Approximately two-thirds of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual and many of these people have learned more than one language from birth. Being surrounded by more than one language since birth is the best way to establish bilingualism. However, if this is not the case with your child, there are some ways you can encourage foreign language development and work it into your everyday life.
Never too young
Babies brains are like sponges soaking up all they are seeing, hearing and experiencing. They are language-learning experts. They are twice as fast at learning languages meaning a bilingual child can learn two languages in the same amount of time a monolingual child learns one. This means it is relatively easy for a child to acquire a second or third language up to the age of seven. However, this innate skill declines with increasing age and it becomes remarkably harder for a child to learn a second language after the age of puberty.
So, if your child is under the age of seven, what are you waiting for? You can start teaching them another language right now!
Little and often
Although children are great at picking up another language, they can also be quite good at forgetting. Therefore, the best way to teach them is little and often. Do not think it is enough to have a single lesson once a week. It is much more beneficial to have 2-3 shorter lessons a week. For example, have three 20 minute lessons a week rather than a one hour lesson once a week. This will keep the things they have learned fresh in their minds and aid their memorization. Young children often like repetition. My own children often ask me to read the same books or sing the same songs over and over again. Repetition is their way of learning the sounds, grammatical rules and other linguistic parameters of their language.
Speaking and listening is more important than reading and writing
I see a lot of early language learning programs focusing on the written word when actually speaking and listening are more important for very young children. Babies learn language from listening to others speaking it in their environment. They then begin to speak it themselves and are fluent in the language before starting to learn how to read and write. Why should learning a foreign language be any different?
Look for ways in which your child can learn by listening. Will they have a teacher for this specific language or a nanny? Purchase audio CDs or books (these should be used as an extra resource not the main method of teaching). If you can speak the language yourself, just speak to them! There is no need to start with flash cards of letters and words. In fact, flash cards can be a huge disadvantage because the words are not being used in context and, therefore, it is harder for a child to grasp the meaning and understanding of how to use the words in real life situations.
Once the child has got some grasp of the language, and they are at reading age (+5 years), you can begin to teach them to read and write in the foreign language.
Another great way to engage young children is through songs. Babies and young children are drawn to the varied intonation and rhythm of singing. It is known that singing to your child can aid language acquisition in many ways. The repetition can help them to discriminate between the sounds in the language as well as helping them to acquire new vocabulary. Also, singing can improve auditory memory, the ability to process, retain and recall the things you hear. All these things are crucial for language acquisition.
So, sing to your child. If you don’t know any songs in the target language see if you can buy an audio CD of them or see if you can find some to listen to on YouTube. Then you can learn them yourself so you can sing them to or with your child.
Books are great for language learning. Try to get some books in your target language if possible. If you cannot do this, take some picture books you already have and talk about them with your child in the target language. There is no need to translate, simply talk about the pictures. For example, you can talk about what objects you can see in the pictures, count the number of flowers or animals and talk about what the characters are doing. This is a great way to introduce a range of vocabulary to your child.
Make it fun
Children, especially young children, learn best when lessons are practical and interesting. Therefore, try and make the language lessons as fun as possible for them. Play games with them or make crafts. I often write about fun and practical language learning activities. Here are some ideas:
Learning a foreign language is not always easy. It requires a lot of time, effort and determination. However, it can be done and hopefully, these tips will help you and your child. Good luck!
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