Even the slightest familiarity with the local language will enhance not only your children’s comfort level, but the enjoyment of the trip and its lasting impression on them. Here are some tips to help your kids acclimate faster to traveling in non-English-speaking countries.
Even a Few Phrases
Kid’s don’t need to be fluent, but even young ones can learn a few phrases. The fastest way to feel comfortable in a strange place is to be able to communicate, and your kids will find people respond quickly when a child greets them or says even a few words in their language. This is a good travel habit to get them started on early — to learn a few polite phrases before traveling abroad.
The younger the child, the less the language difference will concern them. Very young children only understand — or make any sense of — a small part of what they hear at home every day. So not understanding is less frightening. Two young children can carry on a “conversation” quite happily without ever understanding a word the other one says.
Oddly, teens who studied a language in school may be less willing to use in real life than their little brothers and sisters. Small children may be a lot more excited about the chance to say “muchas gracias” and hear “de nada” in response than their more self-conscious adolescent siblings. Whatever their age, encourage them, but don’t force it — remember kids may be more worried than adults about making mistakes or sounding silly.
Make It Fun
Kids will be a lot more engaged when they are having fun as they learn; the feeling they are being taught may seem too much like school. And reminders such as, “you’re going to need to know this” or “you’ll be glad when you get there” are not motivators. There are a number of language games, such as eeBoo French Bingo for kids, KLOO Learn to Speak French card games, KLOO’s Race to Madrid board game and ¡Dígame! Spanish Learning card game. You can get bilingual picture dictionaries and flashcards that use pictures, such as Carson-Dellosa’s 3924 Everyday Words in Spanish. Or make a family art project out of it by making your own cards using pictures cut from magazines or printed from the internet.
Listen to Music
Listening to songs — especially children’s songs — in a foreign language offers kids a window into local culture as well as teaching them some words. Putamayo has great CDs of music from all over the world. Songs, along with videos and spoken language programs, all expose kids to pronunciation, as well as the rhythms and nuances of different sounds in a foreign language. This is valuable not only for younger children who depend more on hearing than reading, but for older ones who can perfect their pronunciation and accent in a language they are studying in school.
Foreign Language Programs
There are a number of programs that will not only teach words and phrases, but get kids used to hearing the different sounds. Our kids loved the Muzzy video series, also available as apps. Gus on the Go, an animated traveling owl, is available in 14 different languages including Spanish, French and Hebrew.
Little Pim books, DVDs and CDs take advantage of the different ways kids learn with lots of interactive experiences. Games and stories based on the adventures of Pim the Panda use reading, sound, games and question-answer features to teach and reinforce words and basic sentences. PicPocket Books, for ages 4–12, are downloadable interactive Spanish picture books with audio recording and interactive visual text that kids can pause, replay or fast-forward.
The byproduct of helping your kids learn a bit of a foreign language is, in the process, you may brush up your own skills before you travel.