Raising bilingual kids? Get creative

Digital tips and tricks to strengthen and support kids learning two languages

By Maria O Alverez
September 24, 2017 2:00AM (UTC)
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This article originally appeared on Common Sense Media.

Common Sense MediaIf you're raising your kids to be bilingual, you're probably aware of the usual methods parents use to encourage kids to speak two languages. But there can be bumps in the road. Kids resist. You get worn down. And the language of kids' peers prevails. That's when you need to get creative — and maybe even sneaky — to nurture your kids to speak in your native tongue.

Try these media and tech tricks to keep kids on track.


Change your TV's Secondary Audio Programing (SAP)

Most providers, such as Comcast, Verizon, and DISH, allow you to change the language of the broadcast. Simply set it up through the remote control menu and have your kids watch all TV and streaming programs in the second language when available. Your kids may complain, but eventually they'll be happy to get to watch TV at all. Turn it into a fun conversation and point out how great is to see their favorite character speaking the other language, which means he or she is bilingual too.

Watch YouTube videos


You can find lots of bilingual shows on regular TV. But YouTube — since it's global — has thousands of shows in other languages. For younger kids, search for programs they like in the language you want them to learn. You might be able to find fully dubbed versions of their favorites or kids' fare from other countries. (Check them first to make sure that they're age-appropriate.) For older kids, you can find practical lessons for many languages. Create playlists so that all your kids need to do is click on the shows you've saved.

Listen to audiobooks

Bilingual books are great to help your kids learn a new language. But recorded books expose your kids to the sounds of the language, help with pronunciation, and improve comprehension because kids are hearing stories in context. Try Lucy & Pogo and Roxy and the Ballerina Robot, which offer narration in several languages. Add tales from your own culture to make it a more immersive experience.


Read the news from other countries

Do you have a child interested in what's happening in the world? Reading current events can be another strategy to help with vocabulary development and comprehension. Websites like Newsela offer age-appropriate news and nonfiction articles in various reading levels in English and Spanish.


Watch thought-provoking movies and documentaries

If you can't find movies in the language you want your kids to learn, try films and documentaries about the people who speak the language and their culture. If your kid is learning Spanish or is interested in learning more about Latin culture, try 10 Inspiring Movies for Latino Families. Or share the experience of four students in the San Francisco schools' dual immersion programs in "Speaking in Tongues."

Follow bilingual celebrities


Reinforce the value of bilingualism by following the social media feeds of celebrities who speak two (or more) languages. Every so often, stars such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who speaks French), Natalie Portman (who speaks Hebrew), Sandra Bullock (who speaks German), and the many actors who speak English and Spanish, including Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna, Gina Rodriguez, and Salma Hayek, will tweet in another language or post a message that supports language fluency.

Maria O Alverez

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Bilingual Bilingualism Children Common Sense Media Language Learning Parenting Teaching