Incorporating Holidays into Language Learning – Part I

We all know how much children enjoy most holidays. The months of October, November, December and January are ideal months for parents to take advantage of the spirit of the fall and winter holidays and link it to the traditions of the countries where the language their children are learning is spoken. Children will enjoy learning about other traditions as they practice their language skills. Here is a short list of some favorites among children who are learning languages:

In October, children in Spanish classes, like to learn about and talk about “El Dia de los Muertos” (the Day of the Dead), a holiday celebrated in Mexico. They enjoy creating scary masks and participating in a parade of the dead.

On November 11th, Martinstag, German students participate in lantern processions (Martinsumzüge or Laternenumzüge) with lanterns they make in class. They also sing the songs they learned in class as they march around a square at dusk being lead by an actor impersonating the Saint, usually dressed up as a Roman soldier riding on a horse.

St. Nikolaus delivered German treats and left them in my son's shoe! Lecker!!

St. Nikolaus delivered German treats and left them in my son’s shoe! Lecker!!

On December 5th (the eve of the feast of St Nikolaus),    St. Nikolaus (the German Santa) comes to German children’s homes and fills their shoes left outside their front doors with traditional German treats. At my children’s German school, they celebrate a variation of feast. St. Nikolaus comes during their lesson and fills their shoes left outside their classrooms. Tradition says he was a kind soul who cared for the poor and acted virtuously to all he met. He fills children’s shoes with nuts, fruits and other treats. A typical craft on this day is a Nikolaus-Stiefel (Nicholas boot).



The French customarily give Advent calendars and Advent wreaths to the eager children in anticipation of Christmas.  Some young children will make wreaths similar to the once featured in the photo.

French centerpiece crafted in my son's preschool French class.

French centerpiece crafted in my son’s preschool French class.

In January, on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, children who study Italian are visited by Befana who fills their socks with candy and presents if they were good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they were less than good.

December is also the month to listen to festive carols and holiday songs in other languages in your car or at home and read holiday stories in the target language.  Hearing familiar lyrics and stories in the target language during the holidays boosts children’s confidence as they make the connections and are able to infer the meanings of words based on their familiarity with such songs and stories in their first language.

If your child is enrolled in a language class, it is likely that the syllabus includes these celebrations or similar activities. If it is not, it is fairly easy for parents to expose their children to these fun events by contacting cultural centers in your cities and inquiring about the cultural programs designed for children.  Parents could also quickly research the traditions and folklore of countries and create the fun at home in a family setting.  Remember to keep the fun in the language learning process!!

My next post on Holidays and Language Learning – Part II will be published in the Spring and will cover Valentines’ Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. Stay tuned!!

À bientôt.


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