How do we teach and maintain multiple languages in the home?

By Valerie Barbosa

Dad is Brazilian, mom is Venezuelan, and we live in the U.S. So, how do we make sure our children get the best of both of our cultures? The answer is language. It is through language that our preschool-aged children now speak and enjoy speaking Portuguese, Spanish and soon enough, English. 

Here are some tips that I’ve learned along the way that help support our language learning:

Cultivating a reading habit

It is never too early to start reading to your kids in your native language. By hearing language sounds and pronunciations over and over again, children’s brains, already in the process of rapidly forming, absorb so much more than imaginable. Read to your children every day, let them touch the books, use your finger to show them each word and its meaning, and make these moments a special time full of love and learning. 

Sing to them in your native language

Music connects us to our cultural roots, especially when it comes to songs from our own childhoods. Canticos Books are excellent for achieving this goal. With beautiful illustrations and adorable characters, your small children will feel the love and nostalgia that mom and dad bring to the songs that our own mothers and grandmothers sang to us. Additionally, these songs are translated in English so kids can be introduced to what will be their primary language in a fun educational way. 

Using technology

There are many technological resources that help to stimulate language learning in a fun and engaging way. We like to adjust the language settings on our TV to Spanish or Portuguese for all of the shows we put on, which helps to elevate the level of exposure to the languages you want your kids to learn. Another wonderful tool is the Canticos Youtube channel, which features educational videos and songs in Spanish and English.

Everyone speak their native language in the home

It is worth it to make the effort. Children grow up relating each language with mom and dad and learn to communicate following these family practices. If our four-year-old sees me speaking portuguese or English, he will always say “Mami, habla Español”. And with his dad, he will do the same, asking that he only speak Portuguese. He is already accustomed to us speaking our respective languages and he likes it. It is incredible the capacity he has to flip the language “switch”, even though we are all speaking together. The mix is fantastic and he has learned to speak both of our languages, pronouncing each one perfectly and conjugating the different verbs. He is 100% fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese. 

Make use of teaching resources

There is an unlimited amount of resources created specially to help kids learn various languages. In our home Canticos has been our ally to achieve this, and I can tell that we are on the right track as our little ones already speak and understand our native languages and are now ready to start school and learn their third language, English. 

About the author Valerie is a Venezuelan-American writer. She lives in Miami with her Brazilian husband and two little ones. She created Relatos de Familia, a multicultural parenting blog that reflects her trilingual family and their faith at the center of their lives. Valerie is passionate about encouraging and guiding families going through difficult times and celebrating parenthood moments and learnings to inspire others. Follow Valerie on Instagram @relatosdefamilia. 

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