Speaking in tongues: the many benefits of bilingualism

 The Conversation

Teresa Parodi, University of Cambridge

We live in a world of great linguistic diversity. More than half of the world’s population grows up with more than one language. There are, on the other hand, language communities that are monolingual, typically some parts of the English-speaking world. The Conversation

In this case, bilingualism or multilingualism can be seen as an extraordinary situation – a source of admiration and worry at the same time. But there are communities where bilingualism or multilingualism are the norm – for example in regions of Africa. A Cameroonian, for example, could speak Limbum and Sari, both indigenous languages, plus Ewondo, a lingua franca, plus English or French, the official languages, plus Camfranglais, a further lingua franca used between anglophone and francophone Cameroonians.

On a smaller scale, we all know families where bilingualism or multilingualism are the norm, because the parents speak different languages or because the family uses a language different from that of the community around them.

How difficult is it for a child to grow up in such an environment? And what are bilingual children capable of? Well, they are capable of quite a lot, even at a very young age. They can understand and produce expressions in more than one language, they know who to address in which language, they are able to switch very fast from one language to the other.

Noses for grammar

Clearly we are talking here of a range of different skills: social, linguistic and cognitive. Social skills are the most known: bilingual children are able to interact with speakers of (at least) two languages and thus have direct access to two different cultures.

But they also have linguistic skills, some very obvious, such as understanding and using words and expressions in different languages. A less obvious aspect is that bilingual children have a raised awareness for how language “works”. For example, bilinguals are better than monolinguals of the same age at pinpointing that the sentence “apples growed on trees” is bad, and “apples grow on noses” is fine, but doesn’t make sense.

Less known are the cognitive skills developed by bilinguals, an issue of great interest for research at the moment, as seen, for example, in work by Ellen Bialystok and colleagues. Probably due to the practice of switching languages, bilinguals are very good at taking different perspectives, dealing with conflicting cues and ignoring irrelevant information. This skill can be applied to domains other than language, making it an added value of bilingualism.

Is it worth it?

What if one of the languages is not a “useful” one because, for example, it does not have many speakers (for example, Cornish)? Is it worth exposing the child to it? The linguistic, social and cognitive advantages mentioned above hold, independently of the specific languages. Any combination of languages has the same effect.

A common worry is that trying to speak two (or more) languages could be too strenuous for the child. But there is no need for concern: learning to speak is more similar to learning to walk than it is to learning a school subject. Learning to speak is genetically programmed. The brain is certainly able to cope with more than one language, as research and experience shows.

Telling you where to get off in two languages.
Rob Crandall/Shutterstock.com

There could be a practical problem, though, in providing enough exposure to the languages. The stress is then on the parents to ensure the opportunity to interact with speakers of the languages in question. Bilingualism is not genetic: having parents who speak different language does not guarantee a bilingual child.

Code-switching is cool

Another frequent worry is that of the child learning two half languages, short of the “proper” version of either of them. One may, for example, hear bilinguals – children and adults – using words or expressions from two or more of the languages in their linguistic repertoire in a single sentence or text, a phenomenon known as code-switching.

Often people assume that the main reason for doing this is a lack of sufficient proficiency in one of the languages, such that the speaker cannot continue in the language they started in. They also often assume that the choice of the words from one language or the other is random. Far from it. Code-switching is common among bilinguals and, contrary to popular belief, it follows grammatical rules.

Research has shown regular patterns in code-switching, influenced by the languages concerned, by community norms and by which language(s) people learn first or use more frequently. Very often, code-switchers are very highly proficient in the languages concerned. Code-switching also follows social rules: bilingual children only use it if they know the interlocutor knows the “other” language.

Additionally, if asked for clarification, they know if they have spoken too quietly or used the wrong language, and only switch in the latter case. Both bilingual children and adults have a range of reasons, including sociolinguistic reasons to code-switch. Code-switching can be cool!

All typically developing children will learn one language. To learn more than one they need the opportunity and the motivation. Growing up with more than one language is an asset well worth the investment.

