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Learn a language and culture together

Nina Spitzer is a SheKnows.com columnist and a freelance writer living in sunny Cave Creek, Arizona.

Bonjour Maman!

Are you interested in learning about the culture, customs and language of another country? Maybe you're planning a future vacation to that country or maybe it sounds like a fun project your family can do together. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Couple in France by Eiffel Tower

 

The economy stinks, and your vacation plans aren't what you'd like them to be. Let's say you've always dreamed of going to France, but this year you're tightening the belt and staying close to home.  While putting that expensive vacation on hold, why not bring France to you?  Take a month or two (or more) and immerse the entire family into life "a la francaise" all the way. Consider your "at home French adventure" preparation for your future trip. Plug into these suggestions and, by the time you really set foot on French ground (or Italian, German, Chinese, etc), you'll feel as if you've already been there.

 

If instead you've wanted to travel abroad to bring your children to the country of their ancestors, this is also a wonderful way for your children to learn about their heritage!  Actively participating in these activities will give them fun experiences while learning about their family background.  One day, when they do visit that country, they will feel more in touch with the people and the culture.

Learning a language and culture together

AT HOME

  • Place sticky notes around the house, labeling things with the language of the country (the door = la porte, window = fenetre, shoes = souliers, shirt = chandail, apple = pomme etc...).
  • Get the whole family involved in a language-learning program.  Your local bookstore and library will have an excellent selection of workbooks and CD sets for learning foreign languages.
  • Take advantage of the many free language-learning sites on the Internet.  Some will even put you in touch with others around the world who speak the language you're trying to learn.
  • Purchase a couple of cookbooks in the language you're learning.  Frequently, cookbooks not only give recipes, but also tell about the culture of the people.
  • Have members of the family choose recipes and cook up an authentic ethnic dinner.  Each can work on a different part of the meal. What a fun way to spend quality time together!
  • Try to speak to each other in the language around the house.  Your vocabulary of words and phrases will grow with time.
  • Purchase a travel guide at your local bookstore.  Learn about the many different places you will want to visit when the economic scene brightens up.
  • Google-Google-Google!  Do searches to learn more about the places in the guidebooks. Try Google Images for an endless supply of photos for each of the locations.
  • Do a search on the Internet for podcasts and blogs in the language to share with the family.
  • Locate children's picture books at the library, bookstore, or online written in the language.  Learning a new language the way a native-speaking child does, step by step with easy words and pictures, is perfect. Then, you can step up your reading level as you proficiency increases.  What fun to be able to read your children a bedtime story in another language and have them understand!
  • Listen to foreign music CDs.  Many include the lyrics in the CD jacket.  This is helpful for looking up unfamiliar words.
  • Check out foreign movies from your local library for a family movie night.  Cook up an ethnic snack to pass around during the show.  As always, however, make sure the movie content is appropriate to the children's age levels.
  • Celebrate holidays in the country of your choice by learning the customs for the big ones like Christmas and Easter, as well as regional celebrations.
  • Do you have family in that foreign country? Phone calls and emails are a perfect way to practice the language!

ON THE ROAD

  • Listen to language learning CDs while together in the car.
  • Put second-language music, stories and learning CDs on your iPod to take with you wherever you and your family may go.
  • Treat yourself and family to a meal at an ethnic restaurant.  It'll be fun to read the menu in another language.  Do your best to speak it to the server.
  • Visit your local art museum and concentrate on the works of foreign artists.
  • Find out if your community has a local cultural club for the country of study.  If so, it probably has events and outings your family can attend that will give you an opportunity to get to know and speak with natives of the country.

WHEN YOU GO
Most people are fiercely proud of their heritage, culture and language, so preparing yourself for a future vacation to a foreign country in this way will make your trip much more enjoyable.  The people will be extremely appreciative of your efforts to speak the language, and you'll receive a lot more pleasure from your interaction with the people and the sites you'll visit. Besides, ongoing learning with your family is just plain fun!

More on learning about other cultures

Exposing kids to their cultural roots
Bold changes to get out of life's routines
Cultivate a colorful, eclectic circle of friends

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