5 Tips to Maximize Language Learning on a Family Trip

5 Tips to Maximize Language Learning on a Family Trip

Sandals, goggles, and swimsuit? Check! Authentic language learning, cultural immersion, and family fun? Double check!

A vacación with the kids is the perfect opportunity to create lasting memories together. It can also be a time for the family to use and expand their minority language!

We just returned from our first trip outside of the United States with our three children. It was a viaje (trip) I hope they’ll never forget! We vacationed in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where we were immersed in our target language of Spanish every day. With cultural learning, vocabulary development, and speaking practice, I appreciated each moment Spanish became the majority language around us.

Now I’m back and sharing some easy-to-implement ideas for you to maximize your own trip with your kids – whether it’s a language immersion trip or not.

Heading out on a vacation with your family? Make it an opportunity to expand your child’s minority language abilities with these five travel tips!

1. Build Background Before the Language Trip

Build background knowledge (and excitement) for your child with resources around your trip’s location. My favorite way to do this is to head to the library to check out books about the state, country, or region. Pick some books by authors from the area. Dive into new vocabulary learning about the geography you’ll explore (mountains, rivers, the ocean) and the activities you’ll do (snorkeling, skiing, or sand castle building).

What’s more, take the opportunity to find some books on new transportation words – will you fly in a plane, take a train, or ride a bus? Introduce your child to the new concepts you’ll experience on the trip together!

This important step helps your child develop the vocabulary they’ll need or learn on vacation. It will be a preview of the vocabulary and will get them excited for heading out. Then they’ll get to experience the new words firsthand as you vacation. “Look, Mom, there’s the market with all the stands and souvenirs like in our book!”

If your child is learning Spanish somewhere else (like school), and you don’t speak much of the language, I’ve got you covered. Review some useful travel phrases (from Storylearning.com) before you head out together!

Related post: Great Games to Get Your Language Learner Speaking (grab some ideas for the car/plane ride!)

Our basket of travel-themed books to build background before the trip

2. Seek out Cultural Experiences

As you plan out your trip (or while you’re there), choose some meaningful activities that will help your child learn about the local culture. Especially if you’re visiting a locale where your minority language is spoken. A very important piece of learning a language is learning about the culture of the people who speak it.

For us, taking a trip to Mexico meant my kids’ first time to a Spanish-speaking country. The first opportunity to experience the richness of Mexican culture firsthand!

Some experiences you might look for are visits to local museums or other places of history. This could mean trying out regional foods at local restaurants or markets. How about trying to find the best paletas (popsicles)? Go ahead, buy some mangoes and fresh coconut water on the beach! Or, of course, whatever local food is best known in the area.

It could be a trip to unique natural wonders in the area – cenotes and ruins, for example. Or, how about learning about local architecture together while exploring the city? Think about what interests your family and how you could incorporate cultural and language learning into the activity.

Enjoying fresh agua de coco (coconut water) on the beach in Playa del Carmen

3. Infuse Vocabulary Learning into New Activities

Have you seen your child’s eyes marvel at a new natural wonder lately? Kids have a way of reminding us how joyful and amazing it is to really slow down and experience something new.

On our trip, my children saw el océano (ocean) for the very first time. I wish I could show you their eyes full of excitement and wonder as they looked out into the crashing blue waves! My nine-year-old literally was yelling and jumping back and forth, daring the waves to crash up and touch him.

Think about this wonder as you plan your activities, and consider all the amazing new words your child can learn about each experience. For example, that first time at the ocean brought a flood of sea and beach-related word learning (waves, tide, sea urchin, scallop shell, palapa…). Don’t shy away from adding rich, complex language to your child’s listening vocabulary!

When we took our older two out on a catamaran, they snorkeled at a coral reef. With my help, and our guide who also spoke Spanish, we practiced words like snorkeling fins, scuba divers, brain coral, and sea anemone.

Take advantage of each day’s activities to explicitly teach your child new (fun and exciting!) vocabulary words. Or review words you previewed in books when you see them in real life!

Here are some helpful Spanish ocean-themed vocabulary words for you (from Fluentin3months.com).

The public beach Playa Punta Esmeralda

4. Jot in a Daily Journal

My older two children are in first and third grades, and their teachers requested they write about their daily fun in a journal. I was grateful for the extra incentive as I had already picked special notebooks for them to write about the trip in Spanish!

For younger children beginning to write, have them write down new words with a picture (pick a reasonable number for each day). They can draw the new word and then label it in Spanish or in both languages.

Related post: Bilingual Picture Dictionaries for Kids

Logging our fun daily activities in his travel journal

For older children, have them write a few sentences or a whole page about the day. With writers like my daughter who love to expand, you might only need to set aside a special time and place for them to write about the day. And for kids (like my son) who need specific parameters, I recommend a set number of sentences – try 5 or 10 things they did that day.

This writing time will further solidify their new vocabulary learning. They’ll need to recall unfamiliar words (“How did we say ‘reef’ in Spanish??”). What’s more, they might ask about new language to express their thoughts (“What do you call the trees along the beach? [mangrove trees]”).

When you get home, you can review all the fun memories (and learning!) and make a book of your trip.

A coati peeking down at us from a mangrove tree

5. Encourage Experiences with Minority Language Speakers

Can I tell you my favorite Spanish language moment of our recent trip? My seven-year-old daughter made a little amiga while swimming. Her name was Gracia and she lives in Chile, and they were fast friends chatting away in Spanish and enjoying the water together. But the best part was when Gracia’s dad stopped my husband as they were leaving. He asked, “Is this your daughter?” Yes. “And she says you’re from Minnesota?!?” Yes. “How does she speak such good Spanish??”

My husband doesn’t speak Spanish, but talked with the dad in English. He explained that I’ve been using Spanish with our children since birth and that they attend a bilingual school. You can bet this mama was very proud of her bilingual little girl!

My daughter was able to connect and befriend someone new because of her language skills. What better way to see the authentic value for learning Spanish!

Will your trip take you to a place where your minority language is spoken? Look for experiences – big and small – for your child to speak the language! This could be as simple as using it with store clerks, restaurant waiters, or airport staff.

Interact in the minority language as often as you can. We used our Spanish with a local woman who braided my daughter’s hair, with the guides who took us snorkeling, with local families playing on the beach – and much more!

Reap the Benefits of Language Learning Memories

I hope you’ll make your next family vacation a language learning opportunity! As you explore and make memories together, you’ll also be boosting your child’s vocabulary and language skills. There’s no better way to learn new language than through authentic experiences with the people you love.

What other language trip tips would you add to the list? I’d love if you shared in the comments for other parents! Please take a look at some of the related posts below, and connect with Bilingual Balance through social media.

5 Tips to Maximize Language Learning on a Family Trip

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