Teresa Parodi, Lecturer of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Meet Mr. Roscoe Overton, Sr., a Diligent Force for Bilingual Education for All

During our first meeting, Mr. Overton explained to me how he has learned to redefine himself many times throughout the various stages in his life.  Mr. Roscoe Overton, Sr. is from a well known and well respected African American family with a long lineage in Austin, TX.  Even an elementary school in North East Austin, Overton Elementary, bears the family name.  The school is named after an important brother,  Volma R. Overton, a civil rights activist and former president of the NAACP’s Austin Chapter who led the legal effort to end school segregation in Austin, TX.  Today, Roscoe continues the fight for access to quality early childhood and elementary education by promoting bilingual and multicultural education.  

Holding a BA degree in Graphic Design and Printing from TSU, Houston and a MA in School Administration from TSU, Nashville, Roscoe has served in the military, worked for private graphics and printing companies, served as Administrator of the non-medical staff at the University of Tennessee’s Medical School and as an Investigator for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.  Roscoe retired from his career as an Investigator and with his wife, Johnnie, resettled back to Austin, Texas. Roscoe’s intention after retiring was to enjoy his free time by pursuing his love for golf.  However, to help adjust to Austin’s current culture after years of being away and inspired by the fact that his wife is an educator, Roscoe decided to substitute teach.  It was during his experience as a substitute teacher that Roscoe realized the power of bilingual education as a bridge to bring diverse communities together.

In 2007, Roscoe, came out of retirement to redefine himself once again as the Founder and Executive Director of The Overton Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting bilingual education for all with special emphasis in serving the African American community.   The mission is similar to that of Think Bilingual Austin in that it recognizes that bilingualism and multiculturalism is a strong uniting factor in bringing diverse communities together. The Overton Group’s initial focus was to develop a strong Spanish curriculum to serve predominant  African American Pre-K Daycare Centers.  Roscoe’s dedication and commitment to The Overton Group is second to none and his commitment has been paying off.  Not being a bilingual educator himself, Roscoe procured funds to hire professional staff to develop a strong curriculum to teach Spanish to preschoolers and lower elementary age students.  The curriculum developed is titled the Hilo (™) Curriculum.  The word hilo in Spanish means thread and it also serves as an acronym for “Harmonious Intervention through Language Opportunities.”  

The Hilo (™) curriculum centers around its main character, a little boy named Tito.  Tito is an Afro-latino boy and is represented in the classroom as both a doll and in pictures throughout the Spanish curriculum; he represents a child who is helping other children learn his native language.  Today the Hilo (™) curriculum is used in both private and public schools and its success has been proven.  Independent research by AISD, Department of Research and Evaluation showed progress of children at two different schools who adopted the Hilo (™) curriculum for their preschool program. The data found that the Spanish language differentiation between native Spanish speakers and non-native Spanish speakers narrowed significantly in both schools by the third semester.  See graphs below.

Despite this early success in developing a strong curriculum, Roscoe has not given up on one of his key objectives, which is to increase access to bilingual education for the underserved African American communities.   Roscoe realizes that to be successful, parent support and activism for dual language learning in public schools in the African American community is crucial.  For Roscoe, his mission includes not only developing strong curriculum but also reaching out to the hearts and minds of the parents in this community.  By first appealing to the emotions of joy and pride that parents experience in seeing their children speak more than one language, Roscoe hopes that he can then reach out even more to these parents by increasing their understanding on the multitude of benefits these children gain by being bilingual.  The Hilo (™) curriculum for preschools was an important start and stepping stone.  Roscoe continues his outreach to local churches, Parent Support Specialists,  leaders in the Dual Language Department at Austin ISD, local PTA groups and many other organizations that support or promote bilingual or dual language education.  

Little by little, continued success is being achieved.  This year, the first dual language class started up at Pecan Springs Elementary and Overton Elementary, one of the few public title 1 schools in East Austin that currently uses the Overton Group’s Spanish curriculum in their preschool program.







