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96 Things You Can Do Today to Boost Your Child’s Bilingual Ability

August 9, 2013

Singing songs in the target language.

Today is another opportunity to nurture your children’s language development. Every effort you make today, and again tomorrow, will move you and your children a little farther along your bilingual journey. These small steps will gradually add up over time—over days, weeks, months, and years—and largely determine the distance you travel.

But in the end, it always depends on today.

Below, then, is a list of 96 things you can do, right now, to help nurture your children’s language development, whatever your target language. (Don’t worry! You don’t have to do them all today! :mrgreen: )

Some of them are already part of your efforts, I’m sure. And, of course, there are many more than these 96 and I encourage you to add others in a comment below.

But I hope you’ll find this list a useful source of ideas and inspiration, with at least a few new suggestions to try at home. Modify them to suit your needs, and pursue them as playfully as you can. (The accompanying links offer further information from earlier posts.)

1. Read aloud to your child: a picture book, chapter book, or poetry. Pause often and ask questions about the text and illustrations. (The Secret to Raising a Bilingual Child)

2. Look at old family photos and talk about them together. Prompt your child to describe what she sees and share her memories.

3. Try some tongue twisters in your target language. Find them online or make some up. (To quickly download my list of original tongue twisters in English, just subscribe to my newsletter.)

4. Enjoy a wordless picture book and take turns, page by page, telling the story. Wordless pictures books are a wonderful resource for any age and any language.

5. Encourage your child to read aloud to favorite stuffed animals, dolls, and pets. Match the books with the audience, such as a book about bears for a teddy bear. (It’s a Scientific Fact! Baby Praying Mantises Can Get Your Child Reading More in the Minority Language!)

6. Seek out a high school student or college student who speaks the target language well. Hire the student to serve as a weekly playmate for your child.

7. Make a video of yourself reading books, telling stories, singing songs, and simply talking to your kids, to be played in your absence. (The Busy Parent’s Guide to Cloning Yourself)

8. Open a cookbook and make something tasty. Most children love to help in the kitchen.

9. Make a shopping list, then go shopping. Search for the items on your list and ask about other things in the store.

10. Tell a true story from your childhood. Children especially enjoy hearing tales of their parents’ misadventures. (Strange-But-True Tales: Baby Chicks in the Bathtub)

11. Tell a fantastical “made-up memory.” Make up something that “happened” to you or to your children. (Using Made-up Memories to Engage Bilingual Kids)

12. Role play together in the target language using puppets, stuffed animals, dolls, or other favorite toys.

13. Name things around the house. You and your child can quiz each other.

14. Label things around the house with words in the target language.

15. Name things in your neighborhood. A little stroll could help strengthen your child’s vocabulary.

16. View images on the Internet and prompt discussion with the question “What do you see?” (How Images Will Stimulate Your Child’s Bilingual Development)

17. Respond to your child’s curiosity about the world. Find information on her questions, in books or online.

18. Go to the zoo or aquarium. Have your child make a long list of the creatures there, or dictate the names to you.

19. Go to a pet shop and talk about the animals you find. How would your child take care of each kind of animal?

20. Tell your kids some riddles. Find them online or make up some of your own. (Ridiculous Riddles)

21. Arrange a play date with another child who speaks your target language.

22. Explore the possibility of serving as a homestay family for a guest who speaks your target language. A visit of even just a day or two can have a very positive impact. (Getting a Bilingual Child to Feel the Value of the Minority Language)

23. Read a book together, taking turns, page by page. Ask questions about the story and illustrations to prompt conversation.

24. Buy a book for your child that will connect to his current interests and help fuel his language development and love of books and literacy. (POW! How Super Heroes Strengthened My Son’s Bilingual Ability)

25. Place books beside your child. Make a habit of placing several books by your child when she’s playing quietly by herself. Chances are, she’ll pick them up. (Don’t Read These Words!)

26. Start a family journal. Each week have everyone in the family write one sentence about something that happened to them, maybe the best thing or the worst thing.

27. Label each other with “body words” written on large post-it notes. Take turns sticking these labels all over each other.

28. Play children’s music for active listening or simply in the background as your child plays. Try a CD of good storytelling, too. (How the Power of Music Nurtures Bilingual Ability)

29. Order a new CD of children’s music, something that could get your child singing along. (Recommended Resources: Great Music for Kids (and Parents, too!))

30. Sing songs together. Sing songs you know, songs from your CDs, or songs you make up.

31. Write a message to your child and hide it in her lunchbox, school bag, or other suitable spot. (How Messages in the Minority Language Can Boost Literacy (and Much More))

32. Write a letter to your child and mail it. I bet he’ll be surprised and happy to get it!

33. Browse through a children’s dictionary, looking for interesting words to note. (If you don’t have a good children’s dictionary, order one!)

34. Visit an art museum and elicit conversation by asking questions about the paintings, sculpture, and other works of art.

35. Make a scrapbook with photos or pictures cut from a magazine. Your child can write the captions or dictate them to you.

