Tetsu Yung from AskTetsu shows how bringing in au pairs can be a great way to create an immersive environment at home.
When parents think of language immersion for their kids, they often think of immersion schools in the local country or going to local schools in foreign countries. But many will be surprised to hear that it is possible to bring immersion into the comfort of your home! Let me tell you about how we introduced Spanish immersion in our home for our kids with excellent results.
But first, a little bit about our family. We are a multilingual/multicultural family composed of daddy, that’s me, who’s half Taiwanese and half Japanese, mommy, who’s Japanese, and 4 kids, aged 8, 7, 4, and almost 1. Grandpa (Taiwanese) and grandma (Japanese) also live with us in our home in Quebec, Canada. So just with this background information, it is not difficult for most to see good reasons for us to raise our children in at least 4 languages: Mandarin and Japanese from our heritage, and French and English from our community. But we decided to go one step further and added Spanish to the mix, as we thought it could come in very handy for our kids later in life.
As the “nice-to-have” language in the list, we were not keen on investing significant amounts of resources for Spanish, such as sending each of the kids to immersion schools or burdening them with language classes. Sending them abroad for authentic immersion was also, of course, out of the question.
Instead of sending the kids out to learn Spanish, we decided to bring Spanish into our home for them to learn right in the comfort of the house. We did this by bringing in au pairs to live with us.
Au pairs are basically live-in caregivers, often young girls (although male au pairs exist) from foreign countries looking for experience abroad, while providing some help in the house and taking care of the kids in exchange for room and board and some pocket money.
We had our first au pair from Mexico in August 2015, when our oldest had just turned 3 and our second was about 20 months old. We loved our experience so much that we have since been working with au pairs consistently year after year. In total, we’ve had 8 au pairs thus far, one of which was a male au pair, and two of which were brought on for English (at the same time as the Spanish one).
Having a Spanish native in the house with us 24/7 is the ultimate immersion program you can create for your children in your house. It is obviously very compelling for the kids to learn Spanish very quickly and naturally, so they can communicate effectively with their caregiver. It is not a burden for them, because they WANT to interact with their loving nanny. Furthermore, each child will learn age appropriate language that is specific to their living context, not made-up situations in textbooks.
Importantly, it is said that strong emotional bonds significantly enhance language acquisition, and what better way to create that bond than having au pairs living with them and caring for them. It is essentially like having another family member in the house.
But wait, there is more!
Depending on your arrangement with the au pairs, they can also help out with light chores in the house, washing clothes, some cleaning, and some even cook occasionally!
But one must not forget, their purpose for coming to your country is not to become professional babysitters nor house cleaners. They are curious youngsters who want to gain experience in foreign countries. So as hosts, we must keep this in mind and do our best to give them what they came for. For example, most au pairs really want to learn languages themselves also, so not only do I help them with their English, we also help them get French lessons from local teachers or even give them Japanese lessons ourselves. We also ensure they get the most Canadian experience possible, taking them to key sightseeing spots (Niagara Falls, Montreal, Quebec City, etc.), teaching them how to ski or ice skate, etc. Furthermore, we have also brought many of them with us to Japan and Taiwan in the spring and summer months.
In essence, we want to ensure that our relationship with the au pairs is as mutually beneficial as possible because we feel that this relationship does not end after they go back to their respective countries. In fact, we have kept a very good relationship with all of our past au pairs over the years, some have come back to visit us, some have asked me for reference letters for employment, and one has even come back for a second term.
Having au pairs in our home is one of many ideas that I discuss in my book “Pampers to Polyglots: 7 Ideas for Raising Multilinguals Like Me”. Raising children to speak more than one language is an incredibly worthwhile pursuit that allows you to unlock so many opportunities for their future. It is also, however, not always easy, and can feel overwhelming at times. I highly recommend you read up on the subject, find allies in other parents who are also going through similar challenges, and seek expert advice periodically to ensure your important mission is always on track.
Tetsu Yung is a multilingual father of 4 small children. He runs the YouTube channel AskTetsu, where he shares his knowledge and experience raising his kids in 5 languages: English, Japanese, French, Mandarin, and Spanish. He is a consultant, author, and speaker on the topic of raising multilingual children.
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