For this summer, Roscoe is organizing a free language, music and movement based program for economically disadvantaged children in North East Austin in grades preschool to second grade.  The program, called the World Language Festival, will be held from June 5  to June 15  at Pecan Springs Elementary School from 9 am to 11:30 am Monday through Thursday.  The goal of this program is to provide kids with meaningful language and cultural immersion by learning about select island nations in the Caribbean.  The children will learn and about and experience the rich contributions made by the African, Taino and European cultures in that region through music, dance, art and story telling.  The program will end with the children providing a music and dance performance in both Spanish and French for their parents.  

To help pay for this World Language Festival, Roscoe turns to one of his favorite pastime sports, golf.  On April 21, Roscoe’s group will host a golf tournament fundraiser at Morris Williams Golf Course to help pay for this summer program.  Roscoe  hopes that given program success, he can continue growing these types of programs throughout East Austin, furthering his outreach to both students and parents.  To participate in or donate to the golf tournament, please find the pdf flyer linked here.

In getting to know Mr. Roscoe Overton, Sr. through our nonprofit collaboration,  what stands out to me most is Roscoe’s words about “redefining” himself.  It is an empowering concept that reminds us all that we are truly capable of redefining ourselves to make a positive difference not only in our own lives but also in the lives of others.  Thank you, Roscoe Overton, for this important life lesson and for being a shining example of what is possible when you are committed to a cause. 

We at Think Bilingual Austin support the Overton Group's  initiatives, as we are both nonprofit organizations with a shared mission.  Click here to learn more about the Overton Group and about the Hilo (™) Spanish curriculum.  


5 Tips for Using Bilingual Books in the Classroom & Home

Bilingual books are a great resource for bridging two different languages. They offer educators the chance to teach students in the school language while providing a tool for home language development and parental involvement among dual language families.

Studies have shown that supporting a child’s home language is very important for enhancing academic performance, even in cases where the language spoken at school is not the same as the language spoken at home. Children do better in school when their parents read to them, communicate, and engage in daily tasks and activities in the language in which they are most comfortable.

Below are 5 tips on how parents and educators can use bilingual books in the classroom and at home to improve literacy skills and encourage cultural appreciation.

Read bilingual books in English and show students written text in a second language.

Teachers or parents can use bilingual stories to familiarize children with other languages that use the Roman alphabet as well as languages with different letters and symbols, such as Hindi and Korean. This way, children can better understand that written speech and letters have varied forms.

Read a bilingual book in the school language and then read it in the home language.

In addition to supporting a child’s overall language development, reading at home with parents strengthens the child-parent bond and helps the parent teach about their shared culture and language. Teachers can read a book in English at school and then lend it to a child to read at home, or parents with dual-language skills can read the book in both languages.

Read culturally relevant bilingual books.

When educators read multicultural books that show texts from other parts of the world, they are imparting knowledge about various cultures, customs and traditions. This promotes a climate of cultural diversity and tolerance.

Engage children with question and answer sessions and discussion in both the school and home languages.

Bilingual books can offer the chance to discuss the same subjects in two separate languages. Teachers can initiate communication in the school’s language, while parents can do the same in their home language. Children can be sent home with a list of suggested topics for discussion to use with parents at home.

Parents or other volunteers read a bilingual book in the non-dominant language in school.

Teachers can invite parents to participate in reading bilingual books in their home language to the class. The teacher can then read the book in the school language. This enhances the bonds between the class and the family/community. It also makes parents feel welcome and provides an opportunity for them to share their expertise. If parents are unable to come to the classroom, other teachers or community members who know the home language can be invited to read in the second language.

These are just a few examples of ways that teachers and parents can use bilingual books at school and at home. The aim is to build a child’s overall literacy and communication skills, ensure that they are proud of their culture and language, and help them become understanding, multicultural citizens.


Author: Anneke Forzani is President and Founder of Language Lizard LLC, which offers bilingual books, dual-language audio products and multilingual resources to teachers, librarians and bilingual families. Language Lizard also provides free multicultural lesson plans to promote tolerance and cultural understanding in diverse classrooms.



Familia y hogar Expo_Consejos para promover el bilingüismo en su casa.

