Communication is essential. It is a crucial part of any endeavor that involves more than one individual. Raising a bilingual child, when you are monolingual is no small feat, and will involve lots of communication and collaboration.
When I decided to teach my son Chinese, I was very intimidated. For one, many Chinese speaking tutors and babysitters I came across were hesitant to speak Chinese to my, then 9-month-old son. Their thought, like many others believe, was that it would confuse him to hear English from me and then Chinese from his babysitter. But, I stuck with it and eventually found an awesome nanny who gave my son an excellent Chinese foundation before he could walk!
Whether you’re looking for a babysitter, a language tutor, checking out language programs, or just considering a language-based summer camp – then be sure to ask questions and communicate your goals.
For this article, we’ll focus on the communication between you, the parent, and your child’s other caregivers. This category includes both daycare caregivers and babysitters at home. Since your child will likely be alone with their babysitter or daycare provider, you have to make it clear what your expectations are, regarding their exposure to the target language. I’ve heard many stories of families paying upwards of $1,800 a month for an immersion preschool, only to find out later that most of the time the child was spoken to in English. In this sense, from day one, meeting with teachers, babysitters, nannies – whoever can set the tone and goals for your child’s language learning.
Starting with the daycare side of things let’s talk about a few reasons why keeping a good communication avenue with the people at the daycare is important.
(Keep in mind these can be applied to anyone who may teach your child in any capacity)
- Communication encourages information sharing. For most working parents, the time they spend with their children can be equal or even less than the time the child spends at the daycare. This means you don’t necessarily know what your son or daughter has been doing the whole day while you were at work. The best way to get this information is simply to talk to your child’s caregiver. They know and monitor everything that your child does throughout the day. In language immersion daycares, they probably even have a better gauge as to how well your kid’s bilingual learning is progressing. For me, I set a reminder in my phone to check in every two weeks with my son’s preschool teacher and babysitter to see how they feel he is doing with Arabic and Chinese. I also always ask if there is anything they would like me to do or a resource they need to keep the learning fun and engaging.
- Communication shows commitment. As a busy parent, I get it that sometimes, in the midst of having to go to work, take care of family responsibilities having a consistent line of communication with everyone involved with your child can be challenging. As an academic tutor, I love when parents ask questions and are involved in the process of wanting to know how their child is doing and how they can help. Finding time to check in, even if it is once every few weeks does communicate to caregivers that you are serious about their language learning and aware enough to ask about their learning.For me, I’ve found that this keeps everyone honest about the process. I had a babysitter once who was hesitant to tell me that my son wasn’t paying attention during their Chinese lessons. I assume she feared I would blame her, but when I asked her how things were going and explained that I wanted to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly, she finally opened up about her challenges with teaching him. This helped both of us tremendously. She got to communicate her frustrations, and I was able to get an accurate picture of what was going on, and we worked together to find a better way that would get him the Chinese exposure and reduce the redirecting she would have to do.
- Communication is the core of collaboration. I view my son’s education as an investment. And, with any investment, you want to see a return at some point, right? You can think of teaching your child a second or third language as a team effort, especially if you are monolingual, like me. My son goes to a pretty rigorous Chinese immersion program, and he loves it and is doing very well. But, even though the program is small, I know he could use individual one-on-one time to help improve his tones. So, he has a Chinese tutor that he meets with on Fridays.
Many parents would not have shared this with their child’s teacher, for fear that it would send the signal that the parent didn’t trust the teacher. Me, I was happy to have his teacher know and even asked her to speak with the tutor to make sure her pronunciation was good. I sat down with his teacher and explained why I wanted the tutor and asked for her help to send a list of items the tutor could reinforce with my son at home. His teacher was not offended. Instead, she was very appreciative that I was getting outside help so he could continue to progress in her classroom.Now, every Friday his teacher sends a short list of things he needs to work on with his tutor, and even now, my son too adds things to the list.
So, you see, you have to speak up and let your expectations and concerns be heard. You’re building a language learning team, and everyone in your team has an important role to play.
Are you making the most out of your communication with your child’s caregivers?
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