How to teach your child a Foreign Language?
For Bilingual and Monolingual Parents
Children are growing up in a world where multiple languages are being taught and spoken both in classrooms and whilst playing in the yard. In 2016, 22% of children in The United States spoke another language at home other than English. Learning a second language has shown to help with skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and listening skills, it can also improve memory, concentration, and helps the child to be able to multitask. Bilingual children have also been known to think faster and exhibit better self-control.
Usually, the best time for a child to learn a new language is between 18-20 months when your child has experienced ‘vocabulary explosion’ in their native language.
So where can one begin?
There are many resources online for free at your fingertips but before embarking on a thorough search of the world wide web, here are the important tips and tricks you must know before teaching your child another language.
1- Start them young
The sooner you start teaching a child a new language the better. Children’s brains are still growing meaning they are receptive to new sounds. Early on, their brain is programmed to attain speech sounds and begin to mimic them. Later on, they will attempt to repeat sounds and words they’re exposed to from their environment. As a parent, conversations at the dinner table are important for their language development and also making observations whilst outside and commenting on them with your child in your spoken foreign language. Ask your child questions about what they see and gradually encourage them to expand their sentences and vocabulary. Exposure is key so it normalises learning the new language.
2- Create a positive Learning Environment
Managing your child’s behavior whilst learning is very important. A good relationship with your child will help them to learn better. Clear communication where your child feels comfortable and knows the boundaries so that they feel safe learning with you. Your child needs to feel trusted to be able to make mistakes and not be afraid to fail.
3- Keep activities short and simple
Children’s attention spans are short. Their vocabulary and conversational skills will be limited in the beginning. Activities should be no more than 10-15 minutes in length. In order to maximize learning time, you need to be organized and ready to deliver quick, sharp and fun activities to your child. Lessons can involve movement to stimulate their brain and give them a break from focusing on lessons.
4- Repetition is needed
Repetition is an underused tool in teaching a foreign language. Repeating words and phrases is so important to solidify the new vocabulary into their long-term memory. How often do we forget people’s names? Just because the child can repeat the word once, does not mean that they can recall that same word a couple of days later. You can play ping pong with the words where you say the word and the child says it back to you. Depending on the age group, you can say it in a scary voice, a baby voice, a sad voice, etc. Children love miming and pretending to be someone else. Language acquisition should be no different. Getting the child to repeat the keyword in a sentence can be very beneficial. For example, if you are teaching the word ‘beach’, get the child to repeat only that word. After the word is introduced a couple of times you can start adding verbs and adjectives with it e.g. ‘I go to the sunny beach’.
5- Take a Language Trip
Going abroad where your child can be fully immersed in the language is ideal. This allows the child to listen to the language being spoken. They are also hearing different tenses being used and being exposed to new vocabulary everyday. Maybe when you go out to the restaurant, you can get your child to order their food for themselves. Have them use the menu to help them with their order and thank the waiter or waitress for their patience.
6- Use child-friendly learning technology
There are various applications that are compatible on most devices such as duolingo, Memerise, Lingualift and Babbel but to name a few. Your child can learn languages like French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, and Japanese. The apps are kid-friendly with engaging activities that will help keep their attention. They are easy to use which means your child can work on the apps independently which empowers them to learn faster and keeps their motivation high.
7- Using gesture and mime is essential
Using actions and gestures when speaking the new language helps the child understand that there’s emotion behind what we are saying. Pointing, making facial expressions, gesturing are all tools we can use to help them to understand. By miming what we are trying to say, it helps the child to internalize the content and makes the abstract concrete.
8- Speak Slow and increase wait time
When you ask a question, wait at least 5 seconds to allow the child to respond. This allows the child to articulate their response, translate from their mother tongue, and feel confident in themselves. Feel free to record yourself to see how slow or fast you are speaking as naturally, we speak quite quickly. If we rush the questions we ask, this could discourage the child all together and make them uncomfortable. Research has shown that if you wait even 3-5 seconds longer than usual, the quality of responses improves drastically.
9- Knowing your child’s learning style will save you hours
Most children are visual learners meaning that they learn by seeing. Using graphs, charts, graphic organizers, images, powerpoints, and videos will work best for them. Auditory learners are those who learn by listening and so read-aloud, verbal instructions, and discussion will suit them best. If your child learns through movement which depending on how young they are, will be quite common, you will have to allow for movement throughout the lesson. Watch your child when they learn, observe what they do when they’re learning. This will best inform you and make the language acquisition process all the easier and a lot less stressful.
These tips and tricks are fantastic but what happens if you do not speak the target language and you still want to raise a bilingual child and give them the best head start possible in this diverse world we live in.
Here are some suggestions especially for monolingual parents.
1- Enroll your child in Language Classes
Locate a class that is suitable for your child. Remember things such as class sizes, class duration, and ability groupings when selecting the right class for your child. Ask can you observe the class being taught before enrolling your child.
2- Hire an au-pair or a bilingual babysitter
This is not only a more affordable option but it also immerses your child in an environment where the targeted language is spoken daily. The children can also create a strong association with the native speaker and the new language. A strong bond can be formed between both the child and the speaker and as their comfort level increases so will their ability to speak a foreign language. It will also open the door to other cultures and help the child to celebrate and respect the differences between people and their cultures. It will also help the child to adapt to new situations and environments.
3- Join social circles where people speak the target language
You may not be fluent in the second language but you can join communities that are and this will give you the best opportunity to also be immersed in the language yourself. If you are not aware of these types of groups in your town or city, try online via Facebook Groups or Meet Up.
It may seem a daunting task at first but you are giving your child the best start in life and creating a world they can navigate much easier because of their acquisition of a second language at an early stage of their life.