This weekend Univision hosts its annual Familia y hogar expo.  

Think Bilingual Austin will be there hosting several workshops and activity table at this event.  Come by and say “hello”.  Here is  is a document in Spanish with important tips on how families can promote bilingualism.  Consejos para ayudar a las familias a ser bilingües.

“La importancia de hablar dos idioma.” por Univision.


How Parents Organize to Bring Second Language Learning into Their Public Schools

Languages other than English (LOTE) instruction has continued to decline for students in public elementary and middle school over the past decades (click here for more details of this trend).  With tighter budgets directly tied to performance on standardized achievement tests, many administrators view LOTE programs as  unnecessary for academic success, especially for districts in which the majority of the students already speak the dominant language, English.  As a consequence, the lack of academic value that is assigned to second language learning in these early grades have made these programs easy targets for budget cuts.  This is occurring at a time when more and more studies show the cognitive and social emotional benefits of second language learning.   As a result, many informed parents have begun to organize to put pressure on their  local districts to offer LOTE programs in early education and elementary school.  Their efforts have slowly begun to payoff.

How Parents Unite to Bring Second Language Instruction to their Local Schools:

PTA Funded In-School Programs

In wealthy districts like Tarrytown and Barton Hills in Austin Texas, where median household income is more than $84,000, many PTA groups have been successful at  organizing fundraisers to self-finance language learning programs to benefit all students in their district.  Some of these PTA funded programs have been successful at sustaining their LOTE programs.  However, many PTA funded programs like this often begin strong only to  fizzle out within a few years later.  We found that the success of PTA funded LOTE programs are limited to and highly dependent upon three key factors:

(1) the cohesiveness of the PTA’s stance on LOTE programs,

(2) the PTA’s fundraising abilities, and

(3) the willingness of the school administration to set aside time in the school day for language instruction that does not crowd out other important programs (including recess).  

After-School Second Language Learning Classes

In wealthy districts where one of these three measures fail to hold, many parents opt to simply bring after-school language learning programs to the school so that the parents who want language learning can directly pay for their child to have language learning classes after regular school hours.  Such after-school programs have become increasing popular and are more commonly found in wealthier school districts.    Despite welcomed increase growth, these LOTE programs are fundamentally limited to:

 (1) children whose parents understand the value of those programs,

(2) children whose parents have the funds to pay for those programs,

(3) children who can withstand intensive extended instruction time after already being in school for more than 7 hours,

(4) children who do not have competing programs on the days the LOTE programs are offered.

Both of the aforementioned methods to bring LOTE programs to students ( PTA funded in-school classes and parent paid after school programs) rely on the existence of independent private institutions that can be contracted to bring those LOTE programs to the district.  The quality of independent programs vary greatly; and because they are expensive, they are often out of reach economically to poorer districts with limited resources and fundraising mechanisms.

Independent Non-Profit for LOTE Instruction In-School

Parents in a moderately wealthy district in Austin created a new alternate route for providing in-school LOTE instruction for each elementary student in their district at a fraction of the cost of the above described outsourcing methods.  The parents at Lee Elementary formed a separate non-profit organization called Amigos de Russell Lee to fund and oversee second language instruction in their school.

The benefits of creating a separate non-profit had several immediate benefits.  

  • One clear benefit was that by removing the funding and oversight of the LOTE instruction from the PTA committees, political infighting within the PTA committees on this topic was hampered.  Speaking with two parents who were involved in setting up the non-proft, they explained to me every year, the PTA committee would send out a survey to see if parents were interested in Spanish instruction in their school.  The results on the survey were fairly consistent year after year with approximately 75% in favor of Spanish instruction and approximately 25% not in favor.  However, these parents found that depending on which parents were involved in the PTA and to what level, the parents that represented the minority could easily curtail the efforts of LOTE instruction within PTA.  Thus, by creating the independent non-profit, the organizing and funding for the LOTE program no longer required PTA committee approval or support.  Instead, the non-profit is able to work in the interest of the majority of parents who support LOTE instruction through direct outreach and follow-up surveys that demonstrate broad support.


