The first time I started looking for an au pair in the fall of 2016 I was completely overwhelmed. I had a two-year-old and a three-month-old. I hadn't worked (for money) in over two years, but had just been offered a job that would start in the spring of 2017. I was very emotional and extremely nervous about the prospect of leaving my children with a complete stranger.
I needed full-time childcare and knew that I wanted a Mandarin immersion environment, but, since there were no Mandarin immersion preschools near our house and since a Mandarin nanny (avg $55k/yr) was out of our price range, I was very excited to find the au pair program. Then, I ran into a problem. I was shocked at how few Chinese au pair candidates I was able to find!
If you are looking for an au pair who speaks German or a romance language, then you probably won’t have this problem. You can skip the next two sections of this post, and resume reading in the section called “How to Interview A Prospective Au Pair For Language Immersion Suitability”. However, if you are interested in finding a linguistic unicorn of an au pair (i.e. an au pair who speaks Chinese or any other “critical” language besides Portuguese), keep reading!
Where are all of the Native __________-Speaking Au Pairs?
I knew that I wanted an au pair who was a native Mandarin speaker since I had already been exposing my oldest to Mandarin since he was 5 months old. I naively expected that, since China was the most populous country in the world, there would be countless au pairs from China looking to come to the U.S.
I was very wrong.
To illustrate this, I’ll give an example. When I searched my agency's site recently, out of the 327 au pairs that were available in the next 5 months, only 1 was a fluent Mandarin speaker. By contrast, there were 123 Spanish speakers and 89 Portuguese speakers, 62 German speakers, 38 French speakers, 11 Italian speakers, and 3 Japanese speakers. Once again, that was 327 CANDIDATES and ONLY ONE from the most populous country on the planet!
After a little digging, I have developed a better understanding about why there are so few Chinese au pairs. If you are having trouble finding au pair candidates who speak the language that you want your child to learn, I’ve written a separate post that may give some explanation as to why. If you are reading this post though, you are probably more interested figuring out how to work within the existing system to maximize your chances of fiinding more of the few unicorn candidates who are available.
3 Ways To Increase Your Chances Of Finding A Linguistic Unicorn Au Pair...
If you are looking for an au pair from China or from another country that seems to have a small population of au pairs, don't be discouraged. In the example I mentioned above, even though my initial search showed that there was only one au pair available that does not mean that there actually was just one au pair available, it just means that there was one au pair that was viewable to me, at that time, from that agency. Over the years, I have learned a little more about how the agencies and au pair networks operate and how to find additional options, even when initial results make it appear that the prospect is hopeless. So, how do you find them? Read on to find out...
1. Ask The Agency If Candidates Are Being Hidden From Your Search Results
Some agencies have additional filters which are applied by default to user searches. For example, for the search I referenced at the beginning of this post, there were more au pairs available for the time period I wanted who were not visible to me, but were visible to my "Matching Specialist". Since my matching period was approaching, shortly after my self-search on the site, my matching specialist, Melissa, called to check in. I explained to her that I only saw one candidate in the search results and she said that some of the au pairs who are infant qualified (IQ) are not automatically visible to families without infants, so, she went in and made those au pairs visible to me.
By the end of the day, I had 6 au pair candidate profiles to review! This is just one example of an automatic filter that one agency uses. I have no doubt that other agencies hide other candidates for other reasons. The moral of the story is that if you are not seeing enough candidates, you should call the agency to make sure that you are seeing the full candidate pool and that none are being hidden.
2. Access “The Au Pair Underground”
In the same way that middle school students are more in touch with their peers than their teachers, au pairs are often much more in touch with other au pairs than agency staff members. If you currently have or know of an au pair from the home country you want your next au pair to come from, ask them if they are part of a social network of other similar au pairs and if they would mind posting some information about your family and what you are looking for in your next au pair.
All of my au pairs have been members of several different WeChat groups dedicated to Chinese au pairs. Some groups are for au pairs who are already in the states while others are intended to connect candidates still overseas with existing au pairs in America. Either type of group could potentially be channel for you to find and connect with a new au pair.
