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Three tips for kids learning a foreign language

Three tips for kids learning a foreign language

My son is seven years old, and through various twists of fate he has attended an English language public school and a French immersion public school Canada, and now attends a German/English bilingual private school in Germany. We’ve gone through the language/school transition twice now, both with a major international move and without. While I’m not a speech pathologist, a teacher, or a child psychologist, I have gone through this as a parent a couple of times now. As we adjust to our new life in Germany, I was struck by how many similarities there are between our time settling in to French immersion school and German school.

Here are three things we’ve learned, living through this major change twice now.

3 tips for kids learning a foreign language

Ease into it.

If you have a few months to prepare, use them. Ask the school your child will be attending for some tips and resources in the target language. Download game-like apps to give your child a feel for the vocabulary (we love Gus on the Go in particular). Check the Netflix options for shows in the target language, but look for ones a few age levels younger so the speech is simpler. It’s ideal if it is a show your child likes and knows well already. Pinterest is great for language resources, and so is YouTube (here is my French immersion resources board, and my Learning German board). Obviously don’t throw it all in there at once, but try something every couple of days.

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Support, but don’t push it.

Once they start school, it’s tempting to try and speak to them in the target language (if you know it), or expect them to come home with new vocab every day. Don’t forget how exhausting learning a new language is – and if your child is staring in a new school in an immersion situation, they’re doing a new job in a new language too. Keep things as mellow and predictable as you can at home, and keep the extra curricular activities to a minimum until they settle in. Though, if there’s an activity they really love and feel confident doing, definitely go for that. Learning a new language can be a real knock to even confident kids, so anything that bolsters the ego is terrific.

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Give it time. Lots of time.

It may seem like they will never speak the language, or that nothing is going in, but be patient. With our son, it takes about six months before little words and phrases start popping out at random. If you can, spend some time learning the language too if you don’t already speak it, and ask them to help you. Kids love teaching their parents something. If you’re really concerned nothing is sticking, talk to their teacher. I really recommend waiting at least six months though – and know that speaking the language is one of the last things to come.

Have you made a language transition with your children? Any tips to share?

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Three days in Munich

Three days in Munich

One of the reasons we agreed to this relocation to Germany was the chance to travel around Europe. My husband goes to Münich often for business, so before school started, we decided to tag along.

three days in Munich with kids

I know we’ll be in Munich again, so we didn’t try and cram everything in. I find travelling with a seven year old is a lesson in picking a few things and taking your time.

Marienplatz, Munich
Marienplatz, Munich

Thinking about Oktoberfest with kids? It’s fun! Check out Babies & Backpacks for her experience taking her kids to Oktoberfest

The Englisch Garten

This huge park is in the middle of the city, and easy to reach by transit. There are many many playgrounds, and we just stopped at three or four as we wandered. Elliot’s favourite was right next to the big biergarten surrounding the Chinese Tower. You can ride a beautiful carousel from 1905 for €1 a go. Terrifically, no adults are allowed on it, so you can sit for a minute.

Surfers on Eisbach canal, Munich
Surfers on Eisbach canal

Check out the surfers on the Eisbach canal at the far south end of the park. It’s mesmerizing.

Englisch Garten, Munich
Englisch Garten

If you’re exhausted, you can flag down one of the pedicabs for a ride or a tour. It’s not cheap – €35 or so will get you a tour. A cheaper option is taking out a pedal boat on the lake, it’s €10 for half an hour.

Carousel in Englisch Garten, by the Chinese Tower
Carousel in Englisch Garten, by the Chinese Tower
Playground by the Chinese Tower, Englisch Garten
Playground by the Chinese Tower, Englisch Garten
Biergarten by the Chinese Tower, Englisch Garten
Biergarten by the Chinese Tower, Englisch Garten

The biergartens serve the usual bratwurst, french fries, soft pretzels (brezeln), sauerkraut, onion salad, and potatoes – as well as giant vats of beer. You can bring your own food as well, so if you’re planning to make a meal of it, swing by a REWE or Edeka beforehand for some vegetables.

Hellabrunn Zoo

Easy to reach by bus, the zoo can easily take up a whole day. There are several playgrounds, and a little mini theme park called Kinderland complete with ride-on cars, a minitrain, a beautiful carousel, and a digger. Kinderland involves buying tokens for the rides, so keep that in mind.

Carousel in the Hellabrunn Zoo
Carousel in the Hellabrunn Zoo

In the middle of the zoo there’s a biergarten right next to the biggest playground. There’s also a sit down restaurant on the terrace above if you’re looking for burgers instead of sausages.

Looking for a short excursion from Munich? Brittany from October Acres loved Berchtesgaden
Biergarten in Hellabrunn Zoo
Biergarten in Hellabrunn Zoo
Feeding the acrobatic pigeons at the Hellabrunn Zoo
Feeding the acrobatic pigeons
Hellabrunn Zoo, Munich
Hellabrunn Zoo

It’s worth checking the schedule of feedings and shows before you head out. The shows are in German, so if you don’t speak the language it’s a bit less interesting. We watched the acrobatic pigeon show, though, and it was fun anyway. The pigeons kept landing on people’s heads!

Our favourites were the Bat Cave, where the bats fly around your head and occasionally bump into you, and watching the penguins zip through the water.

Ask at the entrance gate for a map in English, and one in German to practice your animal names!

Taxisgarten, Munich
Taxisgarten, Munich

We visited Taxisgarten, a local biergarten recommended by my husband’s colleagues. Again, it’s furnished with a playground, and features the usual food options. It’s beautiful on a warm summer evening, with lights strung up in the trees. You can bring some of your own food here too, so bring some extras if your kids are like mine and will only eat Brezel.

How to get around >> Fellow Canadian Christina lives in Munich and has the full lowdown on how to navigate the Munich public transport system.

Where to find playgrounds >> should you be in Munich and need to find the nearest playground, try this great searchable outdoor playground (spielplatz) database. You can plug in your children’s ages and where you are, it will give you the closest playgrounds. It’s in German – I’m sure you can find your way through, but if you’ve got the Chrome browser with the translation plug-in it makes it very easy.

 

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Language learning for kids and adults

Language learning for kids and adults

Our favourite language learning app for kids, Gus on the Go, has free language printables.

We’re counting down the weeks until the big move to Germany, and I’ll answer the third most often asked question: do you speak German?

Um, not yet?


Our nearly seven year old has been in French immersion, so his reading and writing education has been entirely in French so far. He speaks quite well, and understands loads, and though it might seem a bit crazy to pile on another language now, he’s been taking it in like a sponge. Thankfully French and German have quite a few parallels.

We’re not pushing hard on the German with our son quite yet as he will be attending a bilingual German English school, and I suspect he’ll be better than we are a few months in. However, just to get him going, we downloaded our favourite language app for kids, Gus on the Go, in German. They also have a terrific set of free printables on their site as well – fortune tellers, flash cards, and more.

Duolingo
Look at my 9% fluency! Whee!

My husband and I have been spending about an hour a day on Duolingo, and for a free app, it’s incredible. We have access to an earlier version of Rosetta Stone, and while it’s helpful and a bit pickier when it comes to translation, we’ve both found we spend the most time on Duolingo. My husband also likes using Busuu, it focuses more on conversational German.

Our favourite complement to Duolingo, however, is German Pod 101. Their audio lessons are hilarious, and I’ve learned a few basic rules that make it so much easier to get through intermediate Duolingo lessons. The Accent Improvement lessons are excellent, and having transcriptions of everything readily available has been a lifesaver. The little cultural tips are invaluable to us, as we’ll be making Germany our home for the next few years. They have a free option where you can get access to the audio lessons, but it doesn’t cost much to get a membership that includes transcripts. They have an app as well. The Newbie series of audio lessons have been a big hit in the car on the way to school too.

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The next move: Germany

Our amazing neighbourhood in Heidelberg

For someone who doesn’t like to travel, I move a lot.

Back and forth across Canada a couple of times, then to England for seven years, and then back to Vancouver for five years, and in a little over two months we’re moving to Germany.

We’re lucky in that both our move to England and this move to Germany has been through relocation programs with my husband’s company. Though the first time we did this, we were in our mid-twenties. Now we’re older, and have a child. A few more moving parts to the whole thing.

I had never been to Germany when I said yes to this move. After many years in England, I knew a little bit what to expect. And the opportunity to live in Europe again, for our son to live there and gain a wider understanding of the world – it was just too good to pass up. I am again giving up a job and a network. My mum is here. You would think, as a person with anxiety issues, doing something as bonkers as volunteering to move across the world to a country I have never seen that speaks a language I don’t know would be completely off the table.

Trust me, there are moments my anxiety takes over and I think I must be completely nuts to do this. But I think that’s normal human anxiety talking, rather than my extra special brand of worrying.

Somehow, this is okay. More than okay, an adventure. So follow along as we prepare for yet another giant move, and I fill you in on our second round expat journey.

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