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Five Ways to Introduce Your Children to Other Cultures Through Language

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On July 30, 2011, the U.N. General Assembly proclaimed this day to be the International Day of Friendship to inspire harmony between people, cultures, communities and countries, to generate new peace efforts and to increase understanding between communities.

A major part of getting along with people from other cultures is learning to appreciate and understand their differences. Children are highly influenced by their parents when it comes to understanding other cultures. What you teach your little ones about people from different cultures usually sticks with them for the rest of their lives. I remember my mother practicing French with me when I was very young. I still remember singing “Frere Jacques” with her. Now, I’m fluent in three languages. My time practicing French with her inspired me to learn other languages. Even if your children don’t become fluent in another language, introducing them to another language will open the door to their understanding of other cultures.

When I was teaching foreign languages, I used the following techniques for the children to have fun learning the new language. These activities will not only introduce your children to another language but introduce them to the culture of the people who speak that language. Be sure to choose a culture that you know about and stick to that language.

  1. Find a movement song in the target language online that your children already know in English, such as “Head and Shoulders; Knees and Toes,” which in Spanish is “Cabeza y hombros; rodillas y pies.” Do the movements and sing the song to the music with them.
  2. Do a word exchange with your children. Every week assign your children a new word in the target language and have them use it in place of the English word for an entire week. Reward them with praise every time they use the new word. If you choose to use the French language, you could have them say, la porte instead of the door, and when appropriate you can say, “Ferme la porte” instead of “Close the door.”
  3. Find a picture book in the target language that you and your child have read in English. You can google “children’s fairy tales in German” or you can find children’s picture books in other languages. Make sure your children already know the story and then read the book together with them while looking at the pictures. For example, you can purchase “Schneewittchen” (Snow White) from Amazon online.
  4. Take your children to a restaurant where the food is in the target language, such as a pizzeria, taqueria or gasthaus, and hopefully, the staff there will be familiar with the target language,
  5. And finally, talk to the enrichment teacher at your children’s School for some other excellent ideas to expand your children’s understanding of other cultures.

When you practice these activities don’t worry if your pronunciation isn’t perfect. You are not teaching them to be linguists; you are expanding their understanding of the world we live in.