To raise your kids to be bilingual — and biliterate — you need to get creative

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - APRIL 22: Aurora Carrillo-Vincent, 5, Matthew Carrillo-Vincent, 35, Emerson Ca
A family reads together during the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California in April.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Common Sense Media

If you’re raising your kids to be bilingual, you probably know about the usual methods parents use to encourage kids to speak two languages, from watching non-English TV shows and movies to downloading apps that let you choose your own primary language.

But there can be bumps in the road: Kids resist. You get worn down. And the language of kids’ peers prevails.

That’s when you need to get creative to nurture your kids to speak in your native tongue. Try these media and tech tricks to keep kids on track.

Change your TV’s secondary audio programming (SAP)


Most providers, including Comcast, Verizon, and Dish, let you change the language of the broadcast. Set it up using the remote control menu and have your kids watch all TV and streaming programs in the second language when available.

Kids may complain, but eventually they’ll be happy to get to watch TV at all. Talk about the show in the second language, and point out how great it is to see their favorite characters speaking the other language, which means that character is bilingual, too.

Watch YouTube videos

There are lots of bilingual shows on regular TV. But YouTube — which is global — has thousands of shows in other languages.


For younger kids, search for programs they like in the language you want them to learn. You might be able to find fully dubbed versions of their favorites or kids’ fare from other countries. (Just check first to make sure they’re age-appropriate.)

For older kids, you can find practical lessons for many languages. Create playlists, so all your kids need to do is click on the shows you’ve saved.

Listen to audiobooks

All bilingual books can help kids learn a new language. But recorded books also expose them to the sounds of the language, help with pronunciation, and improve comprehension because they’re hearing stories in context.

Add tales from your own culture to make it a more immersive experience.

Read the news from other countries

Is your kid interested in what’s happening in the world? Reading current events can be another strategy to help with vocabulary development and comprehension.

Websites like Newsela offer age-appropriate news and nonfiction articles on various reading levels in both English and Spanish.


Watch thought-provoking movies and documentaries

If you can’t find movies in the language you want your kids to learn, try films and documentaries about the people who speak the language and their culture.

Follow bilingual celebrities

Reinforce the value of bilingualism by following the social media feeds of celebrities who speak two (or more) languages.

Every so often, stars like Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who speaks French), Natalie Portman (who speaks Hebrew), Sandra Bullock (who speaks German), and the many actors who speak English and Spanish — including Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna, Gina Rodriguez, and Salma Hayek — will tweet in another language or post a message that supports language fluency.

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