Bilingualism as a lifestyle change
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! As school kicks off again, there are many in the community who will be learning a language by proxy. Building an immersive learning environment within your household to facilitate the language acquisition of your children will have positive ramifications beyond simply helping them excel.
When you create an immersion learning environment, anyone within that environment will feel the effects, though it may take different amounts of time for each individual. That said, the things that will push you may be different from the things that will push your child or children.
How you can make the most of the immersion method
When it comes to approaches, you are going to need a few different things to get started. First, do you know your learning style? Are you a kinetic learning? Do you do best with audio input or do you need to be doing something in order to remember it better? Do you enjoy writing? Speaking? What would be the easiest way for you to start adding the language into your daily life?
Answering these questions can be difficult and will more than likely take quite a bit of reflection, however, without understanding your learning style you will inevitably end up in an unnecessary uphill battle. That said, there are some things you can do that, irrespective of learning style, will be beneficial for everyone in the home in their everyday life. These will be your easy wins.
The easy wins
Your easy wins are going to come in a couple different forms. First is going to be the sticky notes. For everything in your home, you should have a sticky note attached with the name in your target language written upon it. Seeing the word, creating the sight connection, then speaking the word every time you see it, will feel lazy.
Nevertheless, you will actually be using your target language more than you were before and that is progress. This is one of those things that works so well you will not believe it works, but it is imperative that you get everyone in the household involved in creating and writing these.
Once the sticky notes are up, it is time to begin writing even more. Use the words on the sticky notes and create sentences using the words. What can you do with the door? How might you use the stove? What about the table? TV? Chairs? Anything and everything is fair game and the further you push this the better off you will be. Again, this is something you should be doing with everyone in the household. At the end of the day, your children will not listen to you, but they will imitate you. So join them in their language acquisition.
Beyond the sticky notes, your next mission is to get the language into your home via audio supplementation. Whether you listen to the radio in Spanish, watch films in German, catch the newest anime in Japanese, or listening to music in French, the more you can have the language playing aloud in your home the better. Not only will it help train the ear, it will also give you glimpses of hope.
Every time you are able to pick out a new word from the language you are listening to you will be able to feel yourself getting better. That feeling of progress is often more important than visual progress, so setting yourself up to feel it early and often is in your best interest. But what if you are not sure which types of media and which subject you are interested in adding? Simple, get your children involved.
Getting your children involved
The most important thing to do when you are designing this language immersion environment is ensuring that you are focusing on things in which there is already an interest. If your child is into tractors, find material discussing tractors and have them read it. If you love the outdoors, read articles about the outdoors in the target language. If you love to cook, watch cooking videos in the target language. If your child loves to travel, listen to travel guides in the new language. If you love to go to museums together as a family, visit museums virtually and listen to the tours in the new language. For more on how you can do that, check out this article:
Audio input is not all that matters, however. Reading books together, playing games together, and visiting new places together are all ways to ensure you are getting language exposure every day without it becoming monotonous. While it will be challenging, there is beauty in overcoming challenges and as you are able to understand more and more of the language you will find that you look forward to language study times. Filling your home with a foreign language makes it all but impossible to avoid after enough time which will ensure you get enough exposure to improve your abilities consistently.
Beyond these things, you need to be thinking outside the box. There are ample methods and no way is the "right" way if it is not working for you. Most people assume a language learning app is going to be sufficient and then become quickly disheartened when they make little progress. However, having a language learning app is fantastic if it is used to supplement other studying.
So use it for support! Write the lessons down, be curious about why things are the way they are and let that drive you to go down rabbit holes to understand grammar and the roots of vocabulary. These spurs of curiosity will give you ammunition and, more importantly, momentum for when you inevitably hit a plateau. Whatever you choose to do, if it means getting more exposure to the foreign language in question, you are doing it right.
Immersion: the most natural way to learn a language
Language immersion is the most natural way to learn a new language. The reason for this is simple, it is how every single person learns their native language. Between hearing bedtime stories, listening to conversations day in and day out, and paying attention to the best of one's abilities, children everywhere learn a language simply by unending exposure. More than that, though, there is no choice and no option to default out of the language as it is the only one in existence for that child in that moment.
When you have no choice but to interact with the new language on a daily basis then your language acquisition will take less time than if you are constantly able to bail. By forcing yourself to speak and interact, no matter how long it takes or how awkward the silence may be, you will find that your progress does not feel as slow as it has in the past. One of the main problems with public schools is the teachers allow far too much English. You can speak English all day if you want, just take an hour out of the day and interact with nothing that is in English.
In that, you will need to get used to speaking slowly and endless awkward silences, but over time these will become less and less frequent. That said, if you never do it you will be in a perpetual phase of awkward silences and broken speech. As horrible as it can be, you need to be doing the things you are bad at as often as possible.
If you struggle to speak, you need to be speaking more often. If you struggle to write, you need to be writing more often. If you struggle to read fluidly, you need to spend more time reading. Whatever the difficulty you face, if you avoid it then it will be a challenge indefinitely and this can cause paralysis when the time to speak actually arrives.
You will play how you practice, so spend time practicing the things you struggle with most in order to assure you will not struggle with those things when it is game time. That being said, if you are struggling for things to focus on, try to spend most of your time working on things that will bring you to conversational sooner.
Focus on conversational tools
The reason there is so much discussion surrounding the ability to hold a conversation is, even with a half baked conversation you will learn more about how a language is used by conversing with it than by reading about the theoretical uses in a textbook. Theory and practice are very rarely the same thing, so when you read all about how the language can theoretically be used then you go out and speak that way you will more than likely run into some less than pleasant looks. No one wants to be laughed at when they are learning a language and an accent is already enough to deal with let alone using ancient forms of grammar that few people today understand.
By focusing your energy on developing the ability to hold conversations in your foreign language of choice, you will be able to go out into the world unafraid and courageous enough to make new friends with whom you can speak. Once you have friends to converse with, who can explain different concepts to you and break down useful terms, you will no longer struggle to get your comprehensible input. The same goes for your children, but as discussed above, they will not listen to you. They will likely only do this if they see you doing it first.
At the end of the day, your environment is in your control. Whether or not you choose to participate in language immersion programs is irrelevant. If you want to build an immersive learning environment within your home, it is within your power to do so.
Not only will this help you, it will also help your children, assuming you set the environment up to be conducive to learning the language they are studying and not one in which you hold a niche interest. The best part about all of this is that it gives you the opportunity to spend more time as a family developing a skill set that will benefit each and every one of you for the long run.