We live in an increasingly diverse world. For grandparents, this means it’s likelier than ever that your grandchildren may grow up speaking a language other than English. If your grandkids can’t speak English or don’t speak it well, how are you going to create a lasting bond with them?
It’s increasingly common these days for people to move overseas for work or take the plunge and move to another country permanently. The result is a language barrier between grandkid and grandparent. This is not a completely new phenomenon. You may know people who have grown up with immigrant grandparents with whom they couldn’t communicate easily.
It’s not an insurmountable problem and even if your grandkids’ English is little or nonexistent, you can still form a close relationship with them and play an important role in their lives.
The best thing you can do is to encourage the parents to give the grandkids English lessons. There are several ways to do this. They can put the kids into an international school or a private English school. They can teach lessons at home using printouts and games. Another idea is to create an “English only” rule where only English is spoken at home.
Make It Educational
You can help by making your communications with the kids educational. Rather than teaching a formal lesson, you can just ask simple questions, sing songs, play games, and so on. One very good way to do this is to get into a regular routine of letter writing. Write simple English letters back and forth with pictures and small gifts.
Keep in Contact
Stay in contact as much as possible with your bilingual grandkids. Arrange regular calls on Skype or other online communication tools. It’s very easy to stay in touch this way these days and very cost effective. This will give your grandkids a chance to use English and also help them feel more connected to you, even if they can’t understand everything you say.
Language Courses for Grandma and Grandpa
Why not meet them halfway and take courses in their native language? This probably sounds terribly daunting, especially considering the fact that language learning gets harder as you go up in years. But you don’t have to master the language and speak it fluently. You’re not going to be entering college in their country. If you have some simple phrases and vocabulary under your belt, this will help to aid in communication. Your efforts to learn their language, whether successful or not, may encourage them to try out their English.
Why the Language Barrier Is Nothing to Worry About
Many grandparents despair over the fact that they can’t communicate 100% with their grandkids, but you shouldn’t. Grandchildren create strong, loving bonds with their grandparents even when the language isn’t totally there. Many of the games, activities and fun times you’ll share together aren’t dependent on verbal communication.
Keep in mind that kids go through phases. Young kids often feel shy about speaking a “foreign language.” A small kid who doesn’t seem to take to English may change dramatically once they enter school or gain some maturity.
Keep in mind also that kids passively learn language. A child may listen for years, taking in words and absorbing grammar, but never speak a word of the language at all. But years later, the words and phrases start coming out in a torrent. This is especially the case when they want something from grandma or grandpa!
Look at the language challenge as an adventure rather than a frustration. You and your grandchildren will find a way to communicate with each other, even if the language gets interesting.