Becoming an au pair offers a young woman many advantages. Besides giving her the opportunity to travel to places she’s never seen, it also gives the person traveling abroad a unique perspective.
Learning about a language and a culture is an entirely different experience when one lives in the host country with a native-speaking family as opposed to just visiting the country for a few weeks. This opportunity offers the in home child care provider with a complete language immersion situation—the best way to acquire a language quickly and in context. And unlike classroom language instruction, learning a language in a foreign country gives the nanny an opportunity to learn her new language in the same way an au pair learned her mother tongue—through contact with native speakers.
For beginning language students, working with small children each day is an ideal place to start learning and using a language. For many adults learning a language, feelings of awkwardness are common as the adult struggles to express their self in the new language in even the most basic way. However, young children often don’t speak in full sentences, use visual language cues like pointing to convey their point, and spend hours listening to simple nursery rhymes and stories. These resources give the nanny exposure to the language without the pressure of having adult conversations with adult-level vocabulary. While it would be easy to discount the advantages one gains from learning a language this way, this method provides solid contact with it; most people who study a language realize that most of the day-to-day conversations on the street don’t involve very complicated ideas. Despite this, many adult language learners are reluctant to speak to other adults, because they lack practice. Talking with the children in a family builds confidence and vocabulary before the au pair is required to carry on full conversations with other adults.
Once an in home child care provider develops linguistic confidence by speaking to the children of the house on a regular basis, talking with the adults of the home gives her further opportunities to not only practice speaking, but to get feedback. It’s natural for non-native speakers to make mistakes when learning a language. Adult speakers of the language can help explain what more complicated phrases mean, convey the meanings of colloquialisms, and introduce more complicated sentence structures and complex words into the nanny’s vocabulary. However, unlike some adults the nanny might encounter, their host family will most likely be more understanding of the mistakes she makes as she learns the language, giving her a safe environment in which to practice before the au pair begins speaking with other native-speaking adults in the country.
Although the benefits of taking an au pair job in a foreign country are many, perhaps one of the best ones is the chance it gives an in home child care worker to learn a new language. In these days of globalization, the person who has foreign experience and can speak a foreign language often have the best work opportunities. While a young nanny may not wish to work in child care forever, the days spent living and working in someone’s home and with their children hold many rewards beyond just the day-to-day perks of working to earn a bit of money. It may be the key to a bright future.