How can you build community around your minority language?
Bilingual parenting can feel like a lonely path at times. I know it has for me, especially as a non-native Spanish speaker trying to teach my children a language that we rarely hear in our small Midwest community.
Yet finding opportunities in which my children and I can use our Spanish out in the local community, connect with other people who speak it, and build relationships around Spanish make such an impact. They tell my children that our Spanish has value outside of our home. They increase both language exposure and a need for learning and using the language. And they make it fun and appealing to be BILINGUAL!
When we’re teaching our children a second language, it is important that they see how meaningful it is to communicate authentically with other people. And while we could take them on a trip to another country, there are also opportunities in our own communities to meet this goal. Whether online or in person, it is imperative that we intentionally search for and find opportunities for our children to practice, strengthen, and expand their language skills.
It isn’t always easy to create community around a minority language, but it is definitely worth it. Here are some ways that I have worked to build relationships around Spanish – both as a parent with my own three children and as a dual language teacher working with families and teachers from around the world. Perhaps one would work for you, too!
Could you organize or join a local bilingual playgroup? When you meet other friends who speak your language, set up a play date together! You might decide to create a weekly get-together where you try to only use your minority language, encouraging the children to use it together. This might be an opportunity for your kids to connect – but it could also be an opportunity for encouragement and inspiration from another bilingual parent or caregiver. Or an excellent chance to practice your own Spanish if you’re a non-native speaker like me.
2. Local Classes
If you have any opportunities to enroll your child in a minority language class with other children, make them a priority! Finding other children who are learning the language – or already speak it – can provide a great incentive for your children. When my own children were toddlers and preschoolers, we tried out a weekly Spanish immersion class and enjoyed every minute of singing, dancing, playing, and learning.
Related post: Ideas for Supporting Second Language Learning at Home (whether you speak it or not!)
3. Virtual Classes
While in-person local classes may not be an option for everyone, there are many choices now for online minority language classes and playgroups. Do a quick search or check for virtual class options through websites like Outschool or Sawyer. You can find teachers who offer Spanish language classes on a topic that interests your child! There are many virtual options for classes in Spanish online.
Get started with some virtual language learning ideas in Free Online Summer Spanish Learning for Kids.
4. Local Events
Does your community have a story time at the library in your language? This would be an excellent, free activity idea to practice the language and meet new people in your local community. What about other events like cultural festivals or weekend markets where you might be able to use your minority language and meet some friends who speak it?
Local colleges are often an excellent resource for finding events in different languages. If you live near the Twin Cities, Macalester College and Carleton College both have Spanish language resource lists (linked).
5. Child Care
Finding a child care center that prioritizes your minority language will allow you to continue your child’s language input while you work. You might also look for a babysitter or nanny who speaks your language that would use it with your children. The more people who speak the language with our children, the more they see it as important, meaningful, and needed in their everyday lives.
Related post: Twin Cities Spanish Immersion Summer Camps (many sites offer child care year-round)
6. Bilingual Schooling
If your local community has a dual language or immersion school, I encourage you to consider it for child! Read this popular post on Choosing Bilingual Education for your child. A school program in which your child can meet, learn from, and build relationships with other speakers of your language would be an invaluable resource for creating community.
As part of the program, teachers and parents can create family gatherings, fun kids’ events, virtual get-togethers, and a Facebook group for parents. They can also organize park dates, special events, and support groups for sharing helpful information among families.
If you homeschool bilingually, there are options for you, too! Search in your area for other homeschooling parents who may wish to form a weekly group or co-op for teaching support.
7. Find Your Tribe
Whether in-person or online, it is important to find a group of like-minded parents or caregivers raising little linguists. Perhaps there is a bilingual parenting group or book club in your area you could join. Make a point of connecting with other parents you and your children meet through bilingual child care, school, or other language events.
Or, you can find, follow, and connect with other parents on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook. Find your tribe to stay inspired! You can also share resource ideas, practical tips and tricks, and encouragement. Connect with Bilingual Balance on Instagram or Facebook.
8. Host an International Student
Have you ever considered hosting an international student through an organization like Education First? When I was in high school, my family hosted a German international student for a year and it was one of the most incredible, eye-opening experiences to learn about another country and culture firsthand from my “sister”. Hosting a student who speaks your minority language will give your children more insight into their culture, and the student might be willing to speak with them certain times of the week!
How about getting involved with a program that hosts international teachers like Amity International? At my dual language school in Iowa, we regularly recruited amazing teachers from Spain. There were a number of opportunities for parents and immersion families to get involved with meeting up with them, having them over for dinner, and taking them to see local spots of interest.
9. Pen Pals
How about connecting your child with a pen pal from across the world? Finding a friend – near or far – who speaks the language could give both children extra incentive for language learning. And what an opportunity for learning about another culture and way of life – not to mention literacy skill building!
Have you tried any of these community-creating ideas? How have you successfully built community around your family as you learn Spanish or another minority language? I’d truly love to hear! Please share in the comments below.