice new language in conversation, but it's an opportunity to meet new friends with the same learning interests. Some meet-up groups may have native speakers who long to converse in their native language, others may be play-based groups for kids. If you don't find one that meets your needs, create it yourself.
Immerse yourself with native speakers
Although more of a commitment, a cost-effective way to gain exposure to a native speaker is to volunteer to host an international student. While some programs don't pay, some offer a moderate stipend to supplement costs. Aliore, a French non-profit, offers exchanges both ways. For the cost of room and board, a French native will offer 15 hours of French lessons a week. This same opportunity is available for English speakers in France. Another option is to volunteer aboard. Dubbed "voluntourism," this is a budget-friendly and meaningful way to experience another culture and learn language.
Whether you are hoping to give your kids a basic vocabulary or all learn a language together, there are a multitude of low-cost and free resources available. All it takes is some creative thinking and dedication. Bonne chance, mes amis!