I think a lot about what it takes to really learn a language because I am raising my own children with no less than three of them, but also because I find it absolutely fascinating. My experience is that there are several things children (and adults!) need to speak a new tongue.
Each child is different. Some children are very vocal from the beginning and start talking early. Others are late talkers but are very quick to walk and run. All children have their own strengths and weaknesses, and for some, their special power is learning languages. Talent, however is not necessary as we can make up for it by hard work and determination. That being said, having a gift for languages makes learning them much easier.
Money is the most common thing that comes to mind when we think of “resources”. It’s true, learning a language is expensive and requires various material ressources such as books, DVD’s or apps. Language classes are not for free, either. But there are several others we should think of. Take time, for example. It’s not only about the many hours in a day needed to explore the language, but the many years it takes to really learn it. And let’s not forget that attention and willpower are both very important resources.
3) Good teachers
I can’t begin to stress the importance of good teachers, especially for children. I know from my own experience that my interest in any given class at school depended on whether I liked the teacher or not. Luckily, learning doesn’t have to happen only at school, because teaching is not only about explaining grammar rules or vocabulary, but more about feeding the child’s natural interest for learning.
Motivation is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to learning and maintaining a language. Luckily, with children it can be rather simple. For example, I watched “Yellow Submarine” when I was 8 years old and fell in love with this film. I then wanted to learn English because I wanted to understand all of the Beatles’ songs. Motivation could be everywhere – just see what your child likes and start from there!
Children learn best when they’re enjoying the experience. Having fun is so important- for children and adults alike! Learning a new language can happen in a playful way through games, nursery rhymes and songs. Nowadays we’re lucky to have all these colourful, educational ressources designed to help a child learn a language, so let’s use them! And let’s not forget the magic that happens when children from different nationalities come together and play! We at Multicultural Kid Blogs really believe in making language learning fun and natural.
6) Encouragement and oportunities
A supportive environment can be anywhere. At home, parents can encourage their children to learn another language simply by loving and motivating them. Travelling and arranging multilingual playdates provide the perfect oportunity for the children to use the language. And let’s not forget the schools! Ideally children should be encouraged to learn a langauge wherever they are because it means so much more than vocabulary. In fact, it’s about communication skills, understanding other cultures and tolerance.
7) Hard work
We are so used to thinking that children are little sponges that will learn anything we put in front of them that we forget how hard learning a language really is. Even linguistically gifted children need a lot of work and practice to master it. Let’s also keep in mind that the parents, teachers and everyone in charge of the children’s education are also working hard to make sure the children speak and keep a language.
Does that mean that if we don’t have all these things in place, the child won’t learn a language? No. For example, your children don’t have to be linguistically gifted because they also will learn a language it if they’re motivated enough and work hard. Money can buy many cool books and can pay for classes with great teachers but other resources such as attention and time that are also important. There are many ways to learn a language, and for a child, having fun is more important than attending the best classes or playing with the latest educational toys.
Are you teaching your children more than one language? What have you found that works for you?