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This Great Way to Get Bilingual Kids Talking More is Often Overlooked

Dreaming of bilingual ability...

In How I Get My Bilingual Son to Talk His Head Off in the Minority Language, I shared a fun activity for encouraging a child to talk non-stop in the target language.

Well, just this morning a related idea arose with my daughter. In fact, I’ve pursued this idea in the past, but today I realized that I should probably make it a more conscious tactic in my never-ending quest to increase the time my kids spend using the minority language.

“What were you talking about?”

After breakfast, my kids still had a little time before they left for school and they were sitting in the living room with my wife. I was in the kitchen, still eating (I read aloud to them while they’re eating), and half-listening to Lulu tell a long story, in Japanese, to her mother and brother.

Because Lulu was spinning this story with such glee, and Roy and Keiko were giggling along, I grew curious and called her back into the kitchen after she finished her telling in Japanese.

“What were you talking about?” I asked.

Lulu then launched into the same story, this time in English—a narrative of the dream she had last night.

The baby chick

In this dream, Lulu said that we went to an aquarium not far from Hiroshima and that my wife and I had allowed them to each choose a creature to take home.

Lulu herself chose a small fish, which she would carry home in a plastic bag, but Roy had his heart set on a baby whale shark. Of course, a baby whale shark would soon grow enormous, and we naturally pointed this out to Roy, trying to steer him into accepting a small fish, too, but he burst into tears and wouldn’t listen to reason.

Fortunately, the aquarium staff came to our rescue and offered Roy a different sort of creature: a fuzzy baby chick, which for some reason was larger than an elephant.

I’m not sure why Keiko and I agreed to adopt the monster chick, but we did. And so we headed for home, the chick crashing along in front.

However, there’s a long hill below our house and when we reached this slope, the chick fell over backward and flattened poor Roy. (Wishful thinking from Lulu?)

But Roy survived, apparently, and we somehow rolled the chick up the hill and over to our house. It wouldn’t fit inside, though, so we had to put it in the yard.

This is where Lulu’s story came to an end. (And not a moment too soon, as I bet she would have told me that the monster chick then gobbled me up like a fat worm.)

Inspiration for storytelling

The point, of course, is that dreams can be a rich, ready source of inspiration for storytelling in the target language. And all it takes is the mindfulness to ask at breakfast: “Do you remember any of your dreams from last night?”

In fact, this is what I used to do, routinely, but the habit has slipped away, probably when we had a string of days where no one could recall a dream from the night before. (I know it’s not always easy to remember our dreams, but I do think they become more accessible when we make a regular effort to recall them.)

It helps, naturally, if you take the lead and try recounting one of your own dreams first. This may jog your children’s memories and make them more eager to share a dream of their own. And even if the dreams they offer are embellished in the telling—or are outright inventions (like “made-up memories”)—it hardly matters because the aim of the activity is still fulfilled: sustained oral interaction in the minority language.

So try making your family’s nightly dreams a more conscious part of your daily lives. You’ll likely find, as I was reminded this morning with my daughter, that dreams can be a great source of content—and one that continuously replenishes itself—for engaging bilingual kids in narratives and related conversation.

How about you? Do you ever discuss dreams with your kids? What if you made this a more conscious tactic?

4 Responses

    1. Galina, I’m glad to hear your son enjoyed sharing his dream with you. This morning my own kids said they couldn’t remember their dreams from last night and so I started telling them one of mine—but I was really just making it up. The cool thing is, my obviously made-up dream seemed to inspire them to invent dreams of their own. So even when real dreams can’t be remembered, the same benefits can be gained by being playful and making up whatever comes to mind!

  1. I tell my dreams to my kids every morning. Well sometimes my dreams are too scary or topics for grown ups. So I make it up. And my little girl usually comes out with her own story, a mix of reality and my tales and Walt Disney cartoons. I don’t know if a 3 y.o. girl can remember dreams. Anyway I just listen to her carefully and she’s so satisfied. It’s overwhelming the feeling that I have while she puts a lot of effort into expressing herself.

    1. Kiara, yes, these are marvelous moments—times to treasure—when small children try so hard to express themselves.

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Welcome to Bilingual Monkeys!

I’m Adam Beck, the founder of this blog and The Bilingual Zoo, a lively worldwide forum for parents raising bilingual or multilingual kids. I’m also the author of the popular books Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability and Bilingual Success Stories Around the World. I’ve been an educator and writer in this field for 25 years as well as the parent of two bilingual children, now 19 and 16. I hope my work can help empower the success of your bilingual journey.

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