The Bilingual Montessori
The teaching of a second language must begin, ideally, at the time of birth. It’s never too soon to start!
The OPOL technique
If one of the parents can speak a different language, the best option for your family might be to implement a very well-known and successful technique known as OPOL: one person, one language. This means that one of the parents, or grandparents, or some other primary caregiver who spends several hours a week with the child, will always talk to him in a particular language. It is important to be very strict and make as little exceptions as possible. For example, if we decide that the Italian grandfather will teach his grandchildren his native language, he should always talk to them in Italian. We have used this technique at home with great success.
In some cases, it is not possible to implement the OPOL technique, but there are some other alternatives which can be worth a try: for example, you can create a weekly schedule and choose to speak in the second language only two days a week, or only during breakfast, or on all days from ten to eleven o'clock in the morning, etc. Try to take it as a fun game, but be as faithful as you can to the schedule you decide.
Activities to promote the learning of a second language
- Reading foreign books together: get books in your second language (Amazon is a good place to start if there are not foreign book stores in your area) and read them to your child. Start by simply pointing at objects in the book and naming them. “This is an apple, this child is running”, and so on. After a while, ask your child and see if he can remember the words. As always, you can use a three-part lesson to help them remember new vocabulary.
- When children have learnt to read you can label the objects around the house with their names in your second language (for example, put a note that says “silla” on a chair if you are learning Spanish).
Do some of the Montessori activities from this book in the language you are trying to learn. For example, label colours in German or learn the parts of a plant in French.
Ideas for parents who don’t speak any foreign languages
If you want to teach your child a language that you can’t speak well (or at all), there are still many things you can do to make it easier for your child to learn it:
- If you don’t usually allow your child to watch cartoons or play games on the computer, but he still would like to, you can make a deal and allow him to do so as long as they are in the second language of your choice,
- If you have the possibility, enrol your child in a bilingual school or playgroup,
- Check for expat associations in your area and ask for permission to join them. In many cities, there are expatriate mother groups who meet regularly on playdates. You might also find some of these groups through social networks. In many cases, they will accept native mothers and children, as long as they are respectful with their culture and make an effort to speak their language.
- Look for a bilingual or foreign baby sitter or get an au-pair.
These ideas are not specifically Montessori, but they will be of great help when teaching your child a second (or third) language. Of course, you can always try all the activities outlined in the previous chapters in bilingual mode.
- For example, when working with the movable alphabet, you can form words in Spanish and Italian,
- Or you can make three-part cards with the parts of a plant in German,
- When counting, do if first in English and then in French, etc.
The possibilities are endless, and raising a bilingual child is easier than you think. If you are not native speakers, though, don’t be surprised if the child develops a preference for his native language and speaks it with greater fluency than his second language. This is natural and should not worry you. It’s better to speak a bit of French than no French at all!