How To And WHY Raise a Global Kid

July 23, 2011

  how to raise a global kid

Is Far East immersion to raise an American kid with Chinese Asian education or traveling around the world with children good choices for families today? What are the advantages of raising a bilingual or mulitlingual children from birth? Is there a better way for deep immersion into Spanish than going to a local school in Spain?

Parents and educators seem most interested in these topics today and perhaps the economic climate is impacting this trend. Personally, I think it is a waste to do extended travel with young kids and NOT take advantage of deep language immersion.

"Not training our kids to be able to work and live in an international environment is like leaving them illiterate" David Boren

"if we look towards the nest generation, it's almost unavoidable to think anything else that that China will be a very important global actor." Bjorklund

  American girl connecting with kids in Bhutan

"If a person who speaks three languages is a trilingual, and one who speaks four languages is a quadrilingual, what is someone called who speaks no foreign languages at all? Answer: an American ~ Kristof

Newsweek has a fascinating article this week about how to raise a global kid that is making me think and clearly it's on many people's minds. ( Thanks to Christine who sent it to me on Facebook). Again we find ourselves as accidental trendsetters, but we prove that ordinary monolinguals CAN do this since we've been doing it going on 6 years now on just $23 a day per person. No,  you don't have to be a billionaire to give the same cultural and cognitive advantages to your kids and there are many different ways to do this. I advise starting young.

Interestingly we were also just in the Chicago Tribune in their Globe-trotting With the Kids article about seeing as much of the planet as possible while circling the globe with kids and listing us as a resource for extended journeys as a family

Plus we were featured in Have Family Will Travel with our first Youtube video Where in Heaven is Mozart, which became a viral travel video ( we still have to get up part 2 and 3 of that video which are almost ready as we've seen so many more countries since that was made). Also by chance dear Benny happened to mention us in comments at Fluent in 3 months. Discussing global kids seems to be in the air!

Global kid traveling in  Europe

In 2004 a report in the UK showed that having a second language could increase an average worker's salary by $226,700 over a lifetime. Studies show that a bilingual or multilingual person can make a greater salary than a computer programmer or engineer as they can use their abilities with languages for a wide range of success. Studies in both the U.S. and Canada show that bilinguals make more money.

"Indeed, because English is spoken so universally, it no longer offers companeis and employees the edge it once did, according to a recent report by British linguist David Gaddol. If you want to get ahead, learn Mandarin. "In many Asian countries, in Europe and the USA, Mandarin has emerged as the new must-have language" Gaddol notes" Time

extended travel with grandma in Asia

There  are MANY advantages to learning a language and raising ones child as a polyglot, not just for the economic market place.  Bilinguals from birth have many lifelong advantages from much earlier abstract thinking which helps in math, plus better executive control to even forestalling Alzheimer’s disease and more. The best way to learn a culture is to learn the language and spend time where the language is dominant. Today, thanks to tech, that spending-time-else-where is easier than ever as we no longer have to school or work in one place.

I agree with MIT linguist Pinker who says: "One free lunch in the world is to learn another language in early childhood."  Too many miss that important window and it is doable even for ordinary monolinguals like us. We used resources in typical white bread suburbia USA that most miss. America is filled with language learning opportunities and more should be made for pregnant woman and babies where language learning begins most easily.

I think every preschool and school in the US should be Spanish immersion, so all kids get the advantages to their growing brain. I think Canada should do that with French so everyone becomes bilingual and has all the advantages. Since Pew predicts 29% of US population will be Hispanic by 2050, I agree with Kristof who said in the New York Times "Every child in the United States should learn Spanish, beginning in elementary school; Chinese makes a terrific addition to Spanish, but not a substitute. ". I say the earlier the better. With two fluent, it is easier to add others.

 None of us can learn every language, and as fun and rewarding as language learning is, it's also many years of hard work and needs to be kept up always. Kids can lose languages as easily as they pick them up, so it is a long term commitment.  What is the most important language to learn today? Experts seem divided about languages importance depending on economics and depending on language by population, so  I suppose it will vary according to perspective. Nobody knows the future, but language learning benefits undoubtedly.