36. Put something in a “mystery box” and give clues for your child to guess. Take turns. (A Sneaky Way to Get Bilingual Kids to Use the Minority Language)

37. Have a treasure hunt. Hide a special prize in the house, then write a series of clues which lead from one location to the next, ending with the “treasure.”

38. Watch a TV program or DVD together and discuss the content with open-ended questions.

39. Order a new DVD that you and your child would enjoy watching together and could prompt some good discussion.

40. Look at a globe and talk about the different countries. Quiz each other on where countries are located.

41. Look at a map of your city. Find your house and other places that are familiar to you and your child.

42. Put a whiteboard in the bathroom and begin writing daily messages to your child. (Why You Must Put a Whiteboard in the Bathroom)

43. Post a story, poem, or other text in the bathroom to encourage independent reading. (What Is Captive Reading and How Will It Help My Bilingual Child?)

44. Draw pictures together and talk about the colors and images.

45. Go to your local library and look for books in the target language. You may be surprised.

46. Go to a bookstore, even if there are no books in your target language. Look at illustrations and talk about them. Try retelling the stories together.

47. Look at pop-up books in a bookstore or library. Try to make a simple pop-up book at home. Ideas and instructions can be found online.

48. Play a game together, maybe a cooperative game where the players work as a team. (Recommended Resources: Great Cooperative Games)

49. Buy a new game to play with your kids. Be on the lookout, especially, for good word games. (Recommended Resources: Word Games in the Minority Language)

50. Interview each other on a chosen topic (animals, sports, etc.). Use a toy microphone, or make your own, to add to the fun.

51. Tell your child a fairy tale, one you already know or one you make up. Ask her to tell you a fairy tale, too.

52. Play a memory game. Put a number of objects on a table and ask your child to study them. Then cover them with a tablecloth or blanket. How many can he remember? Change the items and take turns.

53. Play a guessing game. Have your child put her hands behind her back, then place something in her hands. Ask her to describe the item (size, shape, weight, feel) before making a guess. Take turns.

54. Talk together with grandparents or relatives via Skype. (3 Good Ways to Boost a Bilingual Child’s Language Ability and Loving Bond with Grandparents and A Powerful Twist on the Use of Skype to Promote the Minority Language)

55. Find a useful website that offers language learning games your child can play.

56. Find a new app that could help support your child’s language development.

57. Order a suitable workbook for daily homework to help develop literacy in the target language. (Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine)

58. Add a little mailbox to your home to encourage message-writing among family members. (What Positive Action Have You Been Putting Off When It Comes to the Minority Language?)

59. Have a “silent conversation” through writing. Instead of talking about the school day or another topic, hold the conversation without saying a word by passing paper and pencil back and forth.

60. Give silly commands. Take turns telling each other to stand on one foot, wiggle your nose, crow like a rooster, and anything else you can dream up.

61. Teach a magic trick. Perform the trick, then demonstrate how to do it so he can perform it for others. Simple magic tricks can be easily found online.

62. Look at an encyclopedia about animals, or another topic, and test her knowledge with a little quiz. Maybe she could quiz you, too.

63. Make a list of words on a theme, like animals or countries or words about winter. This can be done orally, taking turns, or in writing, together or individually.

64. Begin a longer-term list. Post a large sheet of paper on the wall and select a topic, like “things that fly” or “things that are yellow.” Put a pencil nearby for the whole family to add to the list, whenever the mood strikes.

65. Try writing and reading things backwards, using names, words, even sentences. (“Adam” becomes “Mada,” for example.) A fun and useful activity for literacy development.

66. Start a blog with your child. Post her writing and pictures to share with family and friends.

67. Spin a story together. Start with a title or character and take turns adding to the tale until you arrive at an ending. (The Importance of Stories and Storytelling in Raising Bilingual Kids)

68. Write a story together—actually, two stories. Take two pieces of paper and write a different opening sentence at the top of each. Then you write the next sentence for one story, your child writes the next sentence for the other. Trade papers, back and forth, sentence by sentence, until you reach the end of your stories.

69. Use playdough or modeling clay to make animals or other things. Can you guess what the other person made? Try forming letters and words, too.

70. Prepare a puppet show to perform for other family members. If you don’t have any puppets, try making some.

71. Watch YouTube videos on favorite topics and discuss them.

72. Help your child write a letter to grandparents or relatives. A letter exchange is a valuable way to strengthen both growing literacy and family ties. (3 Good Ways to Boost a Bilingual Child’s Language Ability and Loving Bond with Grandparents)

73. Look for a pen-pal for your child, another child of a similar age and ability in the target language.

74. Be a “dictation robot.” Offer to write down whatever your child wants you to record: a story, a letter, a sign for her bedroom, anything she desires.

75. Look at a newspaper or magazine in the target language. Read an article to your child and discuss it.

76. Play charades, acting out animals, actions, types of jobs, etc. Make choices on the spot or prepare some cards with the target words on them.

