Teaching Mother tongue

Teaching the Mother Tongue to Children in a Foreign Country

Being bilingual is beneficial for children. People who know more than one language have better problem-solving skills and are good at decision making as per the latest research. If you are like me, who relocated to a foreign country, do you feel difficult to teach mother tongue to your kids?

When we moved to the USA 2 years ago, we visited a doctor for a regular checkup for my kids, the doctor asked if my toddler can speak/ understand 2 languages. I said, “yes”. She told me that it is good for the development of children to learn more than one language and she encouraged me to continue teaching 2 languages to my children. But, Teaching the mother tongue to children in a foreign country is not that easy as everyone around our kids speak one language which influences them more. My children speak English fluently with friends and teachers and converse in “Telugu” (our mother tongue – a South Indian Language) at home.

Here is a post on a few tips for the parents staying in foreign countries to teach mother tongue to their children.

Teaching Mother tongue

1. Speak the mother tongue at home:

Learning always starts at home for children. If we speak in our native language to our kids, they tend to catch the words and use them. The only way to teach a new language is to get them exposed to the vocabulary in that language. By constantly listening to the language at home, children learn quickly. Start with teaching simple instructions like – “Switch on the light” and get them familiar with basics like greeting others, asking for help, requesting and thanking someone.

2. Make writing the new language a part of their homework:

If we have to separately teach Telugu at our home, it is tough as the concentration levels of children below 7 years is not more than 20 to 30 mins. So, I make it a part of their homework. After finishing their class homework, they spend only 10 mins writing the Telugu alphabets. After the children learn all the alphabets we can move to forming words and sentences and making them write simple words like their name, some objects/ toys they like etc.,

3. Read stories in native language:

Reading stories is the best way to teach anything to the children. They focus and understand better when anything is narrated as a story. So, get some books of your native language and read them daily. This way, they catch the new words and sentences and even try to use them when they speak.

4. Encourage and Correct their mistakes then and there:

When children try a new language, they are hesitant if they are using right words or not. So, encourage them to speak and help them with the vocabulary. If they use wrong words/ make mistakes while speaking, gently correct them then and there, so that they won’t forget. Use the language that they are comfortable with(like English) as a medium to teach new words and their meanings so that they can correlate both the languages easily.

5. Use tools/ aids to support learning:

We can make use of word games to encourage kids to learn new words. Crossword puzzles, word jumble, and Pictionary are some of the fun ways to teach languages. We can ask kids to identify the letters, form sentences using specific words and even ask them to give an impromptu speech for one minute on their favorite topic. Watching movies in our native language also improves vocabulary to a great extent.

Click here to download our comprehensive checklist. A great tool to make sure your kids speak their native language. 

Numerous studies have shown that learning more than one language can improve brain function and can help in multitasking. It is surprising to know that being bilingual also slows the aging process.

Can your children speak 2 languages? Do you encourage them to learn a new language? If you are in a foreign country, do you teach your children your mother tongue? Let me know if any of my tips find helpful.

 Mahathi Ramya is a mom of 2 boys, a blogger, software testing professional and a classical dance teacher. She writes on books, travel, and parenting. She loves writing, traveling and painting a lot.

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