Froshii BilingoFun app – the teamwork between mother and son

While I was born in Hong Kong, I have spent the better part of my adolescence growing up in an English-speaking country before settling down in Europe. Due to my multicultural upbringing, many people are curious about the languages I am bringing my children up with and what my mother tongue really is.

Mother tongue usually refers to the language an individual learns to speak as a child at home or a language which will eventually be passed on to the child from their parents. Traditionally, people pass on their mother tongue to the next generation and their children follow the same tradition. However, as the world we live in becomes more diverse, the language a child grows up with at home can be different from the language of the environment they live in (i.e. language used out in society or in schools). Growing up in such environments normally means that these children can have more than one mother tongue. However, their proficiency in each of their learned languages can differ. In fact, in many cases the language the child uses for school and outside the household is more likely their most proficient language.

There are many reasons why parents want their child to learn new languages. It could be that they want their child to learn a language because of their heritage or simply hope to develop the language skills of their child further.

How it all started

The idea of Froshii BilingoFun started with the question: “How can I get my 5-year-old son interested in learning Cantonese (my mother tongue) and possibly Mandarin (standard Chinese) while he is already being brought up with two other languages: German and English?”. Therefore, I started to search for some digital toys and media as they usually attract the attention of most children easily. However, as Cantonese is considered a minority language, I was not able to find a lot of good learning materials, especially for kids. Furthermore, I discovered that most language apps found on smartphones only teach basic words that can be described well by a picture. As soon as a word cannot be easily described by a picture, the true meaning of the word becomes unclear to the child, leading him/her to misinterpret the new word. This is also the reason why most language apps for kids are teaching only basics vocabulary and overlook the importance of conversation.

As I am a software developer, I thought “Why not develop my own language learning app for my kids?” I started by observing how my son learns languages. What kind of toys or media he found the most interesting as well as which educational toys work better.

Discovering more about multilingual children

Through research, I discovered that multilingual children had no problem learning two languages at the same time. Children pick up words very quickly so if they are being taught in 2 languages simultaneously, they usually don’t have any problems learning both languages well. In addition, I noticed that they can transfer the language skills they developed in one language to another. For example, when I teach my son Cantonese, I will first tell him the English meaning follow with the Cantonese word. This helps him understand the new word better. The challenge is that it requires extra effort on the parent’s side to provide enough exposure to all the languages the children are learning.

While designing the app, I uncovered the challenges that an app normally has when teaching children a new language. This is because learning dialogues normally require the guidance and support from someone who knows the new language themselves. For example, by showing my son a short video in a new language several times, without any guidance, he was not able to understand much of the content.

Therefore, BilingoFun applies a new concept that helps multilingual children develop their weaker or new language with the help of their stronger one by presenting both languages to them simultaneously.

Working as a mother and son team

Throughout the development process, my son keeps inspiring and providing me with a lot of constructive feedback. He will tell me what he likes about the app and when he has difficulty using the app. It was also very encouraging and motivating to see how excited he got when a new game is ready or whenever he asks “When is the next game ready?”. He is also a great tester as he found 80% of the bugs in the app. When he found a fault in the app, he will be very excited and shouted: “Mama, I found a bug!”

It has been such an amazing adventure to work as a team of mother and son! We have had such an enjoyable time.