Parents who want their children to learn a language early on normally speak the language with them, but often realise that the child doesn’t want to speak the language. In fact hearing a language only from one or two persons is not enough, babies are thus missing the opportunity to interact with more people in that language, which would allow them to acquire a better command of the language, as well as help them perceive the need to use the language actively in certain contexts.
Playgroups are effective in this sense as they complement the efforts of the family. A playgroup is not a language class, it’s an opportunity to speak and hear a language in a context other than home, it’s fun as it is a chance for kids and babies to play and it’s very effective because it requires interactions with multiple people and children. In any case, it is essential for parents, or other people very close to the child, to attend, both because these are the people that primarily transmit the use of the language, and because young or very young children would feel much more comfortable and safe. Parents’ presence is important also to provide consistency. Ideally some of the activities we do at the playgroup could and should be carried on at home, for instance reading the same stories or singing the same songs or just by returning on the themes and words we used at the playgroup. By hearing sounds, words and phrases repetitively it will be easier for children to recognise them and learn to use them.
Playgroups are particularly important for very young children, and this is an aspect easily underestimated. The first years, and the first year specifically, is when babies are most receptive to languages, so it is essential to create ample opportunities for hearing and using the language early on.
Finally, let’s not underestimate that playgroups are important also for the parents themselves. Playgroups help parents to stay motivated and to be consistent, offer opportunities to compare and review their methodology and also to see the results of their efforts, some children who refuse to speak English at home happen to speak it without even noticing while they are playing.
At the end of the day the secret to raise bilingual children is motivation (which by the way is a key ingredient of success in most circumstances). Parents need motivation to stick to a methodology and be consistent. Children need motivation to speak the language. One of the main objectives of the playgroups is precisely this, keeping parents and children motivated.