In the groups of au pairs who are already in the U.S. there are usually at least a handful who are looking for new host families. These au pairs fall into 2 categories: extension au pairs and re-match au pairs. Both types of au pairs can be great because they are already familiar with life in the U.S., have SSNs, U.S. bank accounts, and often, also have driver’s licenses. Here’s a little more detail about each:
Extension au pairs are “in-country” au pairs who, after about 8 months in the U.S. with their original host families, decide that they would like to stay in the program for an additional 3, 6, or 12 months, but would like to broaden their experience by spending those months with a new family (often because they would like to see a different part of the U.S. or try taking care of different aged children). Extension au pairs typically start looking for a new family 3-4 months prior to their transition date.
Re-match au pairs are also “in-country” au pairs who are either already in the process or getting ready to go through the process of “re-match”. Re-match is when either the au pair, the host family, or both parties are dissatisfied with the placement and request to re-match. Au pairs who are already in re-match, typically only have 2 weeks to find a new host family before the agency sends them back to their home country. For this reason, in order to hedge their bets, several au pairs who aren’t happy and want to initiate a re-match try to find the family they want to match with before they make their official re-match request to the agency. They do this by posting on online forums and asking other au pairs if they know of any host families looking for a new au pair. Although some people may warn you to avoid re-match au pairs, two of our families 5 au-pairs were re-match au pairs and they worked out great for us. The only downside is that both of those au pairs only had 6 months left on their visas, so, we pretty much had to start looking for new au pairs as soon as they joined our family.
Besides re-match and extension au pairs, your au pair (or any au pair you know) may be able to put you in touch with “overseas” au pair candidates who are nearing the end of the year long application process, but whose profiles have not yet been published on their agency’s site yet. If you have 4-6 months before you need an au pair to arrive and you have been running into the issue where all of the au pair candidates you like are matching with other families before you can even request an interview, then, contacting an overseas au pair candidate before other families are able to see them, may be a good approach to consider. In this case, you start a dialogue and build a relationship with the candidate before their profile goes live, so that, they want to match with you as soon as they are able to.
3. Check Other Agencies’ Websites
The final way to increase your chance of finding a unicorn au pair is to check several agencies’ websites. Although it can be a pain to fill out multiple applications for multiple au pair agencies, it can definitely pay off--especially if you are looking for an au pair from a country with relatively few candidates. When I am looking for a new au pair, if I’m not seeing enough candidates on my current agency’s site, I typically check 1 or 2 other agencies’ sites. I think some agencies are better than others about supporting au pairs and families throughout the program year (I’ve had great experience with AuPairCare), but, you and your children will spend much more time with the au pair than any member of the agency staff, so, IMHO, finding the right au pair takes precedence over finding the right agency.
Hopefully, by using one or all of the approaches above, you have been able to find at least a few au pair candidates for your family to interview.
Now, how do you use an interview to make sure that you choose the right candidate for your family?
How to Interview A Prospective Au Pair For Language Immersion Suitability
There are several good interview guides available for interviewing au pairs for basic family fit. Here is a link to a printable guide from Cultural Care and here is a post from AuPairCare about how to phrase questions in a basic interview ), but, if you are reading this post, you probablyl want to ask more specific questions about whether or not the candidate will be able to help your family meet your language acquisition goals than either of the above posts mention.
If you are interviewing an au pair candidate that you hope will help you create a language immersion environment for your child, you will want to consider the following things:
1. Are They A Native Speaker?
This might go without saying, but, the first thing you want to confirm is that the individual is a native speaker of your target language. Some candidates list languages that they are proficient but not fluent in on their candidate profiles, so, just make sure that they are comfortable and confident speaking in the language with correct grammar and pronunciation full-time.
2. Do Their Goals Align With Yours?
If language immersion is one of the principal reasons your family is considering au pair child care, then, you should ensure that your interactions and interviews with au pair candidates make this abundantly clear. Several au pairs want to participate in the program to improve their own English language skills, and thus, are not interested in moving to the U.S. to speak their native language for up to 9 hours a day, 5 days a week.
If you make this requirement clear up front, several candidates will probably turn you down. This can be confusing because, sometimes a candidate will say during the interview that they don’t mind speaking their mother tongue with the kids, but, after they think about it a little more and have interviews with other families without the language requirement, they will realize how important their language goal is for them. This can be very frustrating, but, just consider yourself lucky that they realized this before they joined your family!
