We've all heard about summer learning loss...
...and while that one rings true for just about any family with kids in a traditional school setting where the kids are off for 8 weeks during the summer months, there is an additional threat lurking around the corner of summertime and next school year for families that opted in to sending their offspring to a language immersion school. It's called summer language loss and describes just what you'd expect - the decline of those hard achieved language skills during the school year.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do about it - and no, you don't have to be fluent in the target language yourself. Here are my tips to counteract summer language loss:
1. Enforce good reading habits!
A little each day goes a long way. Let them choose what they want to read. And if you're running out of books, Katharina at Kinderbooks can help - at least if German is one of your languages. She is located in Glendale, CA, where you can browse her carfully and lovingly sourced selection of German books in person (by appointment only). You can also order directly from her website. She delivers locally and ships throughout the US.
2. Read to them, too!
Read those books to your kid(s), in both, the target language and in the community language. you will see how they start falling in love with stories. And they can take ownership of diving into their favorite book, identifying images in the ilustrations and becoming confident in their verbal skills. As their verbal language skills really start to blossom, they also learn new words and expand their vocabulary, thanks to hearing you read aloud to them. Read more about the benefits of reading to kids at all ages.
3. Let them indulge in screen time - but use it strategically!
While it's been determined in several studies that young children do not benefit from screen time when acquiring language(s), there's something to be said about the benefits that DO come from watching TV in older kids, such as improved awareness for the sounds of the target language and contextual understanding of new words due to linking them to visuals. Now, I'm not saying park them in front of the TV for 8 weeks and hope for the best, but we all need some downtime - so, why not use it to our advantage? After all, we still have a say in WHAT is being watched.
4. Enroll them in fun classes and summer camp in the target language!
Unless there are deficits that they need to work and catch up on over summer break, have them participate in non-academic classes that cater to their interests such as art or sports. If those don't exist where you live, don't hesitate to round up some families with the same target language and put a class on yourself! If you're local to LA, make sure to check my class catalog from time to time for updates on classes and subscribe to my newsletter to get the announcements. Summer camp is a fantastic option for a full immersive experience and definitely the most efficient option if you can't spend the summer abroad in a country where the target language is spoken. And if nothing fits the bill, there are plenty of classes that can be taken online.
5. Spend some dedicated target language time at home!
If you don't speak the language yourself or only know a few words, this tip will actually help you both. Grab your favorite board game and google a few terms in the target language beforehand. Even just a few short phrases in relation to the game (such as "roll the die", "go", "stop", or having to count or name colors) count as target language input. It's certainly better than nothing at all, isn't it?! And if you're somewhat advanced (no need to be fluent), your dedicated target language time could be a trip to the grocery store, a conversation about an interesting topic or any other shared activity you can think of. You see, perfection takes a back seat over intentionality here. Key is to schedule it to take place at least a few times every week. Even better, make it a daily occurrence by working intentional target language time into your routine. Consistency is everything!
6. Take that trip!
If you're able to travel - especially for an extended stay - in order to have your child be immersed in the target language AND the culture, don't hesitate for a second and go for it! Maybe it's your home country that you're visiting for the summer, so your kids can be with your side of the family. Maybe it's a country you've never even been to but where they speak the target language. No matter the specifics, a vacation to immerse in the language will propel your child's language progress forward like nothing else can do. I've had my fair share of little passive bilinguals in my classes that "understood everything" but simply "wouldn't produce" and who came back after mom or dad took them to their native country and suddenly were fluent (with a regional accent nonetheless!). There is no greater motivation for a bilingual child than putting poor grandma out of her misery by speaking her native language rather than trying to decipher her attempts of speaking English or needing five minutes just to understand that you will die if you don't get more of that awesome chocolate right this second.
Summer is only a short couple of months away. Put a plan into place, stick to it, and set them up for a successful transition into the next school year!
Visit the Kinderspiel website to find current online and in-person classes, tailored to your needs. Or contact the Kinderspiel team directly, they are happy to help you find the right classes for your German learning progress in a 20 minute FREE phone consultation!
A German native, Hanna has been teaching and tutoring German, DAZ/DAF (German as a second/foreign language) and ESL since 2009. She started her own German After School Program in the Los Angeles Area in 2019. She is the mother of two daughters, ages 6 and 3, who she raises bilingually. Her mission is to get the kids of her programs acquainted with more than just language. In appealing to your kids' interests and teaching culture & traditions. Her goal is to show them a purpose in putting their German into practice.