Supporting Dual Language Learners Through Playtime 

Estimated read time 4 min read

Giving the gift of bilingualism takes effort, consistency, and creativity. As moms raising bilingual, we are constantly looking for ways to help us in supporting dual language learners. We all know that children learn best through play, so taking advantage of playtime to strengthen their language skills is an easy and fun way to support them, while also engaging them in learning about the culture and traditions of the minority language they are learning.

As a multicultural mom in her 40s, raising children in a country other than my own, I find myself trying to make my kids connect with the traditional games I used to play. These days, my oldest has been asking a lot about the things we [my husband and I] used to do growing up in the Dominican Republic, what types of games we played and how we had fun, you know, way back then (a.k.a. the stone age that was the 80s). 

Because of her curiosity, I’ve found that a great way of supporting dual language learners is by not only telling them which games we played but by showing them how to play them, in Spanish, of course! While playing with my children helps me reinforce the learning of Spanish at home, I love it also helps them develop important skills such as creativity, cognitive enhancement, emotional intelligence, and communication, among others. 

Choosing playtime as a way of supporting dual language learners also provides the added benefit of strengthening the bonds between the children and the parents, and gives them memories to treasure for life. Nowadays, the challenge many parents are facing is that playtime has been captured by the use of videogames and other screens and for many, it is difficult to get the kids interested in doing analog stuff in the digital era.

Supporting Dual Language Learners
Through Screen-Free Play

Lately, every time I get together with other moms the conversation about kids quickly turns to videogames. From those who brag about how their kids don’t bother them at all while on their tablet/phone to those who are worried and express feeling helpless at the mercy of the devices. While there is no one formula or perfect parenting method, another benefit of supporting dual language learners by playing with them is that it gets them off the controversial electronics.

In our home, we have established a specific time of the day and the maximum amount of hours the kids can either play in the tablet or watch TV. It’s either-or, they get to choose one and use it for a couple of hours after doing homework on school days and between the hours of 4 and 8 pm on holidays and weekends. Although we do hear the occasional complaint or request for more screen time, having a set rule makes it easier to steer the kids to play with toys, board games or other activities.

When it comes to playing with our kids, the same rule applies, we must establish the days of the week and time during those days we are available to play. That makes it easier for you to be prepared in advance with the games you want to introduce and make sure you do have the availability to play. During these games, make sure you are practicing the minority language, which in our home is Spanish. We often play dominoes, Parcheesi or bingo and we do it in Spanish.

Supporting dual language learners at home is not only fun for the kids, as adults, but we also get to enjoy their personalities and observe their learning in a relaxed format. Remember that different games and ways of playing help to strengthen different developmental skills as well as building abilities that transfer into academic achievement.

I’d love to hear from you! Please share which games from your childhood are you teaching your little ones.


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