Going global with your kids

Foreign culture and language have been a part of my life since childhood. I think it started when my mom would throw in Dutch phrases here and there. I remember the words krentjebrij and oliebollen, which were the names of desserts she liked to make. I wondered about these foreign phrases and was curious about what they meant. Later, I recall being at the dinner table when my older brother told me there were upside down question marks in Spanish. I was sure he was lying to me.

Eventually, my love of language and culture led me to localization, which I’ve now been working in for 20 years.

As people who have traveled to many places and learned other languages, my partner and I have realized that as our children grow, we’d like to instill in them this same kind of love for culture and language. We live in a small town in the northwest part of the United States. Although it’s a beautiful place, sometimes we feel a bit land-locked and consumed by our own culture. We have to be creative about incorporating other cultures and customs into our lives in order to expose our kids (who are six and four) to cultures that exist outside of our small town. How can we open their eyes to the world beyond and teach them to appreciate people and ideas which come from a different place? We’ve found several ways to do this. This list is not exhaustive, but here’s what is working for us:

Getting involved with international students from the local university. This has been, by far, the most effective method for introducing our kids to new cultures, customs and people from other countries. Our most recent event was attending a birthday party for a little boy from South Korea. They played typical South Korean games, which were quite different from anything our boys have done or seen before. The kids jumped right in and tried the games.

Since we started volunteering with the international students when our kids were quite young, they’re used to being around people who may not speak English perfectly or who eat food that is just a little different from our standard fare. Participating with our friends in their culture is far more successful and fulfilling for teaching our boys than just us sitting at home and talking about customs. The kids naturally overlook language and cultural differences and simply see a friend.

Teaching our children a second language. This is a good way to help them understand that not all people speak the same language. The world suddenly opens up in a new way when they understand that communication varies by region and country. We’re considering enrolling our son in a school that begins Spanish at kindergarten.

Teaching our children geography. This goes hand-in-hand with teaching a second language. We show our kids maps, teach them about the language, the weather, the customs — all excellent ways to have them appreciate that outside of our little town there are fascinating places to visit.

Trying new foods. In our “meat and potatoes” town, we like to give our kids opportunities to try other foods. There are so many other dishes and cuisines. We want them to be able to be willing to try something new. Plus, it’s a bonus for us when we can go get ethnic food and there’s something our kids can enjoy too.

Teaching our kids to notice and value other people. When they notice something a little different about the students or families with whom we volunteer, we talk about it openly and try to teach them to appreciate the difference. There’s so much for them to learn when they see someone with a different custom.

Listening to music from other countries. Not only will they hear different languages and accents, but they will develop a taste for other kinds of music. I taught our kids “La Cucaracha” and they find it quite funny.

While we often speak of being global as a business, our family is making it our business with our kids to take them global. It might be a while before we are able to travel with them internationally, but we hope we’re giving them a good start on appreciating the world while we’re local.