One of the oft-cited opportunities of au pair childcare is the idea that your children can learn another language from your au pair.
Sometimes people choose au pairs to help them reinforce a second language that is already spoken in the household (perhaps, by one of the parents or by a child adopted from another country). Or, they might want to learn a new language together (perhaps learning some German in preparation for their trip to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup).
This is conceptually a great idea, but you might run into trouble if you want your au pair to speak with you all in her native language, but she wants to practice her English with you.
Left to her own choice, your au pair might prefer to speak English with you so that she can become more fluent. (Becoming fluent in English is one of the top three reasons for becoming an au pair.) So, to help meet both of these goals, you might need to get creative.
How can you manage these (possibly competing) goals?
Rather than issue blanket directives (e.g., All Portuguese! All the time!) try parsing up the days, weeks and activities:
Set aside certain activities for ‘second language’ time. Bedtime stories, singing games, baths, etc. can all be good time to remember to speak in another language.
Set aside certain times of day: how about All Spanish Sunday? Tinglit Tuesday? Or the “Morning Russian Around”?
Try bilingual games — where she can teach you and the kids words, phrases and idioms in her language and you can do the same for her. What does “from the get-go really mean? When do you use that, and not “Get a jump start”? This can get especially fun if the phrase sounds naughty. (Quelqu’un pour “tant pis”?)
Choose entertainment in the second language. Kids can watch a scary Disney movie in her language and you all can play with the vocabulary, maybe even talk back to the characters. (Öffnen Sie die Tür nicht! Tun Sie nicht!) (Franzi, that’s for you :-) )
Speaking the second language with a few key people. If you have family members who speak the au pair’s second language, you could ask her to speak it with that person, so the kids can listen in and learn. (Not to mention, wouldn’t Baba just love to speak Romanian with someone!)
Be sure to turn these activities around to give your au pair some focused times to practice her English with you.
What ways have you tried to blend a second language into your home?
Have you had and great successes or challenges using native language as a selection criterion? Do tell …