  American girl feeling at home in Asia thanks to Mandarin

I find it most logical to spend the effort on the most dominant languages in different language families. If one is fluent in Spanish it is very easy to later add French, Italian, Portuguese, Latin etc. If one is fluent in Mandarin it is easy to add Japanese and other tonal languages. I think my grandchildren will need Hindi just based on population trends.

Computer translation will get better, but it wll never be as advantages as knowing another language and culture. English, Mandarin and Spanish are the top languages online currently, but many of the English speakers use it as a second language and Mandarin and Spanish are rising faster than English.

Every language that you add, makes you better at your dominant language and it gets easier to add more as the brain becomes more sensitive to language and code breaking. The real driving force for English as a global language is because the United States has had enormous political and economic power but that is changing. In much of East Asia, Mandarin Chinese has  already displaced English as the chief second language of study. One third of the students at my daughter's Mandarin school in Asia are boarders who come from other Asian countries.

Because language learning is hard work, strategic choosing makes sense to me. I'd hate to put all this work into an obscure language that hardly anyone speaks. Not that I don't love Gaelic which is part of my heritage, but it made a lot more sense to master Spanish which is half of my child's genetics and heritage, but also a dominant language that is more useful to her.

Just as I strategically picked violin and piano for our daughter to learn music from an early age,  with a superb  foundation in music and languages, she can later tweak it to what ever she needs. Yes, she picked violin and piano, but I also discouraged lessons in other instruments or languages because of the time commitment. My view is she can easily add new languages or new instruments later if she wants, but I will guide her and sacrifice to give her what I think is most important for her foundation.

global kids love the world and know it well

International business, translation, linguist and international law are not the only advantages to deep fluency in the major languages and economic powers  of the planet just as learning an instrument doesn't mean one has to become a musician to receive the benefits.  Being able to work or go to a University in the world's top three languages, understanding the cultures in a deep way by living and schooling with locals, having deep friendships around the world, feeling at home any where in th world, is a huge advantage that we can already see even with our ten year old. No matter what she does in life, having three dominant languages and  playing two instruments will add to her life immensely and also give her important skills to pass on to her children.

That is really the point for us..just to give her a good foundation.

What do you think about helping your child become a global citizen? Are learning languages important? How about travel? Is there a difference with vacations compared to extended travel? If you can just add one language which would you choose and why? Are there ways to take advantage of the global community that lives in every country to help make immersion available for those who don't travel? Can things like couchsurfing and home exchange make it more accessible to all?

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Just a correction - Japanese is not a tonal language and has no similarities to Chinese except for the characters that are Chinese originally but used also in Japan as one of the three alphabets in Japanese. So no, knowing Chinese is not an advantage in learning Japanese.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks a bunch Jenny! I am sure no expert on Japanese or any language, but I have heard from many people who have learned both Japanese and Mandarin Chinese that it is a great advantage to know Mandarin first.

Certainly Mandarin is the more useful language today of the two due to business and sheer numbers ( many Japanese are learning Mandarin) and I've read many Japanese words were adopted from Chinese dialects. So theoretically one could add Japanese and if you do both, most suggest doing Mandarin first to give you an edge. ( If you are a native English speaker).

Korean and Thai are quite different as well, but I have heard being fluent in Mandarin also helps with those as well as the many dialects of Chinese.

I imagine actually, the work out the brain gets with learning Mandarin well would make it valuable for learning any other language.

But that probably applies to Japanese too! ;)


Perhaps you posted about this earlier, in which case I would be grateful if you could please point me to it - you mention repeatedly you're getting by on $23 per day.

But even $23 per day for 3 people means affording ~$2000 a month! Did you have enough savings before you embarked on this adventure that you can afford this lifestyle as well as well as afford to fund at least a part of Mozart's college education should she choose that option when she is older? How do you afford health insurance? How do you plan for life after your ability to travel diminishes?

