No one said teaching kids Chinese, or any language for that matter, would be easy. Once a week classes aren’t enough to immerse your little learner in the language and some of the alternatives seem pretty pricey. You could hire an au pair to speak Chinese to your child 24-7 (or, at least during her waking hours). But, how much is that going to cost? So, what can you do? Give up? Of course not! You have to get creative. You already know that immersion in the language can help your child to catch on quickly. When the expensive ideas don’t pan out or are total budget-breakers, you still have options – and, they don’t include ditching the idea that you can raise a bilingual kid.
Go to College
No, we’re not talking about enrolling in college courses. Obviously, those are expensive. And, your 4-year-old has about 14 years until you need to worry about that. Instead of hiring an expensive au pair to care for your child, check out what the local colleges can do for you. Some schools have foreign exchange programs or are looking for local families to host students from other countries.
Start at the language or linguistic department (or, if the school has a Chinese cultural studies department – begin there) and ask if they have any students who are looking to move out of those not-so-home-like dorms and experience American culture family style. You may be able to work out a rent-free exchange for the student’s ‘au pair’ services. In other words, you aren’t asking for rent (and you may also need to pay for their at-home food costs) and the student is taking on the role of caregiver/language immersion coach.
Creativity Community Resources
Colleges aren’t the only places to find students who are interested in a cultural exchange. You’ve got a home to offer, and there may be a foreign student out there who is looking to immerse herself in American culture (kind of like how you want to immerse your child in Chinese culture).
Take a look around town, investigating Chinese cultural organizations. These may include a Chinese church or a community cultural awareness center.
Making a Choice
Before you go all in and open your home to a Chinese student, do your background research. If the local college (or community organization) doesn’t have a formal exchange program set up, you’ll have to vet the possible students.
Keep in mind, you’re inviting this person into your home and trusting her with your child. Interview several students, and make sure that whoever you pick genuinely wants to ‘work’ with children.
During the interview process, cover all of the details that are important to both of you. This includes who will pay for what (such as the student’s food) and how much time you expect her spend with your child.
Think Outside the Box
Inviting an exchange student into your home may not be anything you had ever anticipated doing. Especially when you bought or rented your house. What does that mean for your situation? Well, it’s possible that you don’t have the space for another person. Or, you think you don’t. Just like you got creative when you found your almost-no-cost ‘au pair’, you may need to get equally creative in order to find room for another person to live in your house. Do you have a home office or guest room? These are the obvious (and easiest) choices. If not, can you move your kids into one room that they share, opening up an extra room for your student? Maybe you have a finished basement game room or a family room? If you also have a living room to stash all of the kids’ playthings in, turn the extra room into your new exchange student’s space!