Want to teach your child a foreign language? Learning a second language is becoming more and more popular around the world for a good reason.
Whether it is because you want your child to Skype with a grandparent in Taiwan or because you want her to be able to watch “Amélie” without subtitles, incorporating a foreign language into your child’s daily routine will have multiple cognitive and social benefits.
With so many benefits of being bilingual, an increasing number of parents are trying to give their children the gift of a foreign language. Not all know the best way to go about it, though.
Bilingual parents have the advantage of being able to teach their child a second language themselves. There are many language strategies to follow for raising bilingual children. Our exclusive range of baby nursery products will help create the perfect baby nursery for your baby.
However, for parents who don’t have additional language skills teaching your child a foreign language can be challenging.
The Benefits of Learning a Language When You’re Young
From a very young age, language learning can have significant benefits. Even toddlers can begin learning a foreign language—and reap the benefits of doing so. There is a critical age for language learning.
Children can be world travellers in their brains—or quickly gain proficiency in a foreign language—until the age of seven; however, the first critical period in language development is between six and 12 months.
In this period, babies absorb the sounds that they are surrounded by and learn to distinguish between different phonemes or auditory units of language (e.g., an “s” sound, a “sh” sound, and so on).
By exposing a child to another language in this early stage of life, you can teach a child’s brain to identify differences between the sounds of a language that a non-native speaker would have difficulty perceiving or articulating.
Exposing your child to a foreign language from an early age has countless benefits.
Among these are the cultivation of problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and the early achievement of some significant milestones.
Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills
Studies show that children exposed to a second language have a boost in creativity and problem-solving skills. Bilingual children have a creative advantage. If you ask children, “How many ways could you use an empty water bottle?” a bilingual child is more likely to come up with multiple answers, such as, “Fill it with sand and make it a paperweight.” This is likely because children exposed to another language are “mentally flexible.”
Early Milestone Achievement
Learning another language may also help children reach developmental milestones faster than their single-language peers.
A second language can help young children develop the concept of “object permanence” earlier than the typical age of about eight months.
Object permanence is a crucial milestone in childhood cognitive development, as it means that a child understands that an object exists even though it cannot be seen.
Studies show that children introduced to a second language reach this cognitive stage sooner, perhaps because they are exposed to the idea that a single object can have different-sounding names.
Once you decide you want to incorporate a foreign language into your child’s life, you can employ a range of strategies.
Below are different steps in teaching your child a foreign language and techniques that work well if you (or others in your household) speak a foreign language, as well as five strategies for monolingual parents and caregivers.
Steps to Teach Your Child a Foreign Language
Introduce the Language Early
The first step to teaching your child a foreign language is to start as soon as possible. Start now, no matter how old your child is.
Even babies can learn a foreign language if they are exposed from birth.
Many argue that a “Critical Period” where a child’s ability to learn a new language diminishes as they get older.
It doesn’t mean that older children can’t still learn a foreign language. It may just mean they know differently, or it may not be as easy.
Introducing a language early on will give your child the best chance at mastering a foreign language as they get older.
Start Teaching the Basics
Even if you don’t know the foreign language, you are teaching. You can start with the basics. Just hearing the target language can help children get an ear for the different tones.
Learn the colours and shapes together, lear/n to count together, and sing songs. Play games together. Label things around the house and practice identifying them.
One of the most effective ways to teach your child a foreign language is by listening to music, so have songs playing in the background constantly, and after a while, your child will be bopping along singing the words.
Engaging in activities that your child loves and makes language learning enjoyable. Children learn better when they are having fun.
Whether it be playing games, or drawing, take advantage of playtime together to introduce new vocabulary and phrases.
Take Advantage of Foreign Language Resources
When teaching your child a foreign language, resources will be your best friend.
Research online for foreign language books, language apps, online language programs, games and activities.
Use screen time to your advantage and allow your child to watch their favourite cartoons or tv programs in a foreign language.
You can find an exhaustive list of language resources on Bilingual Kidspot, which includes over 15 languages that will help to teach your child the target language.
Seek Outside Support
Outside support can be beneficial when you don’t speak a second language yourself.
Find a language immersion class in your area or a foreign language class. Lessons from a native speaker in the target language will be a great help, even if you can only manage a couple of times per week.
Learning a second language can only work with enough exposure and resources.
Find Opportunities to Practice the Target Language
While language classes, groups, and other study materials will set down a good foundation for language learning, you will need to find ways for your child to practice what they have learned.
It isn’t enough to simply listen or study words. Children need to use a language to master it.
Hiring a bilingual nanny or even hosting an exchange student are great ways to teach your child a foreign language.
Having a native speaker around in a natural environment will help your child learn the language in a natural way and give them plenty of time to practice.
Join social groups with people who speak the language or travel to countries where the language is told to give your child more exposure.
Find your child a pen-pal from a foreign country to practice their writing skills and learn about the culture and the language.
In other words, find people or situations where you are surrounded by people who speak the language your child is learning.
It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But teaching your child a foreign language is a gift that can last a lifetime.
What You Can Do as a Parent in a Bilingual or Multilingual Home
You can teach your child a second language with the same methods to reinforce the first language. The more you use the second language in your home, the more fluent your child will become. As Colin Baker writes in the pamphlet Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism, “language among young children is caught rather than taught.”
Here are five techniques that you can use to incorporate a foreign language into your child’s routine.
Teach Through Repetition.
Children learn through repetition and active engagement with another language. You can apply this technique at home by doing an activity in English and then doing the same action in a second language a few days later.
For instance, if you are making an egg-carton train with your child, the first time, you would emphasise the vocabulary for train, wheel, egg, and various colours in English. Later, you could do the same activity and express the exact words in a second language.
