With these tips and some diligence on your part, you should be able to teach your little ones a new language tout suite…
Children learn very differently to adults – their young minds aren’t penned in by years of structured learning and so absorb information with unrestrained curiosity and freedom.
The malleability of a young mind is one reason why children have such an enormous propensity for language-learning. It’s also why so many parents encourage their children to learn another language early on.
However, teaching a child another language can be difficult in a monolingual household, as they don’t benefit from passive learning. Instead, you have to make a concerted effort to gradually introduce other languages into the conversation. This can be daunting for some parents, but with these tips and some diligence on your part, you should be able to teach your little ones a new language tout suite.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at just how early your child can start learning a new language. In fact, according to Dr Patricia Kuhl, Co-Director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, babies are linguistic Einsteins and show signs of lingual comprehension way before they can actually speak. Which means that you could be laying the foundations for your baby’s bilingual blossoming way before they even say their first word!
If you’re not bilingual yourself, a simple and effective way to get your baby used to the sound of another language is by singing to them. Learning a nursery rhyme or two in a foreign language is also relatively easy.
Spend time with native speakers
Nothing nurtures a child’s understanding of a new language like listening to a native speaker. Their cadence, intonation, even their gesticulation is often unique to the language, and helps your child to build a picture of what it means to communicate in that tongue. What’s more, though you may not notice the subtle nuances of a native speaker’s language yourself, your child certainly can.
“Babies can discriminate all the sounds of all languages… and that’s remarkable because you and I can’t do that. We’re culture-bound listeners. We can discriminate the sounds of our own language, but not those of foreign languages.” – Dr Patricia Kuhl
Therefore, exposing your child to native speakers early on can help them to learn and retain a language. Simple ways to do this are getting in touch with bilingual family members or arranging playdates with bilingual friends or neighbours.
You can use everything from cartoons to bilingual friends and family to instil a love of languages in your child
Enjoy entertainment in another language
Though not as good as learning from a native speaker, immersing your child in another language using a range of different media is invaluable and often more achievable.
Listening to music in your target language is an easy way to introduce it into your child’s life, whether it’s playing in the background while you’re preparing dinner or playing in the car on the way to nursery.
Another form of entertainment that’s useful, although slightly trickier to integrate into everyday life, is overseas television and film.
If you have satellite television, you may already be able to watch TV in another language, although it’s unlikely to be kids’ TV. Fortunately, if you have a subscription to a streaming service, you can usually unlock a wide selection of foreign-language programmes using a virtual private network (VPN).
VPNs work by routing your internet activities through an encrypted connection, to a server on a private network. This not only means that your data is more secure, but also that third parties like streaming services can’t see your geographical location. By connecting via France, for example, you could gain access to French-language programming with just the click of a button.
If you’re struggling to find native speakers in your target language living locally, don’t despair. Enroll your child in an extracurricular activity that introduces them to the new language. This may mean taking your child to an actual tutor, or finding a completely different discipline that’s taught in a foreign language.
If splashing out on a tutor isn’t going to fit within your budget, look for free language-learning apps that your child can use in their free time. These can help to gamify learning, with siblings and other family members competing to score the most points in a day through practice.
Learn with them
This is by no means the simplest option, but learning a new language with your child has loads of advantages.
First and foremost, learning together can be a wonderful bonding experience and will provide hours of fun. It also means that you can answer your child’s questions about vocabulary and grammar.
As you begin to incorporate language-learning into your routine – say, at the dinner table or before bed – you’ll also see a huge leap in your child’s confidence, which is great for their overall development.
We all have memories of learning a foreign language at school and spending hours sitting in front of a desk reciting pronouns. But language-learning doesn’t have to be like that. Instead, you can make it fun and exciting and use everything from cartoons to bilingual friends and family to instill a love of languages in your child.