If you’ve ever lived abroad before, have you ever come across local families who didn’t speak their native language at home as a matter of course? It’s not a very common situation, which makes it all the more striking, as well as seriously intriguing. Why do they do that? Why would a family in China, for example, have a practice whereby parents and kids alike all spoke English at home?
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There are actually some quite compelling reasons why families do this, and therefore why too you should perhaps consider it as part of your own family life.
It Creates a Strong and Immersive Language Environment
Immersion is one of the most powerful and meaningful elements when it comes to learning a new language. Why do some families in Europe turn their homes into havens of French or German speaking, for instance, even when the kids are already learning it at school?
Making that language the lingua franca of the home means they have a place to practice their skills and deepen their knowledge. They can use words and phrases they’ve learned at school, but also rapidly expand their skills by learning from other family members. That brings us neatly to the next point.
It Makes Language Learning Cooperative
When the family comes together to try and speak a foreign language as their mode of communication in the home, they will inevitably feed off each other, which has an exponential effect on the speed and efficacy of everyone’s learning.
Siblings share interesting and fun things they’ve learned with each other, and each family member learns not by turning to a dictionary or phrasebook and then memorizing, but by asking (also using the new language) other family members for help. When the family works together as a team, everyone learns a lot more, and in a much shorter period of time.
Everyone Can Feel More Connected During Family Vacations
Another reason families often choose to build this kind of language environment in the home is because they might regularly vacation in places where this target language is spoken. If a Korean family spends every summer in the US, for instance, then it helps for everyone to be proficient in that language.
When they arrive in America for vacation time, everyone can pitch in with confidence. It doesn’t matter who goes to the grocery store to stock up, or who talks to the restaurant or hotel staff, because everyone is on the same page, linguistically. When only one person in the family speaks the language, it can be exhausting for them to spend all their time translating for everyone and being the “official spokesperson.” Furthermore, it’s a nice way for everyone in the family to blend into their surroundings. An English family who speak Spanish at home will blend very well into their summer Spanish home, integrating into the community instead of sticking out like tourists.
It Helps Kids Think More Creatively
For the kids in particular, maintaining a strong and productive language learning environment in the home by speaking a language together as a family gives them a real leg-up in developing creativity. Learning a new language is essentially the same as learning an entirely new way to think about something.
Western students who grow up in a Korean- or Chinese-speaking environment, for example, find that they can become far more adept when it comes to numbers and arithmetic. The way these two East Asian languages structure numbers is far more conducive to mathematical thinking than English because it’s easier to visualize the numbers as you’re saying them.
A new language gives a child an entirely new cultural and creative perspective. Seeing things from at least two different angles provides better scope for coming up with great, innovative solutions to problems in their lives, and becomes a skill that serves them for life.
Everyone Learns a Valuable Skill
Speaking of skills, it doesn’t stop at stronger creative thinking. In learning and speaking a new language together, families all learn a practical skill that serves them well in their professional personal lives. Whether you see it as a job-seeking tool, or just a tool for better communication with people of other countries and cultures, it is an enviable and admirable skill to have in one’s collection.
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