Native language skills and your children - tips for expat parents  

February 18, 2020


Speak to your child in your native language

If your child is still a baby or toddler, you can help them pick up your language at home naturally by using it as much as possible to speak to them.


Start with action words

If they are a little older, make learning enjoyable by focusing on active words. Start with the things they do every day like running, walking and jumping. Move from there to more complex terms and sentences so your children can talk about their day.  


Watch children's movies in your native language

Lots of bilingual adults credit watching TV and films in another language with helping their fluency. This is a great way to spend some quality time together. When the show or film is over, ask your children about it to gauge how much they understood.


Read to your children

Get some story books with lots of illustrations in your native language and read them to your children. In time encourage them to read in order to practice speaking the language in a more formal way.


Calls with family and friends

Last but by no means least, involve your children in calls with home. Having the opportunity to build relationships with your parents, siblings or cousins will help motivate them to learn. 

There are plenty of ways to help your bilingual child outside your home too:


Formal lessons

If your native tongue is a popular world language like Mandarin, English or Spanish, there may well be formal lessons for children available locally.


Expat family groups

If you are based in a popular expat destination like Singapore, Brussels or Zurich there may be other families from your home country. Many of these destinations also have expat clubs or groups for families who meet on a regular basis. They may allow your children to practice your native language skills with others of their own age. 


Visits to your native country

One of the most practical ways for your child to compound their learning is on a visit to your native country. During this time they will be immersed in your native language speaking to your family and friends and while out and about. 

There are lots of ways to approach teaching young children your native language but there are also a few to avoid:


  • don’t try to teach your child in a classroom setting at home
  • don’t focus on memorising words or grammar
  • don’t force your child to learn when they are tired or not in the mood

Attempting formal tuition at home may end in a tantrum from a younger child or anger and frustration from an older child. Make language learning fun and it will be something they love.

Of course this process is quite different to equipping older children with the basics of a foreign language before you move to another country. 

Whatever your language goals are for your children while abroad, their health and wellbeing while you are living as expats should be a top priority. Provide them with the best medical care available with family expat health insurance