Making the Foreign Familiar: Exposing Children to Foreign Languages

This post is another installment of my MTFF series. In this series I share the ways I am making the foreign familiar to my children. My goal is to help them develop a global perspective. My hope is that they realize both that the world is immense with so much to see and explore, filled with people who may look different or may do things differently AND that it's a small world after all -- that we are all human with similar needs and wants.

Please note, this post is written in partnership with Tea Collection and contains affiliate links. 

Something I am cognizant of in this journey of making the foreign familiar is the fine line between fostering a global perspective and perpetuating cultural stereotypes. It is not my goal to provide superficial exposure to as many cultures as possible and call it a day. For a 1-year-old and 4-year-old, however, I do recognize that the age-appropriate approach is to share snippets of a variety of cultures until my children are old enough to have discussions about how cultures are multi-faceted and that knowing just one facet, or even a handful of facets, doesn't mean we understand the whole. 

I also recognize that playing a song in Farsi or Luganda doesn't mean my children will turn around and learn those languages with ease, but because they are still in what Dr. Montessori explained is a "sensitive period for language," they are indeed absorbing the sounds of foreign languages in a way that our adult brains cannot. If there is a chance that in the future my children want to study foreign languages, I like to believe that pronunciation will come easier to them because of their exposure to such a wide variety of sounds from birth to age 6. Plus, music is fun and triggers memory, so learning nursery rhymes and other songs in a particular target foreign language actually helps all language learners master a new language.    

Other than that, the main reason for exposing our children to foreign languages is to be aware that numerous other languages exist. Although we are a bi-cultural family, we speak English at home. The children sometimes hear Spanish from my Mexican relatives and Portuguese from our friends, but if we are to impart the knowledge that so many wonderful languages exist out there, we simply need to expose them to as many languages as possible. Here is how we do just that:

1. Music

Hunter has his own portable CD player in his room with access to a little CD organizer. Inside we have the usual Raffi and some Lisa Loeb (!), but we also have several Spanish-language CDs we have purchased or received as gifts over the years. More recently we started borrowing foreign language music CDs from the children's section of the library. We have very much enjoyed several of the Putumayo Playground CDs. We have listened to one from Asia, another one from Australia, and another one from Europe. Next on our list is the one from Africa. I also really like one from Germany called "Kinderlieder Aus Deutschland und Europa." We've also borrowed a couple from the "Rough Guide to" series: "World Music for Children" and "World Playtime."

2. Books

Also from the library, we check out books from the "Our World" section, like the one pictured above called Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad. What I love about this book, besides the lovely story, is that Hunter learned not only that Arabic sounds different but that it looks different too. At 4 years old, even though he doesn't yet know how to read, he has enough reading awareness to grasp that we read from left to right and Arabic is read (and written, of course) right to left. 

3. TV & Movies

We haven't watched them in a while, but last year I used to love putting Little Pim on for Hunter, and he did not mind at all to watch the shows in Chinese, French, or Italian. Hunter is a TV fiend, so we often have to take week-long breaks from it because he kind of goes crazy over "just one more," but one thing that I have tried as a compromise is to let him watch his favorite movies in Spanish. He is a little annoyed by it at first, but he doesn't ask me to turn it off, so there you go! (Which reminds me, I need to do that more often...)

I'd love to know of any other ways you expose your children to foreign languages! Please share!

Outfit notes: In the photos, Hunter is wearing the Apollo Bay Pocket Tee in paprika, currently on sale. Paloma is wearing the Cape Otway romper

P.S. Here is a running list of the topics in my series on ways to make the foreign familiar:
1. Create crafts and child-friendly artwork inspired by different cultures from around the world. 
2. Learn about animals from around the world.
3. Expose children to foreign languages. 
4. Attend public cultural festivals and celebrations.

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