Child Speaking on Facebook Messenger with a bunny rabbit mask on

Step by step guide to make calls to family abroad last longer

pastel_de_nata76 Bilingualism, Blog, Listening & Watching Leave a Comment

I recently found a new trick to make the calls to family abroad have a bigger impact on my girls’ bilingual and multicultural development. Here’s a step by step guide to make calls to family abroad last longer; make calls home with your children that are more engaging, long lasting and therefore better support multilingual education and emotional connection. The tool is Facebook Messenger.

Sometimes when we’re abroad with no family nearby, we miss them and need them, yet have no option but to speak online in between trips back home. In the physical absence of loved ones, video calls are the next best thing.

We started using Skype years ago, then Vibe. Now my tool of choice is Facebook Messenger video call because the connection is much better. But I found another feature that made calls home more engaging for children: the filters and special effects of the Messenger video calls.

Why does this matter for multilingual and multicultural development?

  • Because it’s fun, it makes the calls last longer, and therefore there’s more exposure to the target language
  • It makes people laugh, and laughing brings people together. Sometimes children don’t have a big connection with family abroad because they see so little of them but doing something fun like this can bring them together. You might not be able to meet in person and tickle each other but you can still have a laugh together!
  • Because it’s fun and they can be in control (if they like, and if you decide to let them), it can compete with toys and TV, that often take children away from calls with family
  • Can work for any age, from babies to teenagers – there are filters suitable for everybody

How does it work?

Many people are familiar with it, but for the benefit of those who are not, here’s a step by step guide:

  • Open Facebook Messenger-> open the record of the person you want to call, for example Avó (Grandmother in Portuguese).
  • At the top right of that screen there’s a telephone and a camera icon. To call with video, touch the camera icon
  • When the calls starts, you can preview your image, and at the bottom of that screen there are four buttons. Above those four buttons is a star icon. When you touch that icon, you can swipe to the right and to the right through a number of special effects such as animated reactions, filters, masks and effects that can be added on screen . These include: a cat on the head, a bunny (who eats carrots when you open your mouth), spit fire, a crown and even a disco theme. The themes change and there are seasonal themes like a father Christmas beard and hat.
  • When you select a mask, your face is recognised by Messenger as such, and the image is automatically juxtaposed to it. So, even if you move, the purple wig will move with you on the screen for example.

The caller (i.e. you and your child) can see themselves on screen with the special filters but for full effect, it’s best if the person you’re calling does the same so you can surprise and tease each other.

A few tips…

Inevitably, it can get rather chaotic and you may not be able to have a proper conversation and catch up. If you need to have a proper chat, you can do that while the children are in a different room, or tell them that they can play with the special effects at the end. There is still value in just goofing around. Conversations are also had around the special effects, like “hey, granny you have a cat on your head, watch out!” Or “Is that a hat? Is it a hat or a cat?”. You get the idea…

Facebook Messenger Collage of images

Stay around, don’t just leave them with the phone. There are some filters that could be scary (like a skull)

Agree on a time to talk. This applies whether you use video call and special effects or not. I’m rather impulsive when deciding to call but I found that it worked best if everyone was ready and expecting the call. If someone calls when the kids are engaged in an activity they enjoy, they may not be as keen to chat. It also means we can make special time for it, rather than just a few minutes here and there.


So, are you going to try it out? Let us know how you get on!

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