Cultural Experiences

Resolution for 2014: Introduce my child to a second language

the slightest edgeI can’t tell you how often people come up to me with wonder in their eyes asking how my children speak Mandarin when I don’t speak it at all. These parents think that accomplishing this goal was some sort of Herculean feat that took hours and hours of classes for my children and a huge change in our family lifestyle.

Not true. Here is a little secret….

I just finished reading The Slight Edge: Secrets to a Successful Life by Jeff Olson which suggests motivational tools to help you make small changes in your life toward success. The author’s main “secret” is to spend a little bit of time each day consistently on your goal. Every minute you spend on that dream moves you one step closer to making it a reality. The idea is that if you chip away at that plan each day it will add up to a lot even though day-by-day  it does not appear as if you are making much of a dent.

I did not realize it, but I was actually applying the “slightest edge” techniques to my approach of teaching my children a second language. Every day my children get a little bit of Mandarin — sometimes it is two or three hours and other times it is just 20 minutes. They get a bit of Mandarin every day — without fail. There is not a day that goes by where they don’t get some exposure in Mandarin. The cumulative effects of that exposure has allowed my children to be fluent in Mandarin.

Is it hard work? No. 

Have we dramatically altered the way our family works to incorporate Mandarin into our lives? No. 

Do we spend hours and hours drilling Mandarin into our children’s brains? No. 

Do my children speak Mandarin fluently? YES. 

But how

In our family, the kids might get to watch a TV show on the weekend in Mandarin. On a plane ride, we will bring the iPad and the kids play Mandarin games. When my husband, Jim, and I go out on a date night, we hire a Mandarin-speaking babysitter. If our children express an interest in a class, we look for a tutor or a class offered in Mandarin. Our bookshelves are filled in Mandarin books. The kids’ bedroom has posters in Mandarin. Check out my Top 10 Ways to Get Started to find what small changes to you can do that would work in your family.

Jeff Olsen’s Slight Edge theory is that if you do something that you want to accomplish a little bit each day consistently, you will reach your desired goal.

Start chipping away at your ideas today!

Happy New Year!





Filed Under: Babysitter Help, Chinese, Classes, Cultural Experiences, Product Reviews

Getting Started …

lisaLisa Sarafidis – Guest Blogger

I have a confession to make. My kids don’t speak French. Not that they should, since we don’t live in France (“Hello, Captain Obvious”, as my daughter would say). However, I had assumed that we would have made more progress in French by now, since it is a goal of mine to have multilingual children. And my kids really want to learn French. And I speak French myself. And, and, and…

Apparently, just wishing it were true does not a multilingual family make. And my efforts so far have not been very rigorous. We work hard on the Greek, since that is my husband’s native language, but the French lessons have been few and far between. So, I am issuing a challenge to myself, and to any of you out there that have been thinking, “Gee, I really want my kid to speak French” (or Chinese, or whatever language you choose): let just get started!  I’ll share what I am doing, and we’d love to hear what you are up to.

I’ll document for you (and myself) the steps I take with them, and share what works, and what doesn’t. The one overriding principal will be “Keep it fun!”.  This isn’t about lesson plans, but ways of introducing them to French and French culture (or which ever language you choose) so that they think it’s a game. I am going to try something new each week, whether it’s a theme, or a book, or a website.  So, without further ado, here we go! 

Snack Time!

Eat Like the French, curing picky eatersSince I love to eat, and my kids love to eat, I decided food would be a great place for us to begin. I recently read this wonderful book called “French Kids Eat Everything“, which documents how a Canadian mother, married to a Frenchman, was able to transform her picky, snack-obsessed children into fabuous eaters. Sign me up! In a nutshell, the book describes how French kids are trained from a young age to eat very well during their meals (lunch and dinner are usually 4 courses), and they are only allowed one snack a day, called the gouter (pronounced goo-TAY), which is generally served to them around 4:30. While they only get one snack a day (so as to not spoil their appetites), it is an awesome snack. Think pain au chocolate, croissants, or other yummy pastries. At all other times, they are served what the adults are eating, with the theory that if they are hungry, they will eat it. I’m going to write more about this book at a later date, because there are lots of other ideas in it I want to share, but for now, I’ll just say that so far, it really does seem to be working.

I explained to my kids that in the spirit of learning French, they were going to start eating like FrenchChocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes kids. We were going to be making the table fancy for every meal, including using a….wait for it…tablecloth (gasps from the kids…looks of puzzlement as they try to figure out the purpose of the strange blanket I am putting on the table). They would be having no snacks, except for the gouter, but I would let them pick the gouter, and they could help me make it every Sunday. For all other meals in the house, they would have to eat exactly what I made for myself and my husband.  I had expected a full-scale revolt, but much to my surprise, they are 100% on board. And I think it is due to the gouter. Above is a picture of the first gouter we have made, Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes, from one of my favorite food blogs, The Smitten Kitchen.