  • Another benefit was that it gave the nonprofit leadership direct access to the  school administration to hold it more accountable in delivering quality LOTE instruction.  Rather than having to work through the PTA, which manages a wide variety of issues, a separate non-profit allows parent representatives to have more effective and direct face time with the principal  and the administration staff specifically on LOTE instruction and it allows for the creation of accountability measures to make ensure that the LOTE instruction is being implemented effectively and efficiently.


  • Thirdly, the nonprofit was able to collaborate more effectively with administration and staff, which lead to huge cost savings for LOTE instruction.  By taking advantage of the fact that many of the teachers at Lee  Elementary also have Spanish as a second language, the non-profit and school administration was able to utilize existing teachers to create effective Spanish language instruction for each grade by offering an increased stipend for bilingual education to those teachers, rather than hiring external part-time language instructors.  By using existing teachers rather than a private independent organization, parents saved many thousands of dollars per year without sacrificing effective Spanish language instruction.

How to create an effective nonprofit to promote LOTE programs in your school

We asked the parents how might other parents organize to create their own nonprofit to support LOTE instruction in their schools.  Here is their response:

  • Identify Interest in LOTE instruction and build core constituents.

    • For Lee Elementary, the annual survey and the long term commitment through PTA fundraising for LOTE instruction demonstrated an existing high level of interest in offering Spanish language instruction to every student.  The key to create a nonprofit then was to find the parents who were also interested in taking the group to the next level by forming a core number of constituents.  This core number of constituents and broad support based on the surveys demonstrated to the school administration that the parents of Lee students were serious about having an effective Spanish language instruction for Lee students.
  • Communicate what the goal is right up front.

    • At very first meeting the team must define a unifying message.  This will require a leader or leaders who can help constituents first identify reasons for LOTE instruction such as cultural or academic exposure and then help unify those reasons under a common actionable goal.  For Amigos de Russell Lee the actionable goal is that each student in each grade receives appropriate level of Spanish language instruction beginning with 30 minutes per week with the ultimate goal of reaching 90 minute per week.
  • Define multiple leadership roles to avoid leadership fatigue.

    • With different parents taking on different roles, the burden is shared and more manageable and sustainable.  Roles include chair over curriculum development, oversight chair, school administration liaison, secretary.  Be sure to have someone to schedule regular meeting to keep momentum alive to achieve goals.
  • Demonstrate to the school that your organization can fund the initiative.

    • Before initiating the creation of a nonprofit, the PTA of Lee Elementary had a long history of fundraising to pay for Spanish language instruction.  Yet, in confronting the school administration through this new endeavor, organizers recognized that they could not afford to wait to see what funds they could raise later in the year through fundraising.  So to address the issue of funds head on, the nonprofit organizers asked parents in each grade if they would be willing to make a financial pledge and to state what that pledge would be toward Spanish language instruction.  The results of a pledge for each grade gave the nonprofit considerable leverage to demonstrate that they not only had the backing of the parents but also that parents were willing to pledge funds to help fund it.  With broad parent support and money to fund it, the resistance to promote Spanish language learning in both the administration and PTA diminished.


Despite lower costs to implement, organizing an independent nonprofit still poses significant challenges.  First and foremost, it requires parents who already value the learning of a second language and who are willingness to support it financially.  It  not only requires parents who have both the time and resources to organize and finance the LOTE instruction but also relies on existing teachers to have some level of proficiency to teach in the desired second language.  As a result, parents in poorer districts with limited resources and limited parent engagement may find this approach challenging to implement.  For this reason, we need to continue to put pressure on public school districts to offer quality access to second language learning for all students beginning in early education and continuing through middle school, regardless of wealth.