Or, do you or your husband have a dream job that allows you to telecommute and work part-time so you can afford to travel?

I ask because while I am totally sold on the benefits, for the life of me I can't imagine how to afford the $2000 a month without a job, and that too over multiple years.

I would love to know how to afford this lifestyle. Thank you.


We're just finishing up a cross country (US) trip with our 3 kiddos and believe/hope we're helping them get a bigger view of the world around them. We've also traveled to Colombia and Argentina to visit with family and we speak Spanish (although not as much as I'd planned). Ideally, we'd like to raise our kids to appreciate the differences in other cultures and see the world as their home.

I agree with your ideas for preparing your children for the future, although I'm not sure about how you worded some things about how 'you've' put in 'all this work' and 'strategically picked' what instruments they'll play. I guess I see it more as guiding them toward living a well-rounded life and exposing them to other ways of living rather than choosing the path they will take. Just my point of view - I do appreciate your views as well.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

SS - Yes, I have talked about this before and how that $23/day per person is broken down from 25K a year total costs for a family of 3. See my post on how to do extended travel:

It may seem like the impossible dream but it is not.

It takes planning and prep, but most 1st worlders can do this and it is a fast growing trend. There are as many ways to do it as people doing it, the first step is believing you can do it and committing to it. We like everyone who has done it had fears and doubts in the beginning.

25K a year total costs for a family of three is actually much less than most live on in the US. There are people who live and travel on much less, but we like luxury and exploring expensive countries. ( We don't just want to be in SE Asia or south and central America).

25K is MUCH cheaper than what we ever lived on at home and we sold our home and all of our belongings and saved for many years while living well under our means so that we could retire very early. We travel slowly and live like natives and are actually saving money as we roam the world adding to our nest egg, through our investments and living frugally.

I give specific details on what we spend in a place like wintering in Penang ( which could be done much cheaper than we do it):

What we pay and how we winter in Spain:

How we eat cheaply and healthy in Europe:

Health insurance and medical and dental costs are MUCH cheaper outside of the US. There are many families doing variations of this lifestyle and like us, most are quite ordinary people. Some do find internet work or telecommute. Some teach English. Some do freelance work. etc etc. It's actually a growing trend and a different mindset. Today there is a TON of how-to information on the internet about travel lifestyle, location independent living etc and I'd start with two great books that we are featured case studies in ..4Hour Workweek, and Art of Non-Conformity.

I don't believer in debt for college and I highly recommend you also read Maya Frost's the New Global Student who did this with 4 teens and all finished college without debt.

This digital nomad travel lifestyle is truly a growing trend that almost everyone in the first world can do. I know a kiwi family with 8 kids who did it and a young single mom who was inspired by us and is doing it now with 5 young adopted mixed race kids. Many do this with sailboats. If there is a will there is a way but each person will have to find their own way to it.

Unlike when we started when we sold our home in 2005, today there are endless how-to resources to help you.

Check out our FAQ page for more info or my list of families that have done this or are doing it. Good luck!


My personal feeling is that although languages and music skills are helpful for a well rounded education the greatest benefit one could give their child from extended travel is to do it in a way that they can obtain multiple passports. That is the only way to ensure they will have the opportunities for work, life and healthcare to suit their future needs.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Practicalmama..Good for you! We're excited to do our first USA road trip soon and looking forward to showing more of the U.S. to our child.

I was actually addressing the point that someone brought up in the Newsweek article who said that she didn't think it was a good idea to be strategic in languages and I disagree..especially for monolingual parents. I was just explaining my view on why I disagree.

We are big believers in following our child's lead, but I also think parents need to take the lead because they know more than their kids due to experience, so it is a balance.

Kids do not become fluent in languages or instruments without a parents guidance and regular practice. Few would even get the habit of brushing teeth etc without a parent encouraging/enforcing it daily. Most won't memorize the times tables without a teachers or parents help in daily practice until it is done. Most will not become obsessive readers of books unless the habit is encouraged from babyhood etc.

