Hiring an au pair from abroad is a great way to introduce a new language to your child, or to improve one that they already are learning to speak. Rather than sending your child to language lessons, or hiring a language tutor, an au pair can help you with your childcare needs while also introducing your child to a second language in the most natural environment.
Benefits of learning a foreign language
It is well known that knowing additional languages can have many advantages in life. For children in particular, there are many benefits of being bilingual. Research shows that bilingual children have higher concentration levels, and perform better on tasks such as multi-tasking and problem solving. They are more adaptable to new environments and are more open to learning new things. Substantial benefits also come as children get older. Additional language skills are a high priority for many employers, so bilingual kids are getting a great head start.
How an au pair can help support your child’s language development
Natural immersion is one of the most effective ways to learn a language. Having a native speaker of the target language around constantly speaking and playing with your child is a great way to immerse your child and have them learn without even realising it. Think about how your children are learning your native language. There is no “teaching”, they are immersed in the language day in and day out, and therefore learn it naturally.
OPOL – One Person One Language
The One Person One Language approach or OPOL, is popular within multilingual families and those who choose to hire au pairs to help with language exposure. This strategy really is as simple as it sounds. Each person speaks one language to the child, usually their native tongue. Rather than an au pair “teaching” your child a language, they simply stick to their native tongue at all times when communicating with your child. Therefore, you as parents speak one language, and the au pair speaks her or his language. When one applies this approach consistently, children learn to differentiate between the languages and learn to associate each language with a certain person (or people).
An au pair can help your child learn a language through OPOL and natural immersion
Playing games and doing activities together
Play is one of the most important aspects of childhood development. We all learn better when we're having fun. An au pair can support language development simply by playing with your child and having a good time. It may be outside on sunny days taking a walk to the park or running around in the garden. Or on rainy winter days it could be sitting inside playing dolls, cars, or ball games. Anything that involves talking.
Reading books in the target language
Books play an important part in helping to learn a language. Reading every day introduces new words that your child may not hear in their daily lives. Encouraging children to participate, pointing to objects, discussing new vocabulary are all great ways to get them talking. It can also help your au pair to bond with your child.
Children generally love to sing and music is one of the easiest ways to learn a language. Because of the rhythm and the melody, songs make it easier to learn and memorise words. And it's lots of fun, too.
Children can learn about another culture right in your home
Cooking different foods together
Cooking together is a great way to encourage learning about a new language and culture. An au pair can share traditional foods from her home country. Cooking with kids can be great fun, getting them involved in the whole process. For fussy eaters, helping to prepare meals can make children more likely to be open to trying their new dish.
Teaching the children about the au-pair’s country
Children can learn so much from an au pair. She or he can share facts with your children about geography, about her home country or about special traditions and holidays that she celebrates. She can tell them stories about her family and how she has grown up. Learning about the larger world is a wonderful experience for young children, especially when it is a personal one.
A great win-win experience
Hosting an au pair in your home can be an amazing experience for both your family and your au pair. The process of cultural exchange, of course, is a two-way street and brings wonderful benefits on both sides. While your children take the first steps toward bilingualism, your au pair is also improving her own second language skills in the new environment of your home country. The shared goal of intercultural competence and greater language proficiency for everyone who is involved is a key element of the au pair experience and the basis of its great popularity as a win-win experience.
Chontelle is a Certified ESL teacher, blogger and mother of two bilingual kids. She offers practical advice for parents seeking to raise bilingual or multilingual children – with inspiration, support and strategies based on her own experience as a parent, and as a teacher of a foreign language to children.
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