Raising a child bilingually can be a struggle for families at times when life gets busy. But what if we could boost our bilingual children’s vocabulary easily simply by using our bilingual language at the dinner table?
The benefits of family mealtimes
Recently, the Washington Post published an article on how monolingual children benefit from having dinner with their parents. Research shows that young children were able to boost their vocabulary by sharing conversations around the dinner table, much more than those who were read aloud to. In this study, researchers discovered that children who shared mealtime conversations with their families learned 1,000 rare words, compared the only 143 words from parents who read storybooks aloud to their infants.
Older children also benefited greatly from sharing mealtime with their families; those who spent more time doing so had higher achievement scores than those who spent more time at school, doing homework or other related activities such as art or sports. Even more interesting is the fact that families with teenagers who ate meals together from five to seven times a week were more likely to get A’s in school.
The list of benefits continues: children who eat with their families tend to consume more fruit and vegetables, leading to a smaller chance at becoming obese, and some research even found that regular family dinners can reduce symptoms in certain medical disorders such as asthma.
Of course, we can’t forget the strong bond which is created between a child and her family while sharing time together with loved ones; family dinners lower feared high risk teenage behavior such as smoking, binge drinking, drug use, eating disorders and school problems such as violence.
So how can this help bilingual families?
If research shows that monolingual children learn up to 1,000 more rare words than those who are read aloud to, simply having a meal with your children can help their language skills in their bilingual language immensely in less than an hour of your time a day.
As a parent of a bilingual child, you may struggle finding the place or time of day to enhance your child’s language skills in their bilingual languages. Mealtimes can therefore be a great simple and fun way for you and your family to spend time together communicating in your bilingual languages. You may even want to get your kids to help you or watch you prepare the meal, boosting their vocabulary even further by naming ingredients, tools etc.
For parents struggling to raise their children’s minority language skills this may be a great option. It may be hard to find literature/media in certain languages or other speakers of the language to talk with. Choosing to use the minority language during mealtimes could help boost your child’s vocabulary by 1,000 words, as well as allowing them to practice their communication skills in a different language, by sharing interesting stories and conversations around the dinner table.
So there you have it. Share a delicious meal with your kids and expand their vocabulary while having fun together at the dinner table, using less than an hour a day!