Most kids will not use a second language if they go to school where another language is dominant, so some family rules are necessary.

I agree with the guiding and exposing, but I do think, especially for monolingual parents (who do not have the luxury of another language or relatives who speak it too and family where the language is dominant), that it takes work and sacrifice.

Also it depends on the level of language one wants. We want our child to be fluent-as-a-native in Spanish and Mandarin reading, writing and speaking. That definitely takes work and commitment for many years...especially as monolingual parents.

My daughter did pick her instruments, and actually I never thought about the violin. She picked it because all the neighbor kids played it, so even at 2 she was fascinated by it and luckily they all learned through a fantastic teacher who lived nearby and was a master teacher even for the very young.

She plays other instruments as well and we encourage that play and have bought her drums, harmonica, recorder, ocarinas etc. BUT I am not going to pay for lessons in them at this point ( although she has had lessons in the recorder at school etc and I am glad for that).

She also wants to learn French, Dutch, German, Korean, Indonesian, Arabic, etc but I am not going to pay for those lessons now.

So in that way we are strategic because there is only so much time and so much money in this world.

We hope to do what best supports her and our family goals.

She can always add other languages and instruments later if she wants, but we wanted to be most practical for our particular circumstances.

Thus, I don't think we disagree so much, just some-what semantics and different circumstances.

It takes hard work to learn instruments and languages well, especially if one is a monolingual, non-music playing family. Since we can't learn everything, we just want to give our child a good foundation that hopefully will serve her in her life in many ways and be passed on for generations.

To me it just seemed much more practical to put this hard work into the languages and instruments that would most support her.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Interesting thoughts Bruce, thanks! It's fairly easy to do the multiple passports, but one certainly doesn't need that for health care.

Nor does one have to have that to work or live as a global citizen.

Obviously I think languages are much more important as we've done them and haven't yet added any passports... but may or may not down the line. ;)


For me, learning languages and traveling is VERY important, and essential to a well rounded education. But I'm not going to slow travel around the world to make my children fluent in the major languages.

I know languages like Thai (five tones) and Hmong (eight tones) are not spoken much outside of SE Asia, but learning them is no less valuable to our inner person. 1) Languages help you understand the world differently. I have emotions I did not know I had prior to learning an Asian language. I see comparions between words I never noticed before. So I often find myself thinking in more than one language. 2) Languages allow us to help those who do not speak our language. That's why Americans need to learn Spanish, but a language like Hmong is no less important for us and where we live.

I do hope to learn Chinese someday, though. Really do!! I agree with you that those who speak the dominate languages have an advantage in the global market. In addition to mandarian and Spanish, I think learning Russia would be great for that purpose. But there is only so much time.

The hardest part of a tonal language, for me, was not the tones. The language was just so grammatically different than previous languages I have studied (English, Spanish, and Greek - Spanish I've forgotten). Japanese has pitch accents, I believe, which are predicable based on the number of syllables in a word, but the words are not "distinguished" by the pitch like a tonal language. (Mai has five different meanings in Thai, and eight in Hmong, distinguished only by pitch). English has accents as well. When I first learned a tonal language, the mid tone was the hardest for me to pronounce because we don't pronounce muli-sllyable words in English in all mid tone. We slightly fluncuate our voice though its not noticable like the Japanese. And I agree with Jeannie that mandarian would help with Japanese because your ears reasily hear tones and pitch.

@SS. Its very true that wills have a way. I've even known someone to teach English on a world cruise ship for a year. How cool is that! Network marketing is an amazing way to make money. I first came to SE Asia when I was 22, and had no job or company. I came because I knew there would never have the right amount of time or money to fulfill my dreams (which look very different than other people as my dream is to build a company oversees).