Shameless Self-Promotion

french for kids, french apps for kids, shopping appWhile we were sitting at the table on Monday evening, all civilized with our table cloth, glass cups and fancy plates, my son asked me how to say “Please pass the milk” in French.  And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember the French word for milk. I told him to wait a second, and I would look it up on google on my phone. To which he responded, “Why don’t you just look it up on Lingo’s Market?”.  Oh.  Right.  The grocery shopping app that has 100 food items in French, Spanish, English and Chinese that we spent 2 years of our lives making. 

My kids often play with the app- sometimes to mess around in one of the languages, but frequently just to watch him burp or fart (to those of you who have bought the app, you are welcome!) I hadn’t yet purposely used it for language-learning…and not to toot our own horn, but it totally works!  As we were sitting at the table, whenever there was a food item they wanted to know, they would use the app as a dictionary, and scroll through the store to find the word. Or to watch Lingo eat garbage bags, which is apparently hysterical. So this is now part of our evening routine, if only for a few minutes at the beginning of dinner.

Sight Words

The last thing I am adding this week is actually one of the first things we put up on this website a few years ago…sight words for french learning tools, sight words in french, teach kids frencharound the house. These are a series of images that describe things in different parts of the house, written in French, Spanish, English and Chinese. You print them out, and tape them to the item they describe, so kids can easily absorb the word. We have them for the kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom so far, and they are free! Just download here, print, and tape up! For this week, I am only putting up the kitchen words, but you could do all of them at one time if you want.

So that’s what we are doing this week. It was actually pretty easy and took minimal time to set up. We’d love to hear from you guys- any tips to share? Post it on our facebook page, leave it in a comment below, or drop us an email at



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Filed Under: App Reviews, Cultural Experiences, French, Games to Learn a Second Language

Grocery Shopping for Language Learning: Cheerios or Seaweed?

A few weeks ago I went hiking with a good girlfriend and my daughter, Lousha. When we got back to the car, Lousha settled herself into her carseat and asked for a snack.

“Cheerios or seaweed?” I asked her.

“Seaweed,” she responded. 

While the preference for seaweed is very normal for our family, my girlfriend thought it was hysterical that my daughter would choose seaweed over the American staple of Cheerios.

When living in Japan from 2004 – 2007, we did not have a choice. We could either buy Cheerios for 40 bucks a box at the expat market or learn how to incorporate Japanese staples into our lives. In order to not bankrupt us on Cheerios, I chose to explore Japanese grocery stores and try out new food items every day. Of course, there were moments where the discovery was less than desirable — like when we tried to feed my one year old son squid and he spit it out dribbling a river of black ink all over himself and our white carpet. But most of the time, we loved learning about Japanese culture through food. 

When we moved back to California in 2007 and chose to teach our children Chinese and what better way to introduce our kids to the culture of China than through food! Every week we pop over to one of the many markets in the Bay Area and pick up our snacks. From a language learning perspective, the children love talking with the grocery staff, asking them all sorts of questions, like when Dragon Fruit will come back in season. Usually, we try to pick up one unusual snack item each time, but our staples are: 

  • gyoza/potstickers: 锅贴 
  • dumplings: 饺子
  • shrimp chips: 虾芯片
  • almond cookies: 杏仁饼干
  • yakult: 養樂多
  • fish cake: 甜不辣
  • rice crackers:米果


1. Visit a grocery store where the predominant language spoken there is the language that you are teaching your children.

2. Download our wonderful app called Lingo’s Market and watch your child delight in feeding Lingo the Dragon over 103 different food items in English, Mandarin, Spanish and/or French. 

3. Put a free ad up in the grocery store or on craigslist in search of someone who could teach you about the food items in the grocery store or maybe even teach you how to cook foods from this culture. In Japan, I did a language exchange with a native woman where we would take turns each week going to a traditional Japanese market and then the expat market filled with American products. We both learned more about each other’s cultures, food items and improved our Japanese and English at the same time!  

4. Give your children a scavenger hunt for them to find different food items in the grocery store. For example, ask them to find the word for “apple” written in the language in that store. In the Chinese markets, the words for all of the food items are written both in English and Mandarin. 

5. Have your children test out their language skills by asking staff members at the grocery store for a specific item. My children love to show off their language skills whenever we visit a Chinese market and it is exciting for my children to realize that the language they are learning has an application in the real world. 