By putting your expectations front and center in an interview, you have might be able to save time for both you and the candidate.
Here’s an example of something I usually say in one of my first interviews with a candidate:
“Our main reason for choosing the au pair program instead of other child care options is that we want our child to be fluent in Mandarin and to learn to appreciate Chinese culture. (Pause)
If you were our au pair, we’d ask you to ONLY speak Mandarin to our children and encourage them to respond to you in Mandarin. (Pause)
We understand that the reason many au pairs come to the U.S. is to improve their own English. If this is the main reason you joined the au pair program, then our family may not be right for you.
Is speaking 45 hours a week in Chinese okay with you or would you prefer to find a family that wants you to speak English with their children?”
Because my current au pair has typically chatted with the candidate before me and done a little pre-screening / expectation setting, most candidates I speak with are already familiar with our house rules and on board with our expectations. This is a huge perk of using the “Au Pair Underground” (mentioned above)!
3. Are They Affectionate?
This may seem like a strange question to add to a language-specific interview, but, research has proven that language is better retained when there is physical contact between teacher and learner. For this reason (and because I generally want my children’s caregivers to be affectionate ;) ), I look for pictures and videos in the candidate’s profile which show how they interact with young children. I also ask scenario-based questions about what they would do if my child got hurt either physically or emotionally and look for responses that indicate they would provide physical comfort.
4. Are They Naturally Talkative?
This is something I did not realize had such a big impact on language acquisition until we recently. We are hosting our fourth au pair and I have noticed that my kids’ Chinese has exploded and I wondered why. Then, one day last week I was working from home and I realized that our current au pair probably said the same number of words in 1 hour that our others used in 3 or 4 hours. She is a really fast talker which means that, in the same period of time, my kids’ language exposure has tripled!
Obviously, you can’t predict how talkative a person will be in your home until they are there, but, if you notice that the candidate is very bubbly and eager to talk during the interview, that is probably a good indication. Also, if you watch how much they speak in videos they share of their interactions with other kids, that can also be a good sign.
5. Do They Have A Can-Do Attitude?
Caring for children is hard enough without the additional challenge of being their language instructor layered on. Helping a child to truly blossom in a new language requires a lot of ingenuity. Ensure your au pair is capable of innovating to overcome challenges.
One way to do this by describing a realistic example of a challenge you face with your child (getting out the door on time, getting them to do homework, pick up clothes, etc. ), and asking the candidate how they could motivate the child to want to do that task.
Alternatively, you can ask if they can provide an example from a time that they were caring for a child and created something (e.g. a game or craft) that the child really enjoyed.
6. Are They Comfortable Adapting Age-Appropriate Activities To Your Child’s Proficiency Level In the Target Language?
The day-to-day of an au pair with an 8 month old host child is very different than that of an 8 year old host child. The former will obviously have to be comfortable preparing milk, changing diapers, singing lullabyes, etc., while the latter may need to be comfortable playing soccer, riding bikes, or helping with math homework.
Making sure that a candidate has experience caring for similar aged children and children with similar interests to yours is a good practice regardless of whether you want your au pair to speak a foreign language or not. However, the ability of an au pair to use vocabulary your child understands to perform activities that they enjoy, will be critical if you are hosting an au pair to help your child gain proficiency in a language. This is especially important if you are asking your au pair to help your child learn to read or write in the target language.
For example, my current au pair is brilliant about motivating my eldest son to learn Chinese characters by making daily games with his flashcards and teaching him new vocabulary about his favorite topics (i.e. superheroes). To tell whether a candidate would be able to engage your child and make new vocabulary relevant to them, tell the candidate a little about your child’s interests and your language learning goals for your child, then ask a scenario-based question about what they would do with your child to help your child meet those goals. If their answer is completely off the mark, then, you should probably continue your search. That said...
Don't Give Up :)
The process of finding a caregiver for your child is stressful enough on its own. Finding a caregiver who will also be your child's primary language teacher can make it seem daunting, but, there are truly thousands of exceptional candidates out there. Hopefully, the tips above will help you find the right one for your family.
If you already have found a unicorn au pair for your child's immersion and you have advice that wasn't mentioned in this post, please comment below and share your learning with the rest of our community. (Your email address will not be published)
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