Being a student of language myself (a student who regretfully has yet to attain the level of mastery she desires) I strongly believe that a more systematic approach to communication is going to prove to be the most fruitful for my children.
Take my husband for example. Raised in a similar environment of synthesized speech, he has an impressive vocabulary of about 500 non-English words and phrases. However, he doesn't have enough command of the grammar to use any of these in a non-English speech pattern (unless its HAE/pidgin English, which is grammatically closer to Hawaiian).
Living in this house, its a given that our kids will pick up the vocabulary. I want them to also be able to communicate (speaking and listening, reading and writing) in another language. But I dont even speak Hawaiian!!! So where do I start?
- First things first, pick a language. For the purposes of our house we have picked Hawaiian - something that is culturally significant to us and has available resources in our community to supplement our lack of knowledge/fluency.
- Read books in your language of choice. You might not understand what you are saying, but to a baby its all the same anyhow - besides, reading aloud is good practice.
- Watch movie or listen to music/stories in language of choice. It helps to familiarize you with the speech patterns and pronunciation, not to mention gives your kid an opportunity to hear some native speakers.
- Learn some basic phrases and commit to using those phrases in your second language only. Things like "come here" "stand up" "sit down" "be quiet" "what's this/that?" "good job!" are all good places to start.
- Take a class or find a language immersion play group. Aha Punana Leo (the Hawaiian immersion school) offers free Hawaiian language classes here on Monday nights. I went last night for the first time and it was good fun! The more native speaker you can interact with, the better!
My guess is that I am going to get out of this what I put into it. So, no mo' hilahila (shame) - dive right in and start speaking today!