Language acquisition on the road and ESL opportunities.

December 20, 2012 in Inspiration

I can never remember a time in my world where there were not at least three languages woven in and out of daily life. Being raised in Canada, I learned French at school, and English at home. My Mom was a Spanish teacher before I was born, and so she and my Dad spoke a fair bit of Spanish around the house, mainly to keep my brother and I from knowing what was going on. No faster way to teach a kid a language! Traveling the years I was 8 and 13 in Central America helped solidify the base of my third language, and while it’s not always pretty, my Spanish is serviceable.

The main reason we travel with our kids is for their educational benefit.

An important aspect of that is language acquisition. Since they were babies I’ve spoken a smattering of my two other languages to them. It was a big concern, to Hannah, when we took off traveling, that she might not be able to make friends because she didn’t know a language. Of course they all quickly learned to communicate across language barriers, but what they also found was that very quickly, they could develop a basic vocabulary that would allow them to figure out what was going on around them. Now, almost five years later, they are functionally literate in Spanish. They can understand a fair bit of French and have a double handful of words in at least five other languages. Even without the kind of immersion courses offered here, they developed language skills and loved doing it.

There are lots of ways to learn a language and several great programs that we’ve used, off and on, since our kids were toddlers to keep those language learning centers active and the brain synapsis open. But it’s almost impossible to really learn a language without immersing yourself in it, and the best way to do that is by traveling to a place and living in the language you’re learning for a while. We have found language schools here and there that are populated primarily with young people who are studying a language as they travel; and we’ve met loads of people traveling solely to become bilingual. We enrolled our kids in one (with the twenty something backpackers) in San Marcos, Guatemala to build their Spanish competency, but there are even English courses in Cambridge to be had for folks wanting to learn English as a second language. There are options wherever you go, to learn in either school or conversational settings. If your kids want to become ESL-Language Travel Students or immerse themselves in another language in any way, I could only recommend encouraging them.

The smaller the world gets, the more important multi-lingual skills will become. Find a way to expose your kids to native speakers of other languages, either through travel, or through cross-cultural connections at home!