Who Said You Have to Speak the Language To Teach the Language?

20161029_134955Who Said You Have to Speak the Language To Teach the Language?

Learning a new language, especially one that you have limited exposure to can be scary. I know the feeling and when I made the decision to enroll my son in Chinese classes as an infant, I was a bit nervous. I only speak English and to think that I would be raising a trilingual child did make me question what I was doing. I did my research and knew the ins and outs of why to raise a multilingual child, but no study or article really gave me the tools I needed to know HOW to do it.

Over the past 4 years, I’ve been on a quest to overcome my fears and doubts and teach my energetic little boy two of the hardest languages to learn. And, remember, I don’t speak either of them! Let my story be proof that whether you’re thinking about teaching your child German, French, Russian, Chinese, or Arabic – you can do it – and you don’t have to know how to speak those languages. It will take dedication, some research, creativity, and a hint of optimism, but you’ll be giving your child an amazing gift!

I’ll let you in on some of the cool things I did to help my son learn Chinese and Arabic.


Make friends who speak the language. Finding language resources was a bit challenging for me and as a single mom, I had to make my money stretch further. I joined a few local playgroups when my son was a toddler and I became friends with a handful of Chinese speaking families. After a few months, I worked up the courage to approach one of the other parents, explained to them my goal to expose my son to Chinese, and asked to do a play date with her son. The mom instantly agreed and we had a standing play date at their house every Friday evening for over six months. The mom would sing songs, read books to the kids, the same things she would have normally done with her own son every evening, but it was all in Chinese. For me, it was great! I got to learn some Chinese words and it was an easy (and free) way for my son to be exposed to Chinese, but still have fun.

Find what they like and add language in. My son loves stories! He could sit for hours and listen to book after book. So, I tried finding audio books in Chinese or Arabic, thinking that would be a great way to get him interested in both languages. I found some great resources on YouTube like this video here. He had the same book in English, and it was one of his favorites! Now, when he finds a book, like the Kissing Hand, that he really likes, I get it translated and recorded for him. This sounds more expensive than you think, but you can find awesome translators and voice over actors for $5 – yes, $5 on Fiverr. Throw in another $30-$40 for a talented (and affordable) videographer from UpWork, and you have instantly taken your child’s favorite book in their native language and made it into a language masterpiece! Over the past year, I have had several classics like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Corduroy, The Gruffalo and The Little Blue Truck translated into over six languages.20161029_130659

Let others know what you’re trying to do. At first, when I started teaching my son Chinese, I was hesitant to tell other people. I thought they would question my decision or even tell me that I was crazy. But, the more I felt comfortable with what I was teaching my son, the more I started to open up and share my experiences with others. This was probably the best thing I could have done! Soon, I had people contacting me, telling me that they were trying to do the same thing and before long, we had a group of parents all interested in teaching their children Chinese or Arabic. By sharing my story, I was able to create my own little language group. We could take turns researching new things to try out, we shared the cost of language tutors and even chipped in to buy language books and materials that we rotated around to each home every week. If you don’t have many families to reach out to in your area, then reading informative blogs like RetoBilingue.com is a great way to connect with other parents online. Also joining Facebook groups like Raising Multilingual Children can help to give you encouragement, good ideas and find out about lots of free language resources.

20161029_132703Be open to trying language apps. With today’s technology, if you can’t find someone who speaks the language you want to teach your child, then look online! I’ve used apps like HelloTalk to connect with native Chinese and Arabic speakers internationally so my son could practice talking in his second and third language. The app is free and for me, since I do not speak either language, it is an easy way for me to get my son more Chinese exposure without having to hire a tutor. Plus, it has helped me to build my confidence with foreign languages, so I (sometimes) can join in on the discussion and practice my own language learning. For more kid-friendly apps, consider trying Gus on the Go or Little Pim. These apps are less than $5 and can be a fun way for your child (and you) to learn a new language together.

So, see – you can do it! Plus, you have a great team here at RetoBilingue.com cheering you on, every step of the way. If you ever need additional tips or want to check in and see how my son is doing with conquering Chinese and Arabic, feel free to drop by my blog at Our 21st Century Kids.

And, last but not least, as a special thank you for reading my guest post, click here to get access to my library of translated books! I’ll upload a new translated audiobook a month, so check back often 🙂

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Guest Post Author Bio: Llacey Simmons is an educator by heart and by trade. As an academic tutor, and now, mom to a preschooler, she spends her days helping students master complex Math and Science topics and her nights researching the latest tools to help her some conquer the Chinese and Arabic languages. She runs the informative blog, Our 21st Century Kids to give other monolingual parents the information and strategies they need to raise bilingual children.

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