Introducing a second language to your child has many benefits. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to know where to begin, especially with young children. These tips will help get you started.
A young girl walked over and told me, “I can count in Mandarin!” She counted all the way to 15, and her mother smiled as she gently told the girl that it was very good. Then, a preschool-age boy who stood next to this girl said, “I can also count in Spanish!” and he started singing a Spanish number song.
I was presenting a Chinese culture event for young children at the library, and it was packed. During the program, we sang and chanted in Mandarin. The kids participated wholeheartedly, with smiles and giggles, even though most of them don’t know any Mandarin.
An increasing number of studies show the many benefits of being bilingual. Bringing a second language to your family, therefore, provides a brain workout for your child on a daily basis!
Here are some ideas for introducing a second language to your young child.
Start With Songs and Music
Singing is joyful. Music is universally understood. When you combine the two, you have a party! Singing is also a form of learning, and it helps build literacy skills. Start by introducing a second language to your child through songs and music. There are many online resources if you want to expose your child to a new language through song. Here are a few.
Incorporate Everyday Expressions
Out of sight out of mind. Language learning occurs best when you and your child hear it every day. And, a great way to learn new phrases is to use them in your daily activities. “Great job!” “Time for snacks!” Using relevant, everyday expressions makes the new language part of your child’s daily activities. Soon, you’ll be sharing all kinds of new sayings!
- Chinese – Compliments to use with kids
- Spanish – Expressions to use with kids
- French – I love you
Have Fun With Games
Playing is also learning for kids big and small. Outdoor games and board games are all wonderful tools for language learning. Store-bought games, like Bilingual Zingo, can introduce new words in a new language. But some of the best games are free. A simple game like Simon Says can generate laughter and excitement. How about a rock-searching game in the park? Or, use the “magic chalk” game to introduce new words and expressions to your child.
- Chinese – Board games
- Spanish – Traditional games
- Spanish games – More Spanish fun
- Japanese – Puzzle and festivals
- Korean and Chinese – Fun with play dough
Create a Routine
Consistency is the king in language learning. Have fun with the second language every day, and your child will feel safe engaging. Learning a new language together with your child is also a great bonding experience. Make the second language a part of your daily routine. How about listening to a target language song playlist or a podcast during a car ride?
Engage the Senses
Ignite curiosity. Cookbooks with pictures are super-powerful. What do people eat in Spanish-speaking countries? What do Chinese people eat? You and your child can make a dish or bake a dessert together. Reading or listening to bilingual books is another good place to start. You can even use books that your child is already familiar with in a first language. Finally, craft projects provide hands-on fun. Often, they involve many senses, which helps kids stay engaged in the learning process.
- Mandarin Chinese – Read along with “Big and Small”
- Spanish – Do a craft with colors
- Multilingual books – The digital library
- Multilingual book resources in public libraries online
Remember Language and Culture Go Hand in Hand
Language is culture, so bring the target language and its culture into your home. Culture has many levels. You can start with books, but there are also documentaries, movies, and animations that are suitable for families to watch together. You could also look for culture-related events in your community and attend with your family. Connecting people, cultures and the target language is all about immersive experiences!
- Chinese culture – Lunar New Year and cultural series
- Spanish culture – Day of the Dead and more
- World culture – Fun Facts Series that take you around the world
- Multicultural celebrations – Multiculturalmama & Chinese American Family
Keep a Happy Mindset
“The brain has this amazing ability to find happiness even when the memories of it are gone.”
Charles Duhigg from The Power of Habit
Last, but not least, introducing a second language to your child is not a race. The target language might be a second language that you speak. The language might be a heritage language for you or your spouse. The target language might even be totally new to you. Every child is unique, and you should always keep that in mind on this journey. A happy mindset means staying positive. Engage in learning with smiles – today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow.
Your biggest and most important fan is your child. When you’re having fun, your child will come back for more. That is the power of a happy mindset.
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