This is a great post. Just to clarify the Japanese-Chinese.
The Japanese written language consists of Hiragana, Katakana (syllabic scripts)and kanji, which were borrowed from Chinese. Chinese readers won´t have to learn Kanji when learning Japanese.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Marla for your input! Now that you are fluent in two tonal languages I am sure it will be much easier to learn Mandarin. You are more ambitious than I am in languages..kidlet is like that too and has many on her list. ;)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks hinata! I really appreciate that!

Dena Haines

Hi, this is a really interesting post.

We moved from Canada to Ecuador two years ago with our daughter, she was 8 then.

Living in this culture, and learning Spanish has been awesome for her!

I agree that living abroad with your children is a wonderful gift to be able to give them. And that there are a lot of people that could do this, but just think they can't.

We sold our house, business and most of our belongings. Moved here and secured some work on line.

Our daughter is home-schooled, as she was in Canada, but because almost all of the people we spend time with are Ecuadorian, she is fluent.

Just one little point about French in Canada, it's mainly spoken in only one province. It's much more useful for children to learn a more widely spoken (speaking on a world wide basis) language like Spanish, if the goal is to give your children wider future possibilities.

Love the pictures!

Henry Williams

This is a great article it really opened my eyes


Thank you for such a thoughtful and thorough response, greatly appreciate it!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

SS - I really appreciate that feedback! Thanks!!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Dena - Thanks for your input! I thought of French for Canada because it is one of the languages of the country, but your point also makes sense.

French is also an important language although not as strong as Spanish in the world. If one is truly fluent in one, it is quite easy to add the other.

I hear you about picking it up in the environment, and I understand the love of homeschooling, but deep fluency like reading and writing like a native is MUCH easier in schools or maybe extensive one on one lessons from a tutor in such an environment.

Ecuador is on our list..hope we can meet when we finally get to South America!


I study linguistics, so I am well aware of how important languages are to the brain, and how much commitment it can take to teach a child a second language (even if that language is the native language of the parents!). But good news! Once a child learns a language, even a little bit, even if they forget it, that language (and similar ones) will be much easier to relearn than they are to learn! Another benefit, it seems that bilinguals from birth (at least before the critical period) are also less likely to suffer full aphasia than monolinguals in the event of a stroke!! This is because aphasia is caused by damage to the language part of the brain. But in a bilingual, there are extra parts of the brain dedicated to language, including a significant more representation in the right hemisphere. This means that in the event of a stroke, even if the prime language area is hit, there is still plenty of language capability left! (trouble is, you do not know which language will be affected, so you might be stuck with your secondary language). Cheers!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Adrienne! I agree 100%!


So I'm a little behind on commenting, but I just stumbled across the blog today. This was a very inspiring post. I am native to the U.S., but I have lived in both Japan and Ecuador. I regret that my parents did not put me in language courses as a child, because as an adult, it has been very difficult to learn and separate the Spanish and Japanese languages in my head. I'm still learning, though! My fiance and I are planning to honeymoon in Japan as he has never been out of the country (Bahamas vacation doesn't count), and I feel very strongly about immersing our kids in another culture one day. He and I have talked about the reality of that actually happening, and your blog has rekindled my belief that it is completely possible!

I too wish Spanish was a requirement in U.S. elementary schools, and I see the benefit of French in Canada (French is the official language of many African nations).

The earlier response was correct in that Japanese is not a tonal language. There are a very limited number of words that mean different things depending on how you accent them (i.e. sake [rice wine] and sakE [salmon]), but overall it is a very straightforward syllabic language. I agree with YOU, however, that learning Mandarin would be beneficial in learning Japanese.. not in spoken language, but in reading and writing. Kanji has been INCREDIBLY difficult for me to learn, and I am a very visual learner. I learned hiragana and katakana in a week, but kanji is another story...

Anyway, thank you for being so open in sharing your journey!!


So happy you found us Ashton, welcome to our blog! Love your wise comment and perspective.

I blog primarily as a record for our daughter, but very happy that the info is helpful to others.

Raising kids like this is easier than ever today and does have so many advantages...language and cultural immersion being a big one!

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