6. Explore cooking meals from different cultures at home with your children. Many of these illustrated, kid-focused cookbooks include not only traditional recipes from different cultures but also neat little facts about the dishes shown. 



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Filed Under: Cultural Experiences

How to Find a Helper Who Speaks a Second Language?

You need a little extra help during the day or you are looking for a babysitter to watch your kiddos at night — why not hire someone who speaks your second language choice? A helper who speaks a second language helps not only mom and dad get some time to run errands, but also can act as a language tutor for your child!


How can you find a helper who speaks your second language choice?

  • Post an ad online:Craigslist is a wonderful, free resource to help you find someone who speaks your second language choice. Make sure that you are very specific in the title of your request. For example, “Seeking Mandarin-speaking Babysitter for my two children”. Post it under gigs/ domestic or under jobs/education. 
  • Spare room: If you have a spare room and are open to this idea, offer housing in exchange for babysitting help. Again, you can post this request in under housing/shared and be very specific about what you are looking for in the title of your post. 
  • Au Pair Agency: Go through an Au Pair Agency and get connected to an energetic and enthusiastic person who speaks your second language choice. So many young people would love the opportunity to work abroad and if you have a little extra space in your house, you can get help at a fraction of the price you would pay normally. If things don’t work out with your new helper, most agencies will let you interview and find someone new. 
  • Popular Spots: Create a little flyer with tags with your phone number/email address and post it at places where people who speak that second language tend to frequent. For example, if you are looking for a Mandarin helper, go to a Chinese grocery store and post your flyer there. 
  • Churches: Go to a church that caters to people who speak the second language that interests you and ask them if you can put up a flyer on their community boards. You can search online at churches in your area to see if they offer a service in that second language. For example, maybe a church near you offers a 10 am service in Spanish. That would be a great spot for you to post a request for a Spanish helper. 

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  • In Person: While it can be a little bit daunting, go to a place where you know people who speak that language will be and hand out little flyers about your offering. Attend a church service in that second language and hand out your flyer to everyone leaving the church. Hand out flyers one morning outside of a busy grocery store that caters to people who speak your second language choice on a Sunday morning. Stop by a shop where a lot of the employees who work there speak that second language and give a few of the people who work there a bundle of flyers to hand out to their friends. 
  • Colleges: Many colleges have offices that are devoted to students from foreign countries. Go to those offices and ask if you can put up a flyer as well as post on their electronic job boards for your babysitter position. A lot of students might also be looking for room shares and so if you have a spare room, approaching a nearby college might be a great idea for you to find a wonderful candidate. 
  • Online Groups: Join some yahoo groups with a focus in your language of choice and post your question about finding a helper there. One of the parents in that group might be enrolling her child in kindergarten the following year and will no longer need her helper.
  • Nanny Agency: Many nanny agencies specialize in hiring people just from specific countries. Check out or do a google search for agencies near you. 


Filed Under: Babysitter Help, Cultural Experiences

Sleep on It: Music to Help Teach a Second Language

Why not teach your child a second language while they sleep? As part of your nighttime routine, put on Chinese, Spanish, French, (you name it) music and the beautiful words of these languages will lull your children to sleep while they soak up the language in their dreams. 

You don’t need anything fancy — just an old player that you find at a garage sale will do! You can involve your child in the decision making process by getting 3-4 CDs so that he can pick which one he wants to listen to before bedtime. You may find that your child enjoys the music so much that he puts it on himself while he plays in his room! 

What a simple, easy and fun way to get language into your child’s life! 

I downloaded a whole bunch of tracks and put them on my kids’ ipods to play each night. The music lasts for about a hour and a half and I love the fact that their little brains get to engage with Mandarin Chinese words in their sleep. Often, before Jim and I go to bed at night, I will just press “play” one more time so that my children can get a second dose of language immersion while they count sheep!

Frequently Asked Questions: 

1. My kid does not like to listen to music when he goes to bed — what can I do? 

  • Option 1: You can be sneaky — like me! My son used to listen to the music when he went to sleep, but then the player broke and we did not have music for awhile when he went to sleep. As a result, he decided when we got a new player that he did not want to listen to the Chinese music at bedtime any longer. Now, I wait for him to fall asleep and then I put it on when we are about to go to bed ourselves. So far, he has not figured it out! 🙂 
  • Option 2. Let him pick out the music that he listens to at night. Perhaps he would prefer something funny or something calming. Amazon allows you to listen to music before you buy so check out a few of the tracks with your kids and get “buy in” from your little ones before you “buy”! 

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Filed Under: Cultural Experiences, Music to Learn a Second Language