Here is a brief list of ways to incorporate a foreign language into you household:
The best way to teach your kids is, of course, speaking to them a lot and only in the target language. But our lives are busy, we have to work and do chores, so we are not constantly able to shower our children with speech.
However, if you have the time, make it count. As tempted as I am by the beautiful English books in our house and at the library, I ONLY read German ones to the kids. (It has the added benefit that I can reread my childhood favorites and make a connection to “When Mama was a little girl…”) If the kids want a specific English book or brought a book home from school, they have to wait for their Dad to come home and read with them. This division of books has been there from the very beginning and when we got a new one, the first question often was “Is this a Mama book or a Papa book?”.
When they got older, I also purchased some books on CD for them to listen to and 80% of the time we listen to German children’s songs in the car - especially around Christmas time! If this is the only entertainment available, they tend not to complain and I often get rewarded by hearing them sing the songs in their rooms later!
TV in our house is quite restricted. We avoided commercial television from the beginning and when we started to introduce DVDs, we did so only in German! The combination of kids occupied + learning another language + defined end of TV time was priceless for us! For a while they didn’t realize some movies could have different language tracks. I remember my youngest coming home from the dentist (who had a TV in the waiting room) telling me incredulously: “Mama, Nemo spoke ENGLISH!” By now, we also own English DVDs – mainly given as presents – but I still make a point to alternate languages when it comes to TV. I just feel that, if they are already watching TV at least they can broaden their vocabulary at the same time.
The kids have learned quite a bit of German from watching movies – just think of the fish and ocean words in “Finding Nemo” or the car and repair vocabulary in “Cars”. Plus the characters quite often use expression I would never use! Too funny when you hear your child express his frustration like a pirate! This brings me to an important point: Your child will only have the breadth of language that YOU speak – and your active vocabulary is much smaller that your passive one, especially when talking to a child! So make sure you expose your child to a broad variety of language – fairy tales, science books, TV, classic and modern children’s stories. And explain and rephrase often with your own words. In addition let them hear a variety of accents – books on tape read by actors or authors as well as family and friends from different parts of your country. These days, it is easier than ever to stay connected - we talk to grandparents and relatives on Skye, once a week on the phone and recently our oldest started typing emails in German to his Opapa!
Finally, if your children start to find it tedious to communicate in your language, there is one thing that will get them asking in whatever language necessary: candy. Yes, it’s bribery, but in my house, gummibears have to be asked for in German! And in a friend’s house, where the children are in their teens and rarely still speak French, the afternoon snack is a special treat – French Madeleines or pastry and café au lait. While this is served, there are only French expressions of delight heard!