Embrace Multiculturalism and Embrace Your Humanity

Shortly after I moved to Texas, I met up with my good friend and former college roommate, Stephanie.  Stephanie is German and she had moved to Corpus Christi, Texas with her husband one year prior to my moving to Austin.  When we first reunited, she told me about an interesting discovery she had made.  While sitting in her car stopped at a red light, she heard the same style of music that her grandparents use to listen to when she was a little girl but in a language she couldn’t understand.  She looked around to see where the music was coming from and then realized that it was coming from a car next to her.  But instead of an old person, she saw a hispanic youth jamming out to the familiar music.  That was when Stephanie first discovered that much of Texas culture was indeed an intermixing and cross-pollination of cultures with strong roots from German/Eastern Europe and Mexico.  (For more on the history of Tejano music, click here.)

Since the beginning of trade, mankind has been very adept at adopting and redefining cultural ideas, customs, traditions and beliefs through multicultural exchange.  In fact, rather than being a product of isolation we are, by our very nature, a product of multiculturalism.  Unfortunately, in the name of greed and power, countless people from differing cultures have been persecuted, enslaved and discriminated against.  Yet, in spite of it all, many of these same cultures have made and continue to make considerable contributions to our society as a whole.

In rejection to xenophobia and isolationism, let us come together and recognize the value that each group brings.  Let us build mutual respect for each other and avoid repeating atrocities to innocent life caused by hatred, discrimination and persecution.  Let us connect through our shared values that unite us as humans and discover the beauty in our differences.  Let us look through the eyes of others with understanding and find ways to work together regardless of skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender and socioeconomic status.  Let us be what is so innate to human nature, let us embrace multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is not a rejection of your own culture; but rather it allows you to learn more about your own culture as you also learn about and build respect for the cultures of others.  It is important to remember that no culture is without negative aspects and no culture is inherently good.  Multiculturalism is also not an open door for accepting human rights abuses and discrimination based on gender, race or socioeconomic status.  Rather, multiculturalism beckons you to come with an open mind to appreciate the good in other cultures (as well as your own) with the understanding that no culture is without faults.  Moreover, when we embrace multiculturalism, we also open ourselves up to new possibilities, creative expression and insight that we can in turn alter in ways that make it our ownjust like the early Tejano musicians did after being exposed to the German and Czech music and adopting the accordion in their musical repertoire.

How to embrace multiculturalism:

Be open to meeting and engaging with people who are from different backgrounds.

  • Volunteer with programs that serve the refugee or immigrant communities and other underserved communities;
  • Host exchange students and/or families;
  • Attend cultural events and celebrations;
  • Make a genuine effort to build friendships with others with backgrounds and ethnicities that differ from your own;
  • Introduce yourself and your family to books with diverse characters;
  • Watch plays, movies and other performing arts with diverse characters who tell their story through acting or song;
  • Enjoy trying new types of cuisine from family run restaurants.  While you are there, talk to the owners and staff.

Be prepared to be both accepted and rejected:

  • While multiculturalism is innate to humans, so is discrimination and tribalism.  Regardless of culture, you will always find people who resent any aspect of their culture and/or language being shared with or appropriated by others.  This is especially true for cultural groups who have been or continue to be discriminated against.  For this reason, mutual respect and cultural understanding are extremely critical for any fruitful multicultural exchange.
  • Acknowledge your ignorance.  No group of people is without bias. Bias based on media images, ingrained cultural and/or generational prejudices and du jour religious doctrines further fuel our ignorance and reduce other groups to often negative stereotypes.  When you meet others from difference cultures, be humble to the fact that until you are intimately connected with that culture, you remain ignorant with preset biases.

Other related links:






Five Important Things To Do This Year To Become Bilingual

Happy New Year!   We begin our post this year with five important tips for becoming bilingual combined with posts from previous years to help you and your family learn or enhance your second language throughout 2017. 


1. Enroll in a Language Learning Program

Today more and more options are becoming available to help children and adults learn a second language or to become more proficient and bi-literate in their native language. Whether you choose to enroll in a dual-language or bilingual school, take language classes  in person or online, or use downloadable applications (or a mixture of the above), one of the most important things to look for in a language learning program is the type of feedback it provides.  Look for programs that offer immediate constructive feedback. This type of feedback is important because:  (1) it allows language learners to correct and learn from mistakes, (2) it guides and keeps learners on track with their goals, and (3) motivates and energizes continued learning.  Conversely, the absent of feedback can be detrimental in language learning because it not only stifles learning but also creates a false picture of a student’s progress, with some students becoming overly critical while others becoming overly confident.  As a consequence, the student may become less motivated and more likely to not want to continue.

