Creating the need to speak the target language and providing exposure to various sources are central to language development in bilingual children. It’s not so hard to find Spanish, Polish and French playgroups or language classes in large cities like London. But what about other languages? Joining, or starting a minority language playgroup, or even just a social meet up, in your area could be the solution.
Why attend or set up a target language playgroup
To successfully raise bilingual children, especially if one of the parents doesn’t speak the target language, the child needs to have input from sources outside the home. Playgroups and playdates provide a great source of input of the language.
They also provide the need. If the child is in a setting where the language spoken by all is the target language, they will feel the need to do so as well.
No local network? No problem!
When we had children we moved to a new area where we didn’t know anyone. Much less so any Portuguese people! It was not a consideration in the slightest. I still thought at the time that me just ‘being’ Portuguese would be enough for the children to speak the language. How wrong was I!
When the girls were 2 and 3 years old I realised that they needed a lot more exposure to the language than just me occasionally speaking it. The best way to do this seemed to be to hang out with other Portuguese speakers.
I didn’t know any other Portuguese people where we lived so I decided to get out there and find them. I kid you not, I literally approached any parent I heard speaking Portuguese in the street. Eventually, I turned to the internet. I posted a message on a local Facebook mummy group but had no joy.
A few months later, when another mummy did the same, I jumped at the opportunity. And that’s how we started a Portuguese speaking families social group who meets fortnightly.
It’s a great opportunity for parents and children to socialise. As it happens, we have also made new lovely Portuguese friends through the process. In particular, I feel like I now have a little community of Portuguese speaking friends who we see regularly outside of the fortnightly meet up.
Our meetups are social in nature but we’re considering providing a more structured playgroup for the children to have more input of, and the need to speak the language.
Where to start?
Start by googling what’s available: for example “Swedish language playgroup in N1”. Our friends at Alma Collective maintain a database of language groups in London. They have ambassadors for each language (I’m the Portuguese Emissary) – check if there’s a playgroup in your language. If there isn’t one, and you become aware of, or start one, get in touch with Alma Collective via the website so they can have it added.
Post messages in local online forums, parent Facebook groups or apps like Mush asking if anyone knows of a playgroup in your target language or if they want to meet up.
Starting a playgroup or playdate
If there isn’t a local playgroup in your target language, why not start one?
I recommend starting an informal social group that meets regularly and only set up a playgroup if you see there is a demand (if you have enough people expressing an interest), or let your small group of 2 or 3 families grow until you think it’s worth creating a regular playgroup. In the meantime, you can meet other parents on an ad hoc basis or organise playdates. It can be challenging to get the children to speak the target language at such meetups and playdates. Chances are, they end up speaking the majority language between them, but still, they know they are going to meet people who speak the language and will listen the grown ups speaking it.
The best way to ensure the children speak the target language during a playdate or other social gathering is to have the grown-ups involved and directing play.
If you’re just chatting with a coffee in hand, that’s fine, but you need to accept that, without your intervention, the impact of those couple of hours will not be as big as it would be if you were directing the play and getting involved.
Having said that, in my local Portuguese socials, I often spend the time talking to the other mums and dads. My girls are jumping and running around having fun and when the eldest comes to me, she speaks in Portuguese. So there’s some impact – she knows it’s Portuguese group and makes a bigger effort to speak it.
If you are passionate about your goal of having your children speaking a second language, then it’s worth the effort seeking, or setting up, a playgroup, where play is structured and you know that that 1-2 hours will provide plenty of value.
I’ve put together an easy guide to setting up a playgroup: how to set up a playgroup
If you’re not ready or don’t want to take on the responsibility of starting a playgroup, consider:
- Playdates with one or two local families who speak the language
- Saturday School
- Private tutoring
- A Nanny or Au Pair who speaks the language fluently