Use Big Gestures and Physical Demonstrations.
Pairing nonverbal communication with vocabulary words helps children comprehend language.
When your child can associate your exaggerated and expressive gestures, facial expressions, and physical demonstrations with vocabulary, she is more likely to comprehend and remember those terms.
If you ever wanted to test your improv comedy skills, now is your chance!
Create a Positive Learning Environment.
Second-language learners need support and encouragement to engage in social interactions. Parents and teachers should help children who are struggling to communicate by providing a prompt (e.g., “Ask your sister, ‘Can I have the scissors, please?'”) and using open-ended questions, such as those that start with the words why or how, to elicit complex responses. Looking for the best tables and chairs for a baby playroom? Look no further. My Baby Nursery has you covered.
Teach Through Engaging Activities.
The challenge of teaching a new language is providing experiences that are both cognitively demanding and content-rich.
Too often, undemanding activities, like flipping through flashcards, are used to teach language.
It is essential to design cognitively engaging activities so that your child will experience language and not just be exposed to it through effortless repetition.
For example, if you would like to go over weather vocabulary with your child, you should incorporate it into a science experiment to make a rainbow.
Do Your Play-By-Play.
Having a running commentary in a second language is a great way to immerse a child in that second language.
Talk out daily routines and activities, as you do them, in a second language.
For example, while you are making dinner, have a running commentary of all of your actions, such as, “I am walking to the refrigerator,” and “I am slicing an onion.” Your child will pick up these language cues from associating that activity with the vocabulary.
What You Can Do as a Parent in a Monolingual Home
It’s relatively easy to incorporate second-language learning when you already speak a second language.
But monolingual parents can teach their young children foreign languages, as well. Here are five techniques that you can employ.
Have Your Child Spend Time With a Native Speaker.
In a study by Patricia Kuhl called “Foreign-Language Experience in Infancy: Effects of Short-Term Exposure and Social Interaction on Phonetic Learning,” nine-month-old children were first exposed to Mandarin in different forms: via audio clips, videos, and interactions with native speakers.
The researchers found that within 12 sessions (totalling five hours), the children exposed to Mandarin through social interactions had the same level of phonetic recognition of Mandarin sounds as infants who had been raised in Taiwan their entire lives.
Meanwhile, the infants who had only been exposed to the language through audio or video did not make significant language gains.
This is because interactions with a live person provided the children with social cues that held their attention so that less dynamic formats, such as audio recordings and DVDs, did not.
Contact a bilingual family member, friend, neighbour, or caretaker who can spend time with your child.
You can set up playdates or excursions in which this person can speak to your child in the target language, thus creating a truly immersive experience.
Find Media in Another Language.
While using audio or video media to learn a language may be less effective than in-person interactions, it is a more feasible option to allow your child to gain exposure to foreign language acquisition.
For instance, you may find music in a foreign language that you and your child can enjoy together.
Use Kid-Friendly Language-Learning Software.
There are dozens of programs out there that help young learners immerse themselves in another language.
SheKnows, for example, offers lessons in Spanish, French, Arabic, and Japanese, among others. Other options that parents can look into are Little Pim and Gus on the Go.
Find Extracurriculars in a Foreign Language.
Suppose you are having difficulty finding native speakers in your community. In that case, you can consider enrolling your child in an extracurricular activity in which she can be exposed to a foreign language.
This may take the shape of formalised lessons with a tutor or activities that just happen in another language.
For instance, this list from Mommy Poppins features dozens of music and dance programs to teach children Spanish.
Learn the Language Together.
While this may be the most time-consuming option, if you have the time and are interested in learning a foreign language, you can make this a team effort. Through adult courses or language-learning programs like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone, you can master a language and slowly teach your child what you learn. It may be the longest route, but it will have you and your child bonding through your mutual learning.
Once you incorporate language learning into your child’s routine, you are likely to see new linguistic and cognitive development.
Teaching Your Child to Be Bilingual
There are several ways to teach your child to speak more than one language. You can:
- Use two languages from the start. Many children grow up learning two languages at the same time.
- Use only one language at home. Your child can learn the second language when he starts school.
- Give your child many chances to hear and practice both languages during the day.
Learning More Than One Language
Every bilingual child is unique. Learning two languages depends on the amount and type of practice your child gets. The following are some basic guidelines:
- Most bilingual children speak their first words by the time they are one year old. By age 2, most children can use two-word phrases. Phrases like “my ball” or “more juice” can be in one or both languages.
- From time to time, children may mix grammar rules. They might use words from both languages in the same sentence. This is a normal part of becoming bilingual.
- Some children may not talk much when they start using a second language. This “silent period” can last for several months. Again, this is normal and will go away.
Ways to Help Your Child Become Bilingual
You can read to your child in both languages. You can find the books you need at bookstores, libraries, and on the Internet.
Singing is a great way to introduce a second language to your child. And, it can be a lot of fun!
Tv and Videos.
Children’s programs are available in many languages. These programs teach children about numbers, letters, colours, and simple words.
Children can learn other languages at camps or in bilingual school programs. These give children the chance to use two languages with other children.
Talking With Your Child
Your child might have trouble using both languages. In this case, talk to your child in the language you know best. You should do this even if your child uses a different vocabulary at school.
A good language model gives your child the skills he needs to learn other languages. But try not to make a sudden change in your child’s routine. This can be stressful. Check out our range of baby nursery products and furniture for all your baby needs.
Remember, children all over the world learn more than one language all the time. Learning another language will not cause or worsen speech or language problems. Bilingual children develop language skills just as other children do.