|When told to put a couple of toys for the plane in his carry-on bag, Griffin, age 3, filled his suitcase with stuffed animals.|
But my husband and I don't have relatives in France whose homes we can visit. Without French citizenship, our kids wouldn't be allowed in the state-supported daycare or schools. And even if we did, we don't have enough vacation days to go to Europe for weeks at a time!
But while I'm certainly envious of those who can, we've managed so far to help our son hang onto his bilingualism without ever having visited a francophone country. Maybe next summer, when I'll be celebrating a milestone birthday and our younger child, Gwyneth, will be almost three and (hopefully) more independent and less shrieky....
But in the meantime, here are some ideas of what those of us who can't travel abroad regularly can do to help keep our kids in the target language at home:
1. Regular video chats (such as Skype) with families whose children are approximately the same age as yours. As long as they speak the target language, it doesn't matter what country they call home!
(We don't do this yet, because Griffin can only Skype for two minutes without getting antsy and wanting to go play. Soon, perhaps.)
2. Hosting a foreign exchange student from a country where the language is spoken.
(We haven't done this yet, as most of the agencies that organize exchange programs prefer that the visiting student stay with a family whose child is around the visitor's age. No one sends toddlers and preschoolers overseas to stay with strangers!) (Not to say that we haven't been tempted....)
Or, if a commitment of a semester or more is too big--and your home isn't too small--why not invite another family to visit for a week or two? For example, if your American friend's French husband's cousin and her kids are touring the US, but your friend lives in a one-bedroom apartment, maybe they could stay with you.
Or, if you can afford it, how about hiring a nanny who is a native speaker of the target language?
I have also been tempted by "home exchange" programs, especially since traditional hotel rooms tend to be awful for young children--constantly squeezing past the crib which takes up most of the available floor space, nothing is babyproofed, the indoor pool (when there is one) is always too cold for the youngest child (and also my husband), you can't cook anything for your picky eaters, and you have to turn out the lights and go to bed when the kids do (or else hang out in the bathroom or hope the baby monitor works in the lobby bar).
|When told to unpack his suitcase on a trip earlier this year, Griffin laid out his five books, one pair of shoes, and Pooh Bear. He doesn't care about the clothes.|
Has anyone with young children ever tried home swapping? I'd love to hear more about it. (Here's an article about a retiree's positive experience in Paris, by the way.)
3. Attend a residential immersion camp, like the phenomenal Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota. I'm a proud alumna of Sjolunden (spent two weeks at the Swedish village) and Lac du Bois (a month at French camp allowed me to skip the entire year of French 2 at my high school).
Concordia has also recently started offering day camps for children as young as six (Griffin could attend next summer!), plus week-long and weekend camps for the entire family! In fact, the latter would actually be possible for us, especially since my parents live within a day's drive of the French camp sites. I could see us flying to Minneapolis, renting a car, doing a camp, driving to spend time with the family, and then flying back out of Minneapolis. If we could coordinate it with time off work and during school vacations, that is!
Oooh, and Griffin could do Spanish camp, too, to reinforce what he's learning at his immersion school....
Renowned school Middlebury College (Vermont) also offers summer programs for children: day camps in three languages for 5th-8th graders and residential camps in five languages for 8th-12th graders.
I imagine that other similar programs exist in the US and abroad--recommendations?
4. And, of course, don't forget about all the things that we do on a (semi) regular basis in hopes of raising multilingual children: target-language songs, books, interactive computer games and apps, movies and TV, and other materials, plus playgroups, playdates, storytimes, classes, and babysitters who speak (or are studying) the language, along with (of course, and most importantly) input from you!
Would it be ideal for our would-be bilingual kiddos to spend lots of time in a country where people speak the target language? Sure. Is that an impossibility for some families? Yes. Should they despair if they can't get there? Mais non!
Your thoughts and advice?