77. Write and perform a short play. Create a two-character scene with your child, perhaps a scene where you reverse roles: he plays the parent and you play the child. Practice and perform for other family members.

78. Make a colorful placemat. Put words and pictures on a piece of paper, then laminate it.

79. Play a rhyming game, starting with a simple word and making the longest list of rhyming words you can. Do this orally or in writing, as a contest or as a team.

80. Play the “scrambled words” game. Use letter tiles, or just paper and pencil, and make scrambled words for each other to unscramble. Choose a theme (animals, things in the room, etc.) and stick to shorter words.

81. Make a picture book together. Your child can dictate the story to you, then illustrate the text.

82. Make another picture book. Your child cuts out pictures from a magazine then dictates a story to match the pictures.

83. Post unfamiliar words and their definitions around the house to stretch vocabulary.

84. Ask your child to translate something from the majority language to the minority language, either orally or in writing.

85. Memorize a poem. Find a short poem and ask your child to practice it until she can recite it to you by heart. (How Rats in the Bathroom Can Boost a Child’s Bilingual Ability)

86. Have a “reading race.” Take a list of about 20 words or about 20 sentences from a story and take turns reading them, only one or two on each turn. The winner is the person who reads the very last word or sentence.

87. Make a comic strip or comic book. Have your child make his own, or work together to create one with him.

88. Make a collage of words clipped from magazines.

89. Label a large photo or a picture from a magazine with as many words as you and your child can.

90. Subscribe to a children’s magazine, something that will match your child’s age and interests. (Recommended Resources: The Magic of Magazine Subscriptions)

91. Quiz each other on images seen for a short time. Take turns asking and answering questions with family photos, pictures from magazines, or book illustrations.

92. Build a fort. Kids love making hideouts and building one offers a good opportunity to engage in conversation about how to construct it.

93. Make a big poster of words chosen by your child (favorite words, animals, etc.). Write in colorful block letters and draw decorations.

94. Try drawing and writing blindfolded. Take turns telling each other to draw different animals or other things, or write names, words, and sentences.

95. Make a video together in the target language. Maybe you could interview each other, taking turns as the interviewer and interviewee.

96. Write a silly story that features your own kids as the main characters. Read it together or post it on the wall for them to read. (Turn Your Kids into Eager Readers with This Fun, Simple Strategy)

How about you? Can you add another idea to this list?

See value in this post? Please share it with the universe! (There may be aliens raising bilingual kids, too, you never know.) Then add your thoughts below. Thanks!

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1 Vilma August 10, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Did I just miss it or did you not have songs and theatre (puppets or “real”) on this extensive list of activities? Songs that you can act to or, of course, also attend a concert. Same goes for theatre, you can make a play together, maybe even craft the puppets, or you can go and see something. One of our favourites is also to listen to stories from a CD (often in the minority language) and then draw them together using another language (depending on who is doing this) and talking the story through.

I suppose the key is: spend time together and interact regardless if you want your child to be trilingual, have a strong mother tongue or just a good general knowledge?

Reply

2 Adam August 11, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Vilma, thanks for your comment and your good suggestions. (Ideas #28 and #30 involve songs/music, while #12, #70, and #77 concern puppets/theater.)

In the end, yes, it’s all about interaction; I couldn’t agree more. At the same time, the type of interaction should be somewhat strategic, I think, depending on the family’s particular goal. For example, if high-level literacy skills are desired in the minority language, then clearly activities to advance that aim should be a substantial part of the mix each day.

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3 Celine August 12, 2013 at 12:13 am

If you live in a big city (or when you’re visiting from a smaller city), there are often minority language neighborhoods you can go visit and hear your language being spoken–try visiting a playground or stores in the area. If you live in a smaller town (like me), there are often International Days hosted by local schools where you can meet others speaking your minority language (not an everyday activity, but I’m offering it for inclusion in the list anyway-hope you don’t mind, Adam). And if your kids are young enough you can always start a playgroup of a given language.

Reply

4 Adam August 12, 2013 at 5:43 am

Celine, every idea helps, thank you! :mrgreen:

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5 Cordelia November 1, 2013 at 10:41 am

I love that you came up with 96. Not 10. Not 20. Not 100 but 96.
Awesome list. Will be a go-to for me. Thanks for being so fabulous and blogging.

Reply

6 Adam November 1, 2013 at 3:06 pm

And thank you, Cordelia, for your fun comments. I always enjoy your feedback. Keep being fabulous yourself at multilingualmama.com.

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7 Steffen Eckart February 9, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Hi Adam, this list is so full of useful, practical ideas it is crazy. The only down side is our son will have finished university by the time we get to try them all!

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8 Steffen Eckart February 9, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Sorry – me again. A “printer friendly” version would be wonderful, if you are taking suggestions for the site formatting.

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9 Adam February 10, 2014 at 6:36 am

Steffan, I’m glad this list will be useful to you for a while! :mrgreen:

And I’ll put “making a PDF version of this post” on my long to-do list! Thanks for the good suggestion!

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