Other related posts that may be of interest:

Choosing the Right Bilingual Program: Curriculum

Choosing the Right Bilingual Program: Teachers

Choosing the Right Bilingual Program: Organizational Structure

Find online language learning programs in our online resources listing.


2. Create Meaningful Connections 

Languages being learned should be relevant and purposeful and tap into our desire to communicate and to connect with others.  Both home and school environments are great starting points for language learning.  However, to develop language proficiency, language use must also extend beyond the home and school through meaningful relationships with friends and/or relatives, community involvement and activities and other meaningful experiences such as travel.  Getting involved in meet-up groups or play groups, volunteering language services in the community and developing meaningful relationships with others who speak the second language are all important ways for both adults and children to enhance their language skills and to connect with others. 

For more reading on this topic:

Raising a Bilingual Child – With One Bilingual Parent

Julie Slim, an Artist who’s Multilingual Voice Connects and Inspires

Kathryn Anderson: Pioneer and Entrepreneur in Bilingualism


3. Sing and Have Fun

Simple and catchy melodies have been shown to effectively develop phonetic pronunciation in unfamiliar languages and to more effectively improve memory recall for new vocabulary better than other means studied (Ludke, Ferreira, Overly). Singing combined with imagery and context also develops strong word association and language syntax.  Moreover, most everyone enjoys singing regardless of age or music ability–making it a perfect tool for language learning and language practice.  Most preschool language programs already incorporate singing to help young learners develop language skills.   However, given the clear benefits to singing, we encourage children of all ages and adults to engage in singing for continued language development.  

For further reading on this topic:

Sing and Ye Shall Learn! Why Singing is Important to Language Acquisition

Context Is Key!

What Music Do You Play In Your House?–Spanish Songs for Families

For songs online in French and Spanish check out our online listing.


4. Read and Explore

Reading regularly in a second language increases vocabulary and language structure.  Even if your family speaks the second language at home, reading in the language enables significant language development by adding context and topics that are not commonly discussed in daily life.  Books and stories do not need to be complex for language learners to benefit from reading.   Parents who know how to read a second language can read to their child either at or just above the child’s language reading ability.  For parents who do not read the second language but whose child is enrolled in a bilingual bi-literacy program, have your child read to you a wide variety of simple books that you can easily understand with pictures to encourage your child to read and teach you.  Both of you will significantly increase vocabulary and language knowledge while creating a meaningful shared experience.   Thus, no matter if you or your child is a new language learner or someone already proficient in the second language, read regularly on a level that is most comfortable and enjoyable for continued growth and enrichment in the second language.

For further reading on this topic:

Please Read!…To be Bilingual.

The LIBRARY for LEARNING a LANGUAGE: materials in world languages


5. Engage in Experiential Learning

You cannot learn how to ride a bike unless you actually get on it and try multiple times until you master it.  The same  applies to language learning.  The concept of experiential learning adds to the concept of meaningful connections by extending it to the world we live in and our relationship with it.  The exploration of arts, science, technology and social sciences is fundamental in experiential learning.  One way to engage in active experiential learning is through developing projects based on inquiry in the language being learned by imploring a variety of disciplines.  For example, one may explore the difference in biomes in the language being studied by creating meaningful projects around that study.  Such projects may incorporate independent research, dioramas, art, writing, and hands-on experiments. Moreover, engaging in presentations, theatrical plays, dance and other art forms are also important ways to create meaningful experiential learning opportunities to enhance language learning and development while exploring our relationship to others and our environment.  

For more ideas on how to create experiential learning opportunities:

 How to use Project Based Learning to be Bilingual

Language Learning Through the Arts

Looking for Bilingual Ideas and Activities for your Kids? Plan a Bilingual Field Trip!

Bilingual Theater

The Transformative Power of Bilingual and Multicultural Art

Bilingual Theater Productions Matter