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How to Get Your Child Engaged in New Languages and Cultures Today

5 days ago
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This summer, my colleague Nancy Sanchez created a thought-provoking piece about how cultural diversity is improving our classrooms. Finding examples in academic research, the Bible, and her own educational experiences, Nancy concluded that “benevolence towards foreigners is more than ‘the right thing to do’ — it also helps us and our children learn.”

I share Nancy’s belief in the spiritual and academic value of cultural diversity — as does everyone at AOPS.

Yet our ability to boost students’ cultural knowledge is limited to the classroom. Ultimately, it’s parents like you who have power to engage your child with new cultural experiences and expand his/her worldview. Here are a few ways you can launch your child’s pursuit of knowledge to spur incredible personal development!

1. Visit Nearby Cultural Events

Short of traveling to another country, local and regional events are perhaps the best way to get immersed in a new culture. Nearly every month of the year national, ethnic, and religious groups are putting on celebrations and observances that bring their unique cultures to light.

For example, Chinese New Year and Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, are great opportunities to get your child acquainted with new experiences, ideas, and people.

On that note, don’t feel that you or your child will be unwelcome as an “outsider” to events like these. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth! Event hosts, vendors, and attendees are there because they’re proud of their heritage, and are often ecstatic to explain the rich traditions, clothing, and food on display. Encourage your child to respectfully share any questions they have, and watch as people light up to show your child the beauty of their culture.

If you’re ever unsure of what activities are coming up, local newspapers or a quick internet search for cultural events can quickly inspire a day-trip.

image credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RipmUr-u5do

2. Watch Child-Friendly Foreign Language Television and Movies

The TV is a major source of American cultural learning for foreign children; why not use it to teach your child about other people and places?

You may be concerned that foreign language films are too difficult to approach. But with minimal dialog and over-the-top characters, many children’s TV shows and movies are simple to understand, even despite the language barrier. Parents may recall the classic children’s tale Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon), which moved two generations of children — despite most knowing little to no French. A good story can draw children in, and inspire them to learn more about words and concepts they don’t quite understand.

Due to the way modern content is created, you can also find digital or disc versions of any video that have a variety of options for spoken voice language and subtitles.

Try watching the Disney Latino channel with your child, or put on a film like Ponyo while turning subtitles on and off to see how much he/she can infer about the plot and characters.

image credit: https://www.amazon.com/Harry-Potter-LEcole-Sorciers-French/dp/2070643026

3. Read Familiar Foreign Language Books and Audio Books

For a child who is not yet fluent in another language, reading an entirely new book in that tongue may seem impossible. Instead, find the foreign language version of a story with which your child is already familiar.

From something as simple as a fairy tale to the French editions of Harry Potter, find a story your child has already nearly memorized. By jumping in with existing knowledge about key events and character names, he or she will be able to deduce much more about what’s going on — and what specific words mean.

Foreign language versions of familiar books may also spark research and discussion about differences between editions. If a name, word, or plot device is changed from the original version, help your child find out why. There may be an interesting cultural reason the concept could not be directly translated.

4. Find Content on YouTube

It probably goes without saying, but the world’s largest video hosting platform has hundreds of thousands of clips from nearly every nation on Earth.

Quick searches can yield Sesame Street skits in Italian, or Icelandic episodes of Lazy Town. But there are also more serious videos available, including live performances of gospel music concerts in Africa, and educational content about Mexican festivals and traditions.

Just one generation ago, content like this would have been limited to specific timeslots on programming like Nova from PBS; today, you can explore and experience an endless amount of global content with your child at any time.

image source: http://pbskids.org/curiousgeorge/busyday/span_index.html

5. Play Educational Videogames

In addition to educational software you can buy in store or online, websites like PBS en Español offer a wide range of free games in new languages. With easy-to-understand objectives featuring well-known characters like Curious George or Maya & Miguel, these games can quickly engage your child in both cultural and linguistic lessons. As long as you’re managing your child’s screen time effectively, more playing equals more learning.

If your child is already an entrenched gamer, you should know that many popular games come with alternate language and subtitle tracks built-in. Check the Audio or Sound options in any game’s title or pause menus to see what’s available — then challenge your child to beat his or her favorite game in a new language!

Get Started Today

At AOPS, we don’t believe multi-cultural awareness is just a tool for learning language. It’s a life-broadening experience that is infused into how we teach, how we empower students, and how we guide them to interact with one another.

As a parent, you have the power to build your child’s understanding and empathy of other people’s cultures outside the classroom. If you can get your child involved with one of these fun activities, you can help build a more informed and aware community today.