If you ask my kids what’s the worst part of multicultural upbringing, they will probably complain about “funny” food from different countries; it’s not fair when Babcia makes you eat a beetroot soup and Abuelita puts a huge plate of caraotas on the same day! Yuck! Or all those exercise books in three languages when all you want to do is play with your new Lego set!
However, there’s a HUGE bonus to all that suffering: they literally get the best of both worlds when it comes to celebrations and presents. They celebrate their name day (like all Polish kids) with a huge piñata (like all Venezuelan kids). They get visits from Ratoncito Pérez (Perez the Mouse) AND Tooth Fairy….and if they’re lucky, these visits happen when we travel, so the kiddos get their teeth attractive foreign currency.
As Charles de Gaulle said once, “Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself”. I believe that in times of crisis people reveal their true selves, displaying character traits that are unknown and surprising even to themselves. All wars and crises involve inhuman cruelty and violence, but also amazing acts of heroism and solidarity…
My kids are incredibly street smart when it comes to life in the city. They give travel advice to strangers regarding trams they need to take to different places in Poznań, they know which supermarkets offer their favourite candy or cereal and where to stand on a tram stop to be placed right in front of the door when the tram arrives and get a free seat.
Yet they have no more knowledge of countryside and nature than Kim Kardashian has of world problems. When I asked Michał (3 back then) where milk comes from, he happily answered “from Netto”. And where is milk before it arrives to Netto? “I don’t know Mummy, maybe in other Netto”. They both also used to think that strawberries grow on the trees. Sigh.
“5 minutes walk from the beach? You’re so lucky, your kids must love it! So you go to beach every day, don’t you? When can I come to see you”?
That’s what most people tell us. Most people who haven’t been to the beach with small kids.
When you think about kids on the beach, you visualize happy, cute kids, who build sandcastle and jump in the waves like on Neckermann and Thomas Cook billboards. These lovely images where the sun is shining and the kids in cute, matching swim suits with no sand on are playing quietly while the parents are relaxing, sunbathing and sipping their drinks on white sun beds.
FORGET IT. THIS is how a kids on the beach REALLY looks like:
So, here we are back home after a 2 weeks holiday in London. The boys have had the time of their lives: there was plenty of stuff with Thomas the Tank Engine, they visited lots of cool places and – surprise of the year- fell in love in British food!
No one would guess that they were born in Spain, the Mediterranean food paradise and that they are both picky eaters. Fish& chips became their new favourite dish, they drank lots of disgusting tea with milk and they preferred cheap street food to lovely home meals cooked by my friends.
And they spoke lots of English.
As the video was recorded on a very noisy King’s Cross Square (we wanted to have red buses in the background) you can’t hear very well Andres’s answers; this is why I repeat his words. Sorry if that sounds annoying 😉
I’m very glad as they both got a grasp of the language quickly. As you can see in the Easter video , in April my older son only knew colours and numbers in English. After a few months of lessons at home and a 2 weeks stay in UK he can ask simple questions (what’s your name/how old are you), describe objects from his everyday life (food, toys) and – what makes me a very proud mum – ask for things in stores and play simple games with English speaking kids.
Even Michał, who’s not 3 yet has learnt to answer his age, say “please”, “thank you” and “bye bye”.
Would you like to help your kids to speak English abroad without spending a fortune on language summer camps?Read on and, if you like my ideas, use them on your next family trip!
These activities are based in London, but I’m sure you can do similar things in many UK cities. Good luck!
Tip 1: Activities for kids in English: events, museums, play groups.
Good news: they’re free!
British kids who spend the summer in the city can’t be bored. There are lots of cool workshops and activities organized in museums, events for families in parks or play centres.
Isn’t a storytelling session at a Transport Museum, among red buses and other cool vehicles funnier than “story time ” in the classroom at a language camp?
A good website to start is http://www.netmums.com/ , an English site where you can find activities, playgroups and events for kids in your town. You only have to register and tag the area where you’re going to stay in UK.
Here you can find a list of free child-friendly museums, outdoor play centres and other fun places.
We have joined the following activities:
– V&A Museum of Childhood: home to a great collection of kids’ toys, games and costumes. They run activities from 10.30 to 16.00 from Monday to Friday, including storytelling, have-a-go sessions and arts and crafts activities. The entrance to this museum is free for kids and adults.
The boys loved a story about animals and as the language was very simple, they didn’t find it hard to join in the activity.
– London Transport Museum : one of their favourite places in London! Can you imagine two little boys obsessed with vehicles of all kinds at a cool place where you can get on all the buses? And if it wasn’t enough, there is a lovely play area with a wooden train track to play and more buses to “drive”!
This museum is free for kids. Adults have to pay 15 pounds, but it’s an annual ticket – they don’t sell one day tickets – I absolutely recommend it if you’re staying longer in London as your kids will definitely want to come back to the museum. We have been 3 times and the boys never wanted to leave! Good news for the parents: there’s Wi-Fi in the museum and it’s located in Covent Garden, so after your trip to the museum you can explore this great area, go to the theatre or for a meal in one of numerous lovely restaurants.
We joined storytelling and arts&crafts sessions in this museum, both dedicated to Pigeons that delivered letters during the 2nd World War.
Although the topic is quite advanced for young kids, they enjoyed drawing and cutting their pigeons and participating in a very animated storytelling session, where they even got to throw small plastic balls at each other to represent the fight!
We also loved Coram’s Fields, a huge playground with a park and summer activities for kids. This centre offers different summer activities, like football, music, dancing or simply playtime for under fives. Andres and Michal enjoyed playing with new toys, chatting with lovely monitors and getting to know other kids.
A funny thing happened to us at Coram’s Fields; a little girl thought that the boys are her brothers as they were wearing same strapped t-shirts as hers and followed them all around the place!
Tip 2:Organize play dates with English-speaking families
Do you have a profile on Couchsurfing.com ? It’s a fantastic site that connects travellers with locals who offer to host them. Couchsurfing has local forums in different cities all around the world, and there are also dedicated forums for families. You can meet wonderful, open-minded people on Couchsurfing who love to travel and meet new friends.
Benefits? Kids will make new friends and so will you, moreover locals can find you cool places in the area!
I met a wonderful, very friendly, like-minded multilingual family on CouchSurfing who met us in London: Sachiko, a Japanese translator who moved to London a few months ago with her partner and her son Christopher.
Chris was 5 years old and spoke four languages. The funny thing is one of his languages was Spanish; as soon as the boys discovered that, not a single English word was said on that playdate.
But still, the three of them had a great time!
Tip 3: Motivating learning resources
Kids love picture books and colorful magazines about their favourite TV characters, like Thomas the Engine, Peppa Pig or Disney Cars. In UK you can get a lot of cheap picture books in charity shops and “one pound” stores. Go shopping with your kids and let them choose the material they like best. Watch TV in English with your kids; we became fans of a programming block on Channel 5 Milkshake! that features popular shows and music videos for children. The boys were delighted to see that Thomas the Tank Engine, Tree Fu Tom and other characters they loved “could speak English, like us, mummy”.
Tip 4: Yes, DO talk with strangers!
I taught the boys to say “hello” and “bye bye” every time we got on the train, bus, we entered a shop or a playground, not to forget “excuse me”, “please” and “thank you”. The British were delighted with their efforts and our idea of a “learning holiday” and often followed up the conversation asking about the boys’ name, age, favourite food and colours.
I’m aware that it may be a difficult exercise for introvert kids; you can start with a “hello” on the playground or at a store you visit everyday. Sometimes kids who don’t like speaking English in the classroom change their actitude completely in a “real life” situation, especially if they see positive reactions of foreigners.
A lovely lady on the train gave Andres an Angry Birds stickers book for his “excellent English skills”; another gentleman praised him with a pound.
The latter one had a dubious pleasure of meeting my son in the middle of a tantrum; Andres got hysterical at a restaurant because apparently Michal’s roast looked nicer than the one on his own plate, so I took him out for a moment. As I was waiting for him to calm down so that I could seriously talk with him about behaviour in public places, an elderly gentleman approached Andres, asked him his name and gave him “a coin for chocolate, your English is very good, boy”.
Andres immediately stopped crying, said “thank you, I love chocolate” and ran back to the restaurant to share the good news with his brother.
He thought that the coin had actually some chocolate inside.
My friends back in the restaurant decided they should all take turns to cry on the street; it could result more profitable than their London jobs.
Tip 5:You can get it if you really want…and ask for it in English
Ice cream? Orange juice? A packet of crisps? A toy car or fluffy animal in a “One Pound” store? Yes, you can….but you must ask for it in English.
Andres was used to ask for things in small stores as I often encouraged him to do that back in Poland. He knew some basic food vocabulary; that was all he needed.
And is there better motivation for a five year old than a lovely ice cream on a hot, sightseeing day?
He asked for his first “English ice cream” at Coram’s Field, on the third day of our trip. He used very simple sentences “ice cream, please” and colours instead of flavours “pink and yellow, please”, but the lady behind the counter understood him.
Some shop assistants were very helpful, asking him simple questions in English to make him speak more ( a big or a small smoothie? Pink or orange?) He was praised, encouraged to speak and he gained confidence, which was even better than sweets.
Michał reduced his store conversations to “hello”, “bye bye” and “thank you”, but he definitely understood much more; once,when Andres asked for an ice cream, he immediately shouted “two”!
How to make this exercise easier for your kids? Role play “a store” at home. It is especially motivating if you “sell” sweets 😉 With older kids, you can use plastic coins as “real money” and introduce the expression “how much is it”.
Tip 6: English is all around you
Look at billboards on the road. Read aloud signs at the museums. If you go to a zoo or a city farm, read the information about the animals to your kids and ask them if they know what the animal is called in their own language. Encourage your kids to read the signs and try to understand their meaning.
However, remember that visiting a foreign country may be an overwhelming experience for your child. Take it easy; if your kids are tired and unwilling to speak English, let them have a rest. Learning English on holiday needs to be a fun experience, not an obligation.
I always encourage families with small kids to take it easy on holidays. It is better to visit fewer museums or attractions, choose carefully those that are the most attractive for kids, and spend the rest of the day playing in the park or at the playground.
I had been to London for a few times before I had kids and I was delighted to discover the city from my boys’ perspective: beautiful parks, interactive displays for kids at museums. fun at workshops. My boys would be bored to death in British Museum, but they talk everyday about the fun we had in the “pirate place” (Diana’s Memorial Playground), play area in the Disney store or on a trip to Purley countryside, where they were running and shouting on the hills.
And, even more, I was happy to see how quickly they were learning English and, unlike many kids and adults I saw abroad, how inhibited they were to communicate with others despite a very basic grasp of vocabulary.
Have you tried to help your kids to speak a foreign language abroad? How was your experience? Do you think that bilingual children learn foreign languages